Case citation

The United States Reports is the official reporter of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Case citation is a system used by legal professionals to identify past court case decisions, either in series of books called reporters or law reports, or in a neutral style that identifies a decision regardless of where it is reported. Case citations are formatted differently in different jurisdictions, but generally contain the same key information.

A legal citation is a "reference to a legal precedent or authority, such as a case, statute, or treatise, that either substantiates or contradicts a given position".[1] Where cases are published on paper, the citation usually contains the following information:

In some report series, for example in England and Australia, volumes are not numbered independently of the year: thus the year and volume number (usually no greater than 4) are required to identify which book of the series has the case reported within its covers. In such citations, it is usual in these jurisdictions to apply square brackets "[year]" to the year (which may not be the year that the case was decided: for example, a case decided in December 2001 may have been reported in 2002).

The Internet brought with it the opportunity for courts to publish their decisions on websites and most published court decisions now appear in that way. They can be found through many national and other websites, such as WorldLII, that are operated by members of the Free Access to Law Movement.

The resulting flood of unpaginated information has led to numbering of paragraphs and the adoption of a medium-neutral citation system. This usually contains the following information:

Rather than utilizing page numbers for pinpoint references, which would depend upon particular printers and browsers, pinpoint quotations refer to paragraph numbers.

The conjunction "versus" is abbreviated to "v" in Commonwealth countries and to "v." in the United States.

Pronunciation of case titles

In common law countries with an adversarial system of justice, the names of the opposing parties are separated in the case title by the abbreviation v. The abbreviation represents the Latin word versus, which means against. When case titles are read out loud, the v. can be pronounced, depending on the context, as and, against, versus, or vee.[2]

Commonwealth pronunciation

Commonwealth countries follow British legal style, which is quite clear about the correct pronunciation:

American pronunciation

In the United States, there is no consensus on the correct pronunciation of the abbreviation v. This has led to much confusion about the pronunciation and spelling of court cases:[5]

During oral arguments for Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the participants demonstrated the lack of consensus by using different pronunciations of v. Solicitor General Ken Starr even managed to use all three of the most common American pronunciations interchangeably:[8]

Kenneth W. Starr: This is the process of analysis that is quite familiar to the Court, very lengthily laid out by Justice Harlan in his dissent in Poe versus Ullman, and then adumbrated in his concurring opinion in Griswold against Connecticut. ... Well, I think that that is the necessary consequence of Roe vee Wade.


The standard case citation format in Australia is:

Style of cause (year of decision) [year of report] volume report (series) page
Mabo v Queensland (No 2) (1992) 175 CLR 1.

As in Canada, there has been divergence among citation styles. There exist commercial citation guides published by Butterworths and other legal publishing companies, academic citation styles and court citation styles. Each court in Australia may cite the same case slightly differently. There is presently a movement in convergence to the comprehensive academic citation style of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation published jointly by the Melbourne University Law Review and the Melbourne Journal of International Law.


Abbreviation Report Years
AAR Administrative Appeals Reports
ALJR Australian Law Journal Reports
ALR Australian Law Reports 1983 –
CLR Commonwealth Law Reports 1903 –
FLC Family Law Cases
FLR Federal Law Reports
NSWLR New South Wales Law Reports
Qd R Queensland Reports
SASR South Australian State Reports
VR Victorian Reports
WAR Western Australian Reports 1899–

Neutral citation

Australian courts and tribunals have now adopted a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report. Most cases are now published on AustLII using neutral citations.[9]

The standard format looks like this:

Year of decision Court identifier Ordinal number
[2005] HCA 1

So the above-mentioned Mabo case would then be cited like this: Mabo v Queensland (No 2) [1992] HCA 23.

There is a unique court identifier code for most courts. The court and tribunal identifiers include:

Court Identifier Court
HCA High Court of Australia
FCA Federal Court of Australia
FCAFC Federal Court of Australia – Full Court (appeals bench)
FamCA Family Court of Australia
FCCA Federal Circuit Court of Australia (formerly Federal Magistrates Court of Australia)
FMCA Federal Magistrates Court of Australia
FMCAfam Federal Magistrates Court of Australia, family law decisions
AAT Administrative Appeals Tribunal (federal)
NSWSC Supreme Court of New South Wales
NSWCA New South Wales Court of Appeal
NSWCCA New South Wales Court of Criminal Appeal
WASC Supreme Court of Western Australia



There are a number of citation standards in Canada. Many legal publishing companies and schools have their own standard for citation. Since the late 1990s, however, much of the legal community has converged to a single standard—formulated in The Canadian Guide to Uniform Legal Citation, commonly known as the "McGill Guide" after the McGill Law Journal, which first published it. The following format reflects this standard:

Hunter v Southam, [1984] 2 SCR 145.

