Reading Cases and Citations


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Part of a series of lectures given to law students at the University of Münster.

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Reading Cases and Citations

  1. 1. Common Law Legal System Reading Cases & Finding/Citing Cases
  2. 2. By the End of This Lecture We Should Have a basic understanding of how to find and cite cases Be generally familiar with how cases can be broken down into parts Understand why breaking cases into parts is helpful Be aware that facts shape the issue the court must address, which in turn shapes the law Have the tools to start discussing how precedent is used
  3. 3. Legal Writing: The “Brief” and Its Various Forms Brief (UK) / Trial Brief (US) case file prepared by solicitor for barrister setting forth facts, evidence, strategy in the U.S. the lawyer might prepare something similar for himself to use at trial. Appellate Brief referred to as Skeleton Arguments in UK. sets forth legal arguments to be made on appeal. cites all relevant statutory and case law. Amicus Brief filed by interested third parties upon permission of the court, setting forth legal arguments for the court to consider.
  4. 4. Legal Writing: The “Brief” and Its Various Forms The Office Memo used by lawyers in the U.S. to predict the outcome of their clients case. sets forth all possible legal arguments. NOTE – the goal here is not to persuade, as is the case with the appellate brief, rather to analyze must cite all relevant statutory and case law. The Case Brief used by students and professionals to break down a case into parts. students use this for class discussion. professionals use this to assist with the aforementioned legal writings.
  5. 5. The Importance of Citation and Reading Skills One must understand the citation system in order to find cases and statutes. In most legal writing, correctly “citing” a case is required. this allows reader to find the case being discussed in the legal writing. Because case law is a primary source of law, one must understand how to find precedent, which involves reading prior cases and finding: legal issue, material facts, holding of the case and rationale.
  7. 7. Typical Caption (U.S. - Westlaw) case citationParties Court CourtSummary Author of opinion
  8. 8. Caption: Why Different Party Labels? United States District Court, D. New Jersey. ESTATE of Elvis PRESLEY, Plaintiff, v. Rob RUSSEN, d/b/a The Big El Show, Defendant. Civ. A. No. 80-0951. 513 F.Supp. 1339 April 16, 1981.---------------------BROTMAN, District Judge.
  9. 9. Caption: Appeals Court, State Supreme Court of California COMEDY III PRODUCTIONS, INC., Plaintiff and Respondent, v. GARY SADERUP, INC., et al., Defendants and NOTICE Appellants. No. S076061. April 30, 2001. Some appellate decision will report both current status, e.g. “Respondents,” as well as status in trial court, e.g. “Plaintiff”
  10. 10. Case Summary: HammontreeAction for personal injuries and property damagesustained when automobile driven by defendantwho claimed he had become unconsciousduring epileptic seizure crashed through wall ofbicycle shop owned and operated by plaintiffsand struck one plaintiff. The Superior Court, LosAngeles County, Kenneth A. White, J., renderedjudgment on jury verdict in favor of defendant,and plaintiffs appealed. The Court of Appeal,Lillie, J., held that defendant was not absolutelyliable for injuries and property damagesustained.
  11. 11. Headnotes: Hammontree
  12. 12. Case Structure: Introduction Introduction might contain type of action Substantive - general legal claims Procedural – ruling on motion, after trial, etc. claims of the parties although this might also be found in the discussion section of the case Procedural History – what happened in the court(s) below. Issue(s) – the specific legal question(s) the court is being asked to decide. will often be shaped by the facts.
  13. 13. Introduction Example HammontreePlaintiff Maxine Hammontree and her husbandsued defendant for personal injuries andproperty damage arising out of an automobileaccident. The cause was tried to a jury. Plaintiffsappeal from judgment entered on a jury verdictreturned against them and in favor of thedefendant.
