Some mysteries that plague first year law student have no business being a stumbling block to success. Some concepts and skills in law school are legitimately hard and take years to master, but some questions are easily answered and can help clear the way to 1L success. For me, case citations befuddled me for far too long. Where does all of that case citation information actually come from? I was equal parts too busy and too embarrassed to ask such a basic question. Hopefully this post can explain the basics of a case citation. For an example, we will dissect the following case citation – Gupta v. Thai Airways Int’l, Ltd., 487 F.3d 759, 763 (9th Cir. 2007).
Party names – Gupta v. Thai Airways Int’l, Ltd.
The party names usually reflect the first party listed on either side of the “v.” in an opinion. These party names, or at least the first party, is usually the calling card for the particular case when referenced orally or in writing. Sometimes cases will have more unique forms to capture a unique procedural nature or circumstance of a case, e.g., In re Marriage of Jones, Ex parte Smith. For case name answers, see The Bluebook Rule 10.2.
Reporter information – 487 F.3d 759
This is the bit that confused me as a 1L. Where did these numbers and letters come from? The bluebook says that it is reporter information, but what does that mean? After courts issue opinions, reporters compile and publish those opinions in an orderly fashion. Back before web-based case research became the norm, if you wanted to read a case, you had to go find the reporter, and then reporter volume, in the law library to read your case. Most law students and lawyers will now simply type this information into a search box, but the case citation system remains based on the legacy system of hardbound reporters. For more on reporters, see The Bluebook Rule 10.3.2.
Volume – 487
The first number refers to the volume number of the reporter in which your reported case can be found. This number represents the individual hardbound book, the volume of the reporter, that you could find on the shelf in your law library.
Reporter – F.3d
The letter, number combination in the middle refers to the reporter that publishes, or reports, your case. There are many different reporters that serve to publish opinions based on the issuing court. Our example was a federal case out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the United States, so it is reported in the Federal Reporter 3d, or F.3d for short. The “3d” just means it is the 3rd compilation of volumes in the Federal Reporter since 1891. For the list that provides just about any reporter abbreviation you will encounter (federal, state, or international), see The Bluebook Table 1.
First Page – 759
The second number is the first page in the particular reporter volume where your case appears. So, if you pull the right volume and flip to page 759, your case would be reported there.
Jump page/Pin cite – 763
This is when the real fun of legal analysis and the value of citations come in to play. In legal writing, it is generally not enough to cite a case. To provide the reader with as specific a citation as possible to support your proposition, you cite to the specific page on which the support for your proposition lies. Some call them jump pages, some call them pin cites—both mean the same thing. For example, in the case Symantec Corp. v. Global Impact, Inc., 559 F.3d 922 (9th Cir. 2009), page 763 of Gupta is cited to support the following proposition — “Although neither party raised the issue of our jurisdiction to entertain this appeal, we have a duty to consider it sua sponte.”
Court Information – (9th Cir. 2007)
While reporter information and jump pages are great for finding the case and drilling down to the exact support for a proposition, if you are writing for an informed reader, they will want to know some information about the case before they even go look it up. Generally, you provide what court produced the opinion (see The Bluebook Rule 10.4) and the year the opinion was issued (see The Bluebook Rule 10.5). This will tell readers a great deal about such things – such as whether this is binding or persuasive authority.
Whether you are bluebooking cases for your legal writing or you are just trying to read cases for class, these basics should at least demystify case citations somewhat. Legal citations can be confusing at first, but case law citations really do pack a wealth of information into a tight little package. They can often give you a great idea of what support a proposition has or provide a jumping off point for further research. By understanding the anatomy of case law citations a bit better, hopefully you can eliminate some unnecessary stress and get about your business learning the law!
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