Broken into its component parts, the format is:

Style of cause (year of decision), [year of report] volume report (series) page jurisdiction/court
R v Big M Drug Mart Ltd, [1985] 1 SCR 295.
R v Oakes, [1986] 1 SCR 103.
Re Canada Trust Co and OHRC (1990), 69 DLR (4th) 321 (Ont CA).

The Style of Cause is italicized as in all other countries and the party names are separated by "v" (English) or "c" (French). Prior to 1984 the appellant party would always be named first. However, since then case names do not switch order when the case is appealed.

Undisclosed parties to a case are represented by initials (e.g., R v RDS). Criminal cases are prosecuted by the Crown, which is always represented by "R" for Regina (queen) or Rex (king). Constitutional references are always entitled "Reference re" followed by the subject title.

If the year of decision is the same as the year of the report, and the date is a part of the reporter's citation then the date need not be listed after the style of cause. If the date of the decision is different from the year of the report, then both should be shown.

Where available cases should be cited with their neutral citation immediately after the style of cause and preceding the print citation. For example,

Chaoulli v Quebec (Attorney General), 2005 SCC 35, [2005] 1 SCR 791.

This format was adopted as the standard in 2006, in the sixth edition of the McGill Guide. Prior to this format, the opposite order of parallel citation was used.

The seventh edition of the McGill Guide, published 2010-08-20, removes most full stop (".") characters from the citations, e.g., a citation to the Supreme Court Reports that previously would have been [2005] 1 S.C.R. 791, is now [2005] 1 SCR 791. Most full stops are also removed from styles of cause. The seventh edition also further highlights the significance of neutral citations (i.e., tribunal-assigned citations that are publisher-independent)


Abbreviation Report years
Admin LR Administrative Law Reports 1983–1991
Admin LR (2d) Administrative Law Reports (second series) 1992–1998
Admin LR (3d) Administrative Law Reports (third series) 1999 –
ANWTYTR Alberta, Northwest Territories & Yukon Tax Reporter 1973 –
ACWS All Canada Weekly Summaries 1970–1979
ACWS (2d) All Canada Weekly Summaries (second series) 1980–1986
AR Alberta Reports 1976 –
CCLT (2d) Canadian Cases on the Law of Torts
DLR Dominion Law Reports
DLR (2d) Dominion Law Reports (second series)
DLR (3d) Dominion Law Reports (third series) – 1984
DLR (4th) Dominion Law Reports (fourth series) 1984 –
FCR Federal Court Reports 1971 –
NBR (2d) New Brunswick Reports 1969 –
NR National Reporter
NSR (2d) Nova Scotia Reports 1969 –
OR (3d) Ontario Reports 1986 –
SCR Supreme Court Reports 1970 –
WWR Western Weekly Reports 1911–1950, 1971 –
WWR(NS) Western Weekly Reports (New Series) 1950–1971

Neutral citation

In 1999 the Canadian Judicial Council adopted a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report.

The standard format look like this:

Year of decision Court identifier Ordinal number
2000 SCC 1

There is a unique court identifier code for most courts. A list of the court identifiers include:

Court Identifier Court from year
SCC Supreme Court of Canada 2000
FCT Federal Court of Canada – Trial Division 2001
FCA Federal Court of Canada – Appeal Division 2001
TCC Tax Court of Canada 2003
CMAC Court Martial Appeal Court 2004
CM Court Martial Court of Canada 2004
Comp Trib Competition Tribunal of Canada
BCCA British Columbia Court of Appeal 1999
BCSC Supreme Court of British Columbia 2000
BCPC Provincial Court of British Columbia
BCHRT British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal
BCSECCOM British Columbia Securities Commission
ABCA Alberta Court of Appeal 2004
ABQB Alberta Court of Queen's Bench 2004
ONCA Ontario Court of Appeal 2007
ONSC Ontario Superior Court of Justice 2010
QCCA Quebec Court of Appeal 2005
QCCS Quebec Superior Court 2006



Main article: German legal citation

In Germany there are two types of citation, the full citation of a case and its shortened form. In e.g. scientific articles the full citation of a particular case is only used at its first occurrence, after that its shortened form is used. In most law journals the articles themselves only use the shortened form, the full citations for all articles sometimes are summarized at the beginning of that journals edition.

Federal Constitutional Court of Germany

The most important cases of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany are published by the court in its official collection. This collection is abbreviated "BVerfGE", whereas BVerfG is short for Bundesverfassungsgericht, the German court name, and E stands for Entscheidung (decision).

Starting in 2004, the court also publishes the "BVerfGK" collection, containing decisions made only by a Kammer, a specific part of the court.