  14. 14. Procedural History/Issues (Comedy III Case)The parties waived the right to jury trial and the right to put on evidence,and submitted the case for decision on the following stipulated facts:(the court then sets forth the facts) ********On these stipulated facts the court found for Comedy III and enteredjudgment against Saderup awarding damages of $75,000 and attorney’sfees of $150,000 plus costs. The court also issued a permanentinjunction . . . . ********The Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment . . . upholding the award ofdamages, attorney fees, and costs. In so doing, it rejected Saderup’scontentions that his conduct (1) did not violate the terms of the statute,and (2) in any event was protected by the constitutional guaranty offreedom of speech.We granted review to address these two issues.
  15. 15. Case Structure: Discussion This part will likely be broken into parts depending upon how many issues are present. The discussion of each issue usually begins with the court setting forth sources of law: statutes, precedent (case law) The Court then applies the law to the material facts. Here you might also find the rationale (why the Court applied the rule the way they did). Finally, the Court makes a “holding” concerning the issue. this is where you MIGHT find PRECEDENT.
  16. 16. The Meaning of Precedent Generally “precedent” literally means something that has happened before In ordinary English, “precedent” has come to mean an event which defines a standard “Unprecedented” is something that is uncommon or well beyond standard. “Spam levels run to unprecedented heights” recent headline from PC Magazine
  17. 17. Precedent The legal principle or rule created by a court which guides judges in subsequent cases with similar issues or facts. Sometimes called Authority To serve as precedent for a pending case, a prior decision must have a similar question of law and factual situation.
  18. 18. Holding Ratio decidendi is a Latin phrase meaning "the reason for the decision". Also known as rule(s) or holding(s). Characteristics: Rules necessary for final decision Rule without which decision would be different Rules grounded in specific facts Theory used to make decision based on specific facts.
  19. 19. How Do I Find the Holding? Look for the rule(s) of law used by the court to come to its decision(s). The rule must be necessary for the decision. the result would have been different but for the rule. In the end, there is no real “rule” for finding the rule. It takes practice and knowledge.
  20. 20. What is Dictum? Latin for "remark," a comment by a judge in a decision or ruling which is not required to reach the decision, but may state a related legal principle. Has no value as precedent. Often hear “it is only dictum (dicta).”
  21. 21. A Simple Illustration The very foundation, in my opinion, of every rule which has been applied to insurance law is this, namely, that the contract of insurance contained in a marine or fire policy is a contract of indemnity, and of indemnity only, and that this contract means that the insured, in case of a loss against which the policy has been made, shall be fully indemnified, but shall never be more than fully indemnified. Castellain v. Preston (1883)
  22. 22. Importance of the Holding Every Court Decision Must Contain: (1) Findings of material facts (2) Statements of principles of law applicable to the legal issues raised by the facts AND (3) A judgment (or judgments) based upon the application of the legal principles to the facts. The parties care about #3 Future parties in lower courts will care about #2 And this is the only part that is binding on future parties, the only part as researchers that we care about!
  23. 23. Reading With a Purpose Remember . . . we dont read cases just to read them. we read them for a purpose! We already have a legal question that needs to be answered. our goal is to answer our legal question. Thus . . . we only read cases that might answer our legal question. we only read the parts of each case that might answer our question. Remember . . . cases usually have multiple issues.
  24. 24. Finding The Issue Hammontree What is the narrow legal question that the court has to answer? Use the headnotes to help you find the pertinent discussion. Pay attention to how the plaintiffs/appellants have framed this case.
