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Researching Case Law

This guide is designed to be an introduction to cases and case law research.

Overview

Legal materials can fall into two different categories:  (1) Primary and (2) Secondary.  Secondary sources are about the law.  They explain, analyze, interpret, discuss, and cite to primary sources. Primary sources are the law themselves.  Cases are a primary source. They are judicial opinions written to resolve a controversy between two or more parties. Courts have a hierarchy and the authoritative value of a case can depend on which court is writing the opinion.  Cases are published chronologically in reporters and now, in databases and on websites.

Research Process Flowchart

Research Process Flowchart

Citation Format

Bluebook

Rule 10 of the Bluebook (20th ed.) governs the citation of cases.

The citation should include the following:

Elements

  • Case Name - first listed parties on each side (italicized or underlined) (use T. 6)
  • Volume
  • Reporter (see T. 1)
  • Page
  • Court and jurisdiction in parenthetical (see T.1, T.7, T.10)
  • Year in parenthetical
  • Subsequent History after parenthetical (if applicable)

Example:

United States v. Prince Line, Ltd., 189 F.2d 386, 387 (2d Cir. 1951).

Explanation:

  • Case Name:  Note there is no abbreviation of United States per 10.2.2.  Abbreviate Ltd. Per R. 10.2.1(c), T.6. 
  • Reporter:  Abbreviate the F.2d reporter per R. 6 (single adjacent caps), R. 6.2(b)(ii) (no superscript, use 2d instead of 2nd) & T.1.
  • Court:  Abbreviate Second Circuit per R. 6, T.1, T.7.  Note that there is no superscript per R. 6.2(b)(ii).

ALWD

Rule 12 of the ALWD Citation Manual (5th ed.) covers the citation of cases.

Elements

  • Case Name - first listed parties on each side (italicized or underlined) (see chart 12.1)
  • Volume
  • Reporter (see chart 12.2, local court rules - Appendix 2, )
  • Page
  • Court and jurisdiction (see Appendices 1 and 4 for court abbreviations)
  • Year
  • Subsequent History (if applicable)

Example

United States v. Prince Line, Ltd., 189 F.2d 386, 387 (2d Cir. 1951).

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