The so-called Volkszählungsurteil for example could be cited

BVerfGE 65, 1 (43), Urteil des Ersten Senats vom 15. Dezember 1983 auf die mündliche Verhandlung vom 18. und 19. Oktober 1983, Az. 1 BvR 209, 269, 362, 420, 440, 484/83.

in full and

BVerfGE 65, 1 (43).

in short.

official collection volume page of beginning page cited more detailed information and date case number
BVerfGE 65, 1 (43), Urteil des Ersten Senats
vom 15. Dezember 1983
[in case of a hearing:] auf die mündliche Verhandlung vom 18. und 19. Oktober 1983,
Az. 1 BvR 209, 269, 362, 420, 440, 484/83

For the meaning of the different case numbers of the BVerfG see the German article.

If decisions are not yet published by the court, or will not be published at all, law journals can be cited, e.g.,

BVerfG, NJW 2009, 1234 (1235 f.).

Where NJW stands for the law journal Neue Juristische Wochenschrift, 2009 is the year, 1234 the page of the beginning and 1235 the cited page(s) – "f." stands for "seq.". In general, citations of the official collections are preferred.

Federal Court of Justice of Germany

The Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof, short BGH) publishes the official collections BGHSt for decisions in penal law and BGHZ for those in private law.

The Katzenkönigfall e.g. would be cited

BGHSt 35, 347 ff., Urteil des 4. Strafsenats vom 15. September 1988, Az. 4 StR 352/88.

in full and

BGHSt 35, 347 ff.

in short (in this example, not a specific page but the case as such is cited; "ff." means "sqq.").

Other federal courts

The official collection of the Federal Social Court of Germany (Bundessozialgericht, BSG) is abbreviated BSGE.

The official collection of the Federal Finance Court of Germany (Bundesfinanzhof, BFH) is BFHE.

The official collection of the Federal Labor Court of Germany (Bundesarbeitsgericht, BAG) is BAGE.

The official collection of the Federal Administrative Court of Germany (Bundesverwaltungsgericht, BVerwG) is BVerwGE.

Other courts

For other courts, generally the same rules apply, though most do not publish an official collection, so they must be cited from a law journal.


India's vast federated judicial system admits to a large number of reporters, each with their own style of citation. There are over 200 law reports in India – subject-wise and state(province)-wise; authorized and unauthorized.

Supreme Court of India

The official reporter for Supreme Court decisions is the Supreme Court Reports. These reports however lag behind other journals in the speed of reporting. Whilst decisions themselves are uploaded by the Supreme Court itself on, the edited versions with headnotes in the official reporter take years to compile. However, some reporters have been authorised to publish the Court's decisions. The All India Reporter (AIR) is an old and respected reporter that, in addition to the Supreme Court, also reports decisions of the various State High Courts. Other popular reporters include Supreme Court Cases, which has become the most cited report in the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Almanac, and Judgements Today.

The All India Reporter

Sebastian Hongray v. Union of India:

A citation of the "Supreme Court Almanac":

A citation in "Judgements Today":

The "Supreme Court Cases (SCC)" published supplementary reports for a few years in the early 1990s. Those citations looked like this:

The SCC also have a separate series of subject-based reporting of the decisions of the Supreme Court:

High Courts

The All India Reporter (AIR) is the most popular nationwide reporter for decisions of the High Courts. An AIR High Court citation looks like: Surjya Kumar Das v. Maya Dutta AIR 1982 Cal 222, where "Cal" refers to the Calcutta High Court in Kolkata. This is a uniform style for AIR High Court reports. Only the shortened indicator of the forum changes for different High Courts. The Calcutta Weekly Notes is the oldest continuously published law journal in India having uninterrupted publication since 1896 reporting reportable decisions of the High Court at Calcutta. Reports are cited in the style 105 CWN 345 where 105 refers to the volume number calculated at one volume per year from the initial volume, which had been published in 1896.

National Judicial Reference System (NJRS)

National Judicial Reference System (NJRS) is a project started by the Income-tax Department, Government of India. It has been envisaged as a tool to achieve efficiency in the tax litigation process of Income Tax Department (ITD). Within this project the Judicial Research & Reference System (JRRS) – JRRS is a repository of judicial orders as a single, indexed, searchable, cross-linked, database of Judgments / orders of ITAT, Authority of Advance Ruling (AAR), HC and SC.

The Citation nomenclature followed within NJRS :

This Citation further allows to add the Authority where the judgment / order was pronounced.

New Zealand

The standard case citation format in New Zealand is:

Style of cause (year of decision) [year of reporter] volume reporter page
Taylor v New Zealand Poultry Board [1984] 1 NZLR 394
R v Howse (2005) 21 CRNZ 823

Several leading law reviews in New Zealand have also adopted the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (AGLC) such as the Canterbury Law Review. The AGLC style is also rather similar to citation style in New Zealand.