  25. 25. Rationale & Result Rationale: Why did the court decide the way they did? What reasons did they use. This may include precedent (i.e. they ruled the way they did because they had to). Result: what was the disposition of the case Affirmed, Reversed, Modified, Remanded
  26. 26. The Case Brief Facts Procedural History Issue Rule Rationale Outcome Try to brief the Carbolic Smokeball Case for next session. (can be found on class website)
  27. 27. Finding & Citing CasesA Quick Word About Case Citations in the United States
  28. 28. The United States
  29. 29. Typical U.S. Citation Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Page NumberName of the Parties Name of the Parties Year Report Name Volume U.S. = United States Reports
  30. 30. U.S. Supreme Court Cases Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965). U.S. = U.S. Reports Official government reporter S.Ct. = Supreme Court Reporter West Publishing L.E.2d = United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition Lexis/Nexis
  31. 31. Federal Appeal Court Cases United States court of appeals cases are published in the Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, or F.3d). Published by West No “official” reporter Smith v. Jones, 3 F.3d 111 (3d Cir. 1993) Name of Parties Volume Page Court Year Reporter Name
  32. 32. Federal Court of Appeals
  33. 33. Federal District Court Cases United States district court cases and cases from some specialized courts are published in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d). Smith v. Jones, 25 F. Supp. 2d, 444 (M.D. Ala. 2002) Parties volume reporter page court year
  34. 34. State Decisions Published in several places Many states have their own “official” reporters. West publishes “unofficial” reporters that are grouped by region: North Eastern Reporter, Atlantic Reporter, South Eastern Reporter, Southern Reporter, South Western Reporter, North Western Reporter, Pacific Reporter NOTE – NY, Cal, and Ill also have West reporter.
  35. 35. Regional Reporter System
  36. 36. State v. Regional Reporter City of Troy v Ohlinger, 438 Mich 477 (1991) NOTE – this is the official Michigan Reports because “Mich” is part of the citation, we dont need to cite the court in parenthesis.COMPARE: People v Ferency, 133 Mich App 526 (1984) vs. Court People v Ferency, 351 NW2d 225 (Mi. App. 1984).
  37. 37. The Full Citation People v Ferency, 133 Mich App 526; 351 NW2d 225 (1984). NOTE: the state reporters can easily be identified because they use an abbreviation related to the state itself: N.Y., Mich, Calif, Ill Many state court rules require both the official and “unofficial” citations for cases.
  38. 38. Examples Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339 (1928) Glassroth v. Moore, 229 F. Supp. 2d 1290 (M.D. Ala. 2002) Geary v. Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish Sch., 7 F.3d 324 (3d Cir. 1993) Jackson v. Commonwealth, 583 S.E.2d 780 (Va. Ct. App. 2003) State or Federal court? Specifically, what court?
  39. 39. Pinpoint Citations Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 158 (1973). What is this number?
  40. 40. Reading CasesHow it is done in England: Reading Cases, Citations
  41. 41. “Caption” Coca-Cola Financial Corporation v Finsat International Ltd. and Others Court of Appeal Court L.JJ. Neill, Morritt, and HutchisonParties 1996 April 17, 18; 25 Date of Judgment Judges NOTE: L.JJ. = Lord JusticesParties
  42. 42. Catchwords words identifying legal issues addressed in the case. Practice—Set—off—Contract—Loan agreement and guarantee containing term excluding right of set —off—Demand for repayment under loan agreement and guarantee—No payment received —Plaintiff suing for amount due—Defendants claiming to set—off counterclaim—Whether term excluding set—off enforceable—Whether plaintiff entitled to summary judgment— Supreme Court Act 1981 (c. 54), s. 49(2)
  43. 43. HeadnotesIn 1987 the plaintiff lent the first defendant U.S.$5m. under a loan agreement guaranteed by the secondto eighth defendants. By the guarantee all the defendants agreed to make payment of all sums dueunder the loan agreement on written demand by the plaintiff. The guarantee further providedthat the guarantors would be liable as primary obligors, and that article 5.7 of the loan agreement should . . . .On the appeal:- Held,.dismissing the appeal, that the parties to a contract were not prevented by section 49(2)of the Supreme Court Act 1981 or any ground of public policy from including in it a term excluding the rightof set-off; that, in the circumstances, the defendants had no arguable counterclaim against the plaintiff,and even if they had, they were prevented by article 5.7 of the loan agreement . . . . Headnote, summarising the is- Headnote sues, and, after Held, summaris- ing the judgment