Abbreviation Reporter Years
NZLR New Zealand Law Reports 1881 –
CRNZ Criminal Reports of New Zealand 1983 –
NZBORR New Zealand Bill of Rights Reports
NZAR New Zealand Administrative Reports 1976–
NZFLR New Zealand Family Law Reports 1981–
DCR District Court Reports 1981–

Additionally, a number of other report series exist for specialist areas such as Family, Employment and Tax Law.

Neutral citation

New Zealand courts and tribunals have begun to adopt a neutral citation standard for case law. The format provides a naming system that does not depend on the publication of the case in a law report.

The standard format looks like this:

Year of decision Court identifier Ordinal number
[2005] NZSC 1

There is a unique court identifier for each court or tribunal. These identifiers are:

Court Identifier Court Years
NZSC Supreme Court of New Zealand 2005–
NZCA New Zealand Court of Appeal 2007–
NZHC High Court of New Zealand 2012–
NZEmpC Employment Court of New Zealand 2010–
NZEnvC Environment Court of New Zealand 2010–
NZFC Family Court of New Zealand 2012–

Where both a neutral citation and a reporter citation exist, the neutral citation should come first e.g. R v AM [2010] NZCA 114, [2010] 2 NZLR 750


The Norwegian standard case citation format for published court decisions is:

Rt. 1952 s. 989 (Telefonsjikanedommen)


The Philippines

Despite the long-standing civil law tradition in the Philippines, reliance on judicial precedents has become indispensable since the period of American rule. Supreme Court decisions are expressly recognized as part of the internal law, and are thus frequently cited in court decisions and legal pleadings. Though there is only one Supreme Court in the Philippines, the citation of its decisions varies, depending on which report of a case is relied on by the person citing that case.

Official reporter

The Philippine Reports is the official reporter of decisions of the Supreme Court of the Philippines. The standard format for citation of the Philippine Reports is:

People v. Flores, 442 Phil. 561 (2002)


As of present, Philippine cases are contained in quarterly issues. The Supreme Court Reports Annotated or SCRA are cited as such:

Juarez v. Court of Appeals 214 SCRA 475

where 214 is the volume of the book, and 475 is the page number. There are already over 700 SCRAs in circulation.

Unofficial reporter

In the last few decades, the Philippine Reports has suffered from production problems, resulting in long delays in publication, as well as significant gaps within its published series. As a result, the privately published Supreme Court Reports Annotated (published by Central Professional Books, Inc.) has become more widely used than the Philippine Reports, even by the courts. The proper format for citation of the Supreme Court Reports Annotated is:

Fortich v. Corona, G.R. No. 131457, 24 April 1998, 289 SCRA 624


Owing to the delays in the regular publication of the Philippine Reports, reliance on the SCRA has been tolerated, although if a case may be found at the Philippine Reports, it is preferred that the official reporter be cited in lieu of the SCRA.

When citing cases not yet reported in the Philippine Reports or the SCRA, the above citation without reference to the SCRA is preferred (i.e., Fortich v. Corona, G.R. No. 131457, 24 April 1988)

Lower court decisions

As there are no official or unofficial reporters that regularly publish decisions of the Court of Appeals and other lower courts, citation of their decisions hews to the same format as cases not reported either in the Philippine Reports or the SCRA. Thus: (case name), (docket number), (Exact date of promulgation of decision).

United Kingdom

Neutral citation

Since 2001, judgments in the House of Lords, Privy Council, Court of Appeal and Administrative Court have been issued with neutral citations. This system was extended to other parts of the High Court in 2002. Judgments with neutral citations are freely available on the British and Irish Legal Information Institute website (

Neutral citations identify judgments independently of any series of reports, and cite only parties, year of judgment, court and case number. For example,
Rottman v MPC [2002] UKHL 20
identifies the 20th judgment in 2002 in the UK House of Lords. UKHL stands for UK House of Lords. EWHC and EWCA identify the England and Wales High Court and Court of Appeal respectively. These abbreviations are generally followed by an abbreviation indicating the court or division (e.g. Admin, Ch, Crim, Pat).

How to cite a case

If a neutral citation is available for a judgment, it should immediately follow the party names. If the judgment has also been reported in a law reports series, follow the neutral citation with the best report, which is usually from the official Law Reports series (Appeals Cases – AC, Chancery – Ch, Family – Fam, Queen's Bench – QB etc.).

The case of Rottman v MPC was reported in the Appeals Cases, so the citation should be:

This means that a report of the case and the judgment can be found in the 2002 volumes, vol 2, of the Law Reports series called Appeals Cases, beginning at page 692.

To cite a particular paragraph from the judgment, add the paragraph number in square brackets at the end of the citation:

If a case is not reported in the Law Reports, the next best report is the Weekly Law Reports (e.g. [2002] 2 WLR 1315), and then the All England Reports (e.g., [2002] 2 All ER 865). In some situations, it might be preferable to cite a specialist series, e.g., Rottman v MPC was also cited in the Human Rights Law Reports, at [2002] HRLR 32.

For cases before 2001, cite the best report. If referring to a particular page of the judgment, give that page number after the page number on which the report begins. The following citation refers to page 573 of the Donoghue v Stevenson judgment:

England and Wales

The standard case citation format in England and Wales is:

Style of cause (year of decision), [year of report] volume report (series) page jurisdiction/court
Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] AC 562 (HL).
R v Dudley and Stephens (1884) 14 QBD 273.

In England and Wales as with certain Commonwealth countries, the abbreviation "R" for rex (king) or regina (queen), is used for cases in which the state is a party (typically criminal cases or judicial review cases).

Square brackets "[ ]" are used when the year is essential to locating the report (e.g., the official law reports either—as with Donoghue v Stevenson, above—do not have volume numbers or, if there are multiple volumes in a single year, they are numbered 1, 2, etc.). Round brackets "( )" are used when the year is not essential but is useful for information purposes, e.g., in reports that have a cumulative volume number such as R v Dudley and Stephens, above.

Law Reports

The term "reporter", meaning a law report or a series of them, is not widely used in England and Wales. Before 1865, English courts used a large number of privately printed reports, and cases were cited based on which report they appeared in. (This system was also used in the United States and other common law jurisdictions during that period.)

Two main unofficial law reports report all areas of law: the Weekly Law Reports (WLR) and the All England Reports (All ER). In addition, a number of unofficial specialist law reports focus on particular areas, e.g., Entertainment and Media Law Reports (EMLR) or the Criminal Appeal Reports (Cr App R).

For the citation of "The Law Reports" of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting, see Law Reports. These have been published since 1865. They have always been split into a number of different series, the current series being the Appeal Cases (AC), Chancery (Ch), Family (Fam), and Queen's Bench (QB) (or King's Bench—KB—depending on the monarch of the time). These four series are cited in preference to all others in court.

The table below is an incomplete list of law reports other than "The Law Reports", nominate reports and reprints.

Abbreviation Law Report years
All ER The All England Law Reports 1936 –
BCLC Butterworths Company Law Cases 1983 –
BHRC Butterworths Human Rights Cases 1996 –
BMLR Butterworths Medico-Legal Reports ???? –
Con LR Construction Law Reports 1985 –
Cox CC[10] Cox's Criminal Cases 1843–1941
Cr App R Criminal Appeal Reports 1908 – [11]
Cr App R (S) Criminal Appeal Reports (Sentencing) 1979 – [11]
Crim LR The Criminal Law Review[12]
ECHR European Court of Human Rights Cases 1960 –
EGLR Estates Gazette Law Reports 1975 –
FCR Family Court Reports 1987 –
FLR Family Law Reports 1864 –
GCCR Goode Consumer Credit Reports 1882 –
The Independent The Independent[13]
IRLR Industrial Relations Law Reports 1972 –
IP & T Butterworths Intellectual Property and Technology Cases 1999 –
JP Justice of the Peace Law Reports 2003 –
ITLR International Tax Law Reports 1998 –
Lloyd's Rep Lloyd's Law Reports 1919 –
LGR Butterworths Local Government Reports 1997 –
LRC Law Reports of the Commonwealth 1995 –
LT The Law Times Reports 1859 – 1947[14]
LT (OS) The Law Times Reports, Old Series 1843 – 1859[14]
OPLR Occupational Pensions Law Reports 1992 –
PLR Estates Gazette Planning Law Reports 1988 –
RPC Reports of Patent Cases 1939 –
SJ[15] The Solicitors' Journal 1856 -[14]
STC Simon's Tax Cases 1973 –
TC Official Tax Case Reports 1883 –
The Times The Times[13]
TLR The Times Law Reports 1885 – 1952[14]
WLR The Weekly Law Reports 1953 –
WN Weekly Notes 1866 – 1952[16]

The table below is a list of series that are reprints of earlier reports.

Abbreviation Law Report years
ER The English Reports 1220–1866
RR The Revised Reports
All ER Rep The All England Law Reports Reprint

For nominate reports, see Nominate reports.


The standard case citation formats in Scotland are:

Name of parties Year of decision, Year of report Volume Series Court Page
HM Advocate v Megrahi, 2000 JC 555
McFarlane v Tayside Health Board, 2000 SC (HL) 1
Forbes v Underwood, (1886) 13 R (or 'Rettie') 465
Smith v Brown, [2005] CSIH 1

The Supreme Court has issued a practice note on the use of neutral citation. The Scots Law Times is cited as "SLT".[17]

United States

The standard case citation format in the United States is:

Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)


Case citations are used to find a particular case, both when looking up a case in a printed reporter and when accessing it via the Internet or services such as LexisNexis or Westlaw.