  44. 44. Citations Used in the Case Name of the lower court judge – NOTE – J. is for “judge”
  45. 45. SummaryBy writ dated 26 April 1994 the plaintiff, Coca-Cola Financial Corporation, claimed against the defendants, Finsat InternationalLtd. (formerly known as Satra International Ltd.), Satra Ltd., Satra Holdings Ltd., Satra Trading Ltd., Permalite Ltd., IONDeposition Ltd., U.S. Chrome Corporation and Lada Cars (Cayman) Ltd. the sum of U.S.$5m. and interest due under a loanagreement dated 19 October 1987 and a guarantee dated 15 October 1987 made in anticipation of the loan agreement. On 21October 1995 the judge gave summary judgment, under R.S.C., Ord. 14 , for the plaintiff in the sum of $5m. and interest of$996,234·49 against each of the defendants.By notice of appeal dated 9 February 1995 the defendants appealed on the grounds, inter alia, that (1)(a) the judge erred in failingto find that the defendants had an arguable ground of defence to the plaintiffs action; (b) he found or proceeded on the basis thatthe defendants had arguable substantial claims against the Coca-Cola Co. for sums exceeding by some millions of dollars theplaintiffs claim in the action, all concerning the Coca-Cola Co.s products and activities in the Soviet Union . . . .The facts are set out in the judgment of Neill L.J. A summary of the pleading & facts may be given NOTE: the drafter of the report is telling the reader to look for more facts in the opinion by Lord Justice Neill
  46. 46. Counsel Arguments Names of Counsel; the Law Reports also give their argumentMichael Beloff Q.C. and Timothy Wormington for the defendants. A party to court proceedings cannot waive or contractout of the right given to him by law to set off one debt or claim against another: Taylor v. Okey (1806) 13 Ves. 180 andLechmere v. Hawkins (1798) 2 Esp. 626 . Accordingly, . . .Kenneth Rokison Q.C. and Michael Pooles for the plaintiff. There is no principle of law which renders a provision suchas article 5.7 invalid or unenforceable: see Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation v. Kloeckner & Co. A.G.[1990] 2 Q.B. 514 . . . .
  47. 47. Decisions by the Judges Curia advisari vult is a Latin legal term meaning "the court wishes to consider the matter" The date the decisions were made publicCur. adv. vult.25 April. The following judgments were handed downNeill L.J. Opinion of Lord Justice Neill The plaintiff in these proceedings is Coca-Cola Financial Corporation ("C.C.F.C."). By an agreement in writing dated 19October 1987 ("the loan agreement") C.C.F.C. agreed to lend to the first defendant, Finsat International Ltd. ("Finsat")(then known as Satra International Ltd.), a sum not exceeding U.S.$5m. . . .I would dismiss the appeal Ends by clearly stating the outcome
  48. 48. The Opinions Morritt L.J. The opinion of Lord Justice Morritt I agree. Hutchison L.J. I also agree The opinion of Lord Justice HutchisonNOTE: If judges may agree with the outcome but give a differentreason OR disagree with the outcome and file a “dissenting” opinion.
  49. 49. Subsequent ActionsOne must petition the House of Lords (now Supreme Court)to hear an appeal from the Court of Appeal. This petitionwas denied.Petition: 25 July. The Appeal Committee of the House of Lords (Lord Browne-Wilkinson, LordMustill and Lord Hoffmann) dismissed a petition by the defendant for leave to appeal.
  50. 50. How To Cite Law Reports Thus, if one wishes to find the El Ajou case in Westlaw, one must use the citation [1993] 3 All ER 717 to find it. Here the year is part of the citation needed to find a case, whereas in the United States it is not. NOTE - Round brackets ( ) are used around the year in a legal citation when the series has consecutive volume numbers and the year is not essential for finding the case (similar to U.S.).
  51. 51. Neutral Citations NOTE: Judgment Number NOT page number!!!
  52. 52. Complete Citations for Reports with Available Neutral Citations Same idea as the “full citation” in the U.S. context