This format also allows different cases with the same parties to be easily differentiated. For example, looking for the U.S. Supreme Court case of Miller v. California would yield four cases, some involving different people named Miller, and each involving different issues.

Supreme Court of the United States

Cases from the Supreme Court of the United States are officially printed in the United States Reports. A citation to the United States Reports looks like this:

Many court decisions are published in more than one reporter. A citation to two or more reporters for a given court decision is called a "parallel citation". For U.S. Supreme Court decisions, there are several unofficial reporters, including the Supreme Court Reporter (abbreviated S. Ct.) and United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition (commonly known simply as Lawyers' Edition) (abbreviated L. Ed.), which are printed by private companies and provide further annotations to the opinions of the Court. Although a citation to the latter two is not required, some attorneys and legal writers prefer to cite all three case reporters at once:

The "2d" after the L. Ed. signifies the second series of the Lawyers' Edition. United States case reporters are sequentially numbered, but the volume number is never higher than 999. When the 1,000th volume is reached (the threshold in earlier years was lower), the volume number is reset to 1 and a "2d" is appended after the reporter's abbreviation. Some case reporters are in their third series, and a few are approaching their fourth.

Some very old Supreme Court cases have odd-looking citations, such as Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803). The "(1 Cranch)" refers to the fact that, before there was a reporter series known as the United States Reports compiled by the Supreme Court's Reporter of Decisions, cases were gathered, bound together, and sold privately by the Court's Reporter of Decisions. In this example, Marbury was first reported in an edition by William Cranch, who was responsible for publishing Supreme Court reports from 1801 to 1815. Such reports, named for the individual who gathered them and hence called "nominative reports", existed from 1790 to 1874. Beginning in 1874, the U.S. government created the United States Reports, and at the same time simultaneously numbered the volumes previously published privately as part of a single series and began numbering sequentially from that point. In this way, "5 U.S. (1 Cranch)" means that it is the 5th overall volume of the United States Reports series, but the first that was originally published by William Cranch; four volumes of opinions prior to that were (for example) published by Alexander Dallas (for example, "4 U.S. (4 Dall.)"), and after Cranch's 9 volumes, 12 more were published by Henry Wheaton (e.g., "15 U.S. (2 Wheat.)"). See the Supreme Court of the United States Reporter of Decisions for other edition names. The name of the reporter of decisions has not been used in citations since the U.S. government began printing the United States Reports.

When a case has been decided, but not yet published in the case reporter, the citation may note the volume but leave blank the page of the case reporter until it is determined. For example, Golan v. Holder, 565 U.S. ___ (2012).

In the caption of a Supreme Court case, the first name listed is the name of the petitioning (appealing) party, followed by the party responding (respondent) to the appeal. In most cases, the appealing party was the losing party in the prior court. This is no longer the practice used in cases in the federal courts of appeal, in which the original alignment of parties from the lower court is preserved.

Lower federal courts

Map of the geographic boundaries of the various United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts

United States court of appeals cases are published in the Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, or F.3d). United States district court cases and cases from some specialized courts are published in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp., F. Supp. 2d, or F. Supp. 3d). Both series are published by Thomson West; they are technically unofficial reporters, but have become widely accepted as the de facto "official" reporters of the lower federal courts because of the absence of a true official reporter. (Of the federal appeals and district courts, only one, the D.C. Circuit, has an official reporter, United States Court of Appeals Reports, and even that one is rarely used today.)[18]

When lower federal court opinions are cited, the citation includes the name of the court. This is placed in the parentheses immediately before the year. Some examples:

U.S. circuit and district court cases from 1789 to 1880 were reported in Federal Cases, abbreviated F. Cas. An example of the citation form is: Wheaton v. Peters, 29 F. Cas. 862 (C.C.E.D. Pa. 1832) (No. 17,486).

State courts

State court decisions are published in several places. Many states have their own official state reporters, which publish decisions of one or more of that state's courts. Reporters that publish decisions of a state's highest court are abbreviated the same as the state's name (note: this is the traditional abbreviation, not the postal abbreviation), regardless of what the actual title of the reporter is. Thus, the official reporter of decisions of the California Supreme Court (titled California Reports) is abbreviated "Cal." (or, for subsequent series, "Cal. 2d," "Cal. 3d", or "Cal. 4th").

The Thomson West National Reporter System regions.

In addition to the official reporters, Thomson West publishes several series of "regional reporters" that cover several states each. These are the North Eastern Reporter, Atlantic Reporter, South Eastern Reporter, Southern Reporter, South Western Reporter, North Western Reporter, and Pacific Reporter. California, Illinois, and New York also each have their own line of Thomson West reporters, because of the large volume of cases generated in those states (titled, respectively, West's California Reporter, Illinois Decisions, and West's New York Supplement). Some smaller states (like South Dakota) have stopped publishing their own official reporters, and instead have certified the appropriate West regional reporter as their "official" reporter.

Here are some examples of how to cite West reporters:

Abbreviations for lower courts vary by state, as each state has its own system of trial courts and intermediate appellate courts. When a case appears in both an official reporter and a regional reporter, either citation can be used. Generally, citing to the regional reporter is preferred, since out-of-state attorneys are more likely to have access to these. Many lawyers prefer to include both citations. Some state courts require that parallel citations (in this case, citing to both the official reporter and an unofficial regional reporter) be used when citing cases from any court in that state's system.

Like the United States Supreme Court, some very old state case citations include an abbreviation of the name of either the private publisher or the reporter of decisions, a state-appointed officer who originally collected and published the cases. For example, in Hall v. Bell, 47 Mass. (6 Met.) 431 (1843), the citation is to volume 47 of Massachusetts Reports, which, like United States Reports, was started in the latter half of the 19th century and incorporated into the series a number of prior editions originally published privately, and began numbering from that point; "6 Met." refers to the 6th volume that had originally been published privately by Theron Metcalf. An example of a case cited to a reporter that has not been subsequently incorporated into an officially published series is Pierson v. Post, 3 Cai. 175 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1804), reported in volume 3 of Caines' Reports, page 175, named for George Caines, who had been appointed to report New York cases; the case was before the New York Supreme Court of Judicature (now defunct). Most states gave up this practice in the mid-to-late 19th century, but Delaware persisted until 1920.

Some states, notably California and New York, have their own citation systems that differ significantly from the various federal and national standards.[19] In California, the year is placed between the names of the parties and the reference to the case reporter; in New York, the year is wrapped by in brackets instead of parentheses. Both New York and California styles wrap an entire citation in parentheses when used as a stand-alone sentence, although New York places the terminating period outside the parentheses, whereas California places it inside. New York wraps just the reporter and page references in parentheses when the citation is used as a clause.

Either way, both state styles differ from the national/Bluebook style of simply dropping in the citation as a separate sentence without further adornment. Both systems use less punctuation and spacing in their reporter abbreviations.

For example, assuming that it is being placed as a stand-alone sentence, the Brown case above would be cited (using the official reporter) to a New York court as:

And, again, as a stand-alone sentence, the famous Greenman product liability case would be cited to a California court as:

Unpublished decisions

Main article: Non-publication

A growing number of court decisions are not published in case reporters. For example, only 7% of the opinions of the California intermediate courts (the Courts of Appeal) are published each year. This is mainly because judges certify only significant decisions for publication, due to the massive number of frivolous appeals flowing through the courts and the importance of avoiding information overload.[21]

It is also argued that this is in part because in many states, especially California, the legislature has failed to expand the judiciary to keep up with population growth (for various political and fiscal reasons). To deal with their crushing caseloads, many judges prefer to write shorter-than-normal opinions that dispose of minor issues in the case in a sentence or two. They avoid publishing such abbreviated opinions, however, so as not to risk creating bad precedents.

Attorneys have several options in citing "unpublished" decisions:

Some court systems—such as the California state court system and the federal Court of Appeals for the Second, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits—forbid attorneys to cite unpublished cases as precedent. Other systems allow citation of unpublished cases only under specific circumstances. For example, in Kentucky, unpublished cases from that state's courts can only be cited if the case was decided after January 1, 2003, and "there is no published opinion that would adequately address the issue before the court". From 2004 to 2006, federal judges debated whether the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (FRAP) should be amended so that unpublished cases in all circuits could be cited as precedent. In 2006, the Supreme Court, over the objection of several hundred judges and lawyers, adopted a new Rule 32.1 of FRAP requiring that federal courts allow citation of unpublished cases. The rule took effect on January 1, 2007.

Vendor-neutral citations

With the rise of the web, many courts placed new cases on websites. Some were published while others never lost their "unpublished" status. The major legal citation systems required cites to the officially published page numbers, in which publishers such as West Publishing claimed a copyright interest. (In view of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Feist Publications v. Rural Telephone Service, that the mere alphabetical listing of telephone subscribers was an inadequate amount of effort to be valid to obtain copyright, the claim of copyright on page numbering of court decisions is probably not valid.)

A vendor-neutral citation movement[22] led to provisions being made for citations to web-based cases and other legal materials. A few courts modified their rules to specifically take into account cases "published" on the web.

An example of a vendor-neutral citation:

Pinpoint citations

In practice, most lawyers go one step farther, once they have developed the correct citation for a case using the rules discussed above. Most court opinions contain holdings on multiple issues, so lawyers need to cite to the page that contains the specific holding they wish to invoke in their own case. Such citations are known as pinpoint citations, "pin cites", or "jump cites".[23]

For example, in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the word "person" as used in the Fourteenth Amendment does not include the unborn. That particular holding appears on page 158 of the volume in which the Roe decision was published. A full pin cite to Roe for that holding would be as follows:

And a parallel cite to all three U.S. Supreme Court reporters, combined with pin cites for all three, would produce:

But in its opinions, the Court usually provides a direct pin cite only to the official reporter. The two unofficial reporters, when they reprint the Court's opinions, add on parallel cites to each other, but do not add pin cites. Therefore, a citation to Roe v. Wade in a later Supreme Court decision as viewed on Lexis or Westlaw would appear as follows:

Even then, such citations are still quite lengthy, and may look quite mysterious and intimidating to laypersons when they read court opinions. Since the 1980s, there has been an ongoing debate among American judges as to whether they should relegate such lengthy citations to footnotes to improve the readability of their opinions, as strongly urged by Bryan A. Garner, one of the leading authors on legal writing and style. Most judges do relegate some citations to footnotes, but jurists such as Justice Stephen Breyer and Judge Richard Posner refuse to use footnotes in their opinions.

Types of citations

There are two types of citations: proprietary and public domain citations. There are many citation guides; the most commonly acknowledged is called The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, compiled by the Columbia Law Review, Harvard Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Yale Law Journal. Public domain citations refer to the official reporters, rather than a publication service such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, particular legal journals, or specialization-specific reporters. States with their own unique style for court documents and case opinions also publish their own style guides, which include information on their citation rules.

See also

Law by state


  1. Garner, Bryan A., ed. (2012). Black's Law Dictionary (9th Abridged ed.). St. Paul, Minnesota: West. p. 221. ISBN 978-0-314-26578-4.
  2. 1 2 3 School of Oriental and African Studies Library, University of London (August 2012). "Understanding UK Case Law" (PDF). SOAS Library: Research Guides. pp. 5–6. The small letter “v” is an abbreviation of versus. However, the term “and” is used to pronounce it, rather than “v” or “versus”, e.g. the case “Smith v Jones” would be pronounced “Smith and Jones”
  3. School of Oriental and African Studies Library, University of London (August 2012). "Understanding UK Case Law" (PDF). SOAS Library: Research Guides. p. 5. A case can be pronounced in a number of ways, e.g. “R v Smith” would be pronounced either “the Crown against Smith”, or it can be referred to as simply “Smith”
  4. Melbourne University Law Review Association (2010). Australian guide to legal citation (3rd ed.). p. 43. ISBN 9780646527390. In speech, the 'v' between the parties' names is rendered 'and' in a civil action and 'against' in a criminal action both in Australia and the United Kingdom. It is not pronounced 'versus' as it is in the United States of America.
  5. "On Language: Child's Garden of Vs.". The New York Times. June 4, 1989.
  6. "Sony Corporation of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.". Warren E. Burger: Before we hear the arguments in Sony Corporation against Universal City Studios ...
  7. "Smith v. Massachusetts". Oyez. John Paul Stevens: We'll hear argument in the case of Smith against Massachusetts.
  8. "Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey". Oyez. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  10. Archbold abbreviates it to Cox, which is also used for Cox's Chancery Cases
  11. 1 2 Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice. 1999. p xvi.
  12. Carries summary reports that can be used if, and only if, a verbatim report is not available
  13. 1 2 Carries summary reports, see note to the Criminal Law Review
  14. 1 2 3 4 Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice, 1999, p.xix
  15. It is also abbreviated "Sol Jo"
  16. Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice (1999), p. xx
  17. Archbold Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice (1999), p. xix.
  18. D.C. Circuit Rule 32.1 provides: "Citations to decisions of this court must be to the Federal Reporter. Dual or parallel citation of cases is not required."
  19. "New York Law Reports Style Manual"
  20. Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, Inc. (1963) 59 C2d 57
  21. Schmier v. Supreme Court, 78 Cal. App. 4th 703 (2000). The plaintiff in this case unsuccessfully challenged the selective publication policy as unconstitutional. The court retorted: "Appellant either misunderstands or ignores the realities of the intermediate appellate process." The court went on to describe the variety of frivolous appeals regularly encountered by the Courts of Appeal, and concluded: "Our typical opinions in such cases add nothing to the body of stare decisis, and if published would merely clutter overcrowded library shelves and databases with information utterly useless to anyone other than the actual litigants therein and complicate the search for meaningful precedent."
  22. AALL Citation Formats Committee; accessed May 31, 2014.
  23. Using Pinpoints, Tulane University Law School, Legal Citation Guide.

External links

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