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Legal Skills

This is a companion guide for a series of sessions introducing legal research resources to students in Legal Skills.

Using Restatements

What are they?


Restatements of the Law are published by the American Law Institute, an independent organization which has, since the 1920s, sought to create clear statements of particular areas of American common law. They have been working hard ever since, churning out a new Restatement every few years, and there are now Restatements of the following areas of law.

Note that the links below are to one sample Restatement title for each topic; there are often many other volumes or editions of each Restatement topic, and you may have to look at more than one.

"Rules" of law from the Restatements are frequently used by judges when crafting their opinions.

What is the "American Law Institute," and why are they allowed to dictate what the law is?

In a way, the American Law Institute is just another publisher of a set of (particularly complicated) treatises. But in a way they are not: each Restatement is written by an eminent legal scholar assisted by a "committee" of dozens of "advisors," often law professors and judges, further guided by a "consultative group" of attorneys from around the country; drafts are submitted to a "council" of attorneys; and each Restatement goes through numerous drafts before it is approved by the entire Institute at an annual meeting and finally published, one slow volume at a time. Because of this, from the beginning courts have granted the Restatements far more weight than your typical secondary source, almost as much as the binding authority of other courts.

How can the Restatements help me?

The Restatements are particularly useful when you need to cite some principle of law in support of your case, but you can't find any court rulings in your jurisdiction which create clearly binding authority.

For example: Let's say your client is a teacher with the Sunnydale public school system, close to Santa Barbara. To counter the high local cost of housing and attract new teachers to the area, the school district many years ago bought a supply of local houses, which it allowed its teachers to buy at below-market rates -- with a provision in the deed stating that if the teacher stopped being employed by the district, he or she would be required to sell the house to another teacher. The sale price would be determined by increasing the price at which the teacher originally bought the house by the intervening increase in the national consumer price index -- generally, much less than the local appreciation in home prices. Now the teacher wants to leave, because she's tired of the local vampire population, but she feels she should be able to realize more profit from the sale of the house; if she had bought a house on the open market, it would have doubled in value by now. Does she have to sell the house to another teacher? Can she sell it at a more realistic price? In other words, is this part of the deed enforceable?

Now is the time to frantically probe your brain for anything you remember from your Property class. Is this a convenant? An easement? Something else? The library's California Real Property practice manuals don't deal with anything this obscure, and a search of California cases on Westlaw is fruitless. You look through the table of contents of Witkin's Summary of California Law, and find a discussion of "Conditions and Covenants Restraining Alienation" (§ 190). This sounds promising! But the discussion gives you two conflicting cases, Taormina Theosophical Community v. Silver, 140 C.A.3d 964, 973, 190 C.R. 38 (1983) (a covenant restricting condominium ownership to members of the Theosophical society who are over 50 years old is unenforceable) and Martin v. Villa Roma, 131 C.A.3d 632, 182 C.R. 382 (1982) (restriction of sale of membership in a federally-regulated public housing project to persons meeting certain income levels at a pre-determined price is enforceable); and a state statute which says merely that "Conditions restraining alienation, when repugnant to the interest created, are void" (California Civil Code § 711). Well, thank you very much. What does that mean? The case annotations following the statute are no more helpful than the statute itself. It's time to find a Restatement Rule on the subject!

How do I find Rules for a particular area of law in the Restatements?

In this situation, you pretty clearly want to go to the Restatement of Property. Let's take a look:


Wait! There are three of them!

  • A Restatement of the Law: Property, which covers "Freehold Interests," "Future Interests," "Perpetuities" and "Servitudes," and was published from 1936 to 1944;
  • A Restatement of the Law: Second: Property 2d (why the 2d? isn't that redundant?), which covers "Landlord & Tenant" and "Donative Transfers," published from 1977 through 1983; and,
  • A Restatement of the Law: Third: Property, which covers "Wills and other Donative Transfers," "Servitudes" and "Mortgages," published from 1997 to 2003.

Why so many versions? And why are the old ones still on the shelves? As the law develops over time, the ALI may publish a new edition, or "series," of a Restatement, either to reflect prevailing changes in old rules, or to address topics not covered in the original Restatement. As you can see, the Third Restatement of Property contains a revised section on "Servitudes," which was last addressed in the First Restatement, as well as a section on "Donative Transfers," previously addressed in the Second Restatement. But just because a new Restatement has been published does not mean that the old one is "superseded." Courts may continue to cite the old Restatement for years, until a brave judge or panel decides to switch their allegiance to the new version, and other courts follow suit.

Third Restatement of Servitudes

That said, you should start your research with the most recent version: in this case, you will go to the Third Restatement's volumes on "Servitudes." Why? Well, this isn't a "Donative Transfer" (i.e., GIVING the land away), or a "Mortgage," and "Servitudes" is all that's left. Take a look at the index. "Covenants" and "Restrictive Covenants" lead you nowhere useful, but "Restraints on Alienation" leads you to "Direct Restraints, § 3.4." You could also have found this by paging through the Table of Contents.

Restatement section

Turning to § 3.4, you find the following language in bold:

§ 3.4. Direct Restraints on Alienation

A servitude that imposes a direct restraint on alienation of the burdened estate is invalid if the restraint is unreasonable. Reasonableness is determined by weighing the utility of the restraint against the injurious consequences of enforcing the restraint.

So far, so good. This is the "Rule." You then get many pages of comments and "illustrations," or hypothetical fact patterns involving this Rule, which help you to determine how the ALI, at least, intended it to be applied.


In this case, comment "h" states that severe restrictions on alienation as part of an affordable housing program are usually reasonable.


Illustration 9 is a fact pattern involving a university program to provide affordable housing for faculty -- a program which shares many elements with your client's situation, and which the Restatement suggests would be considered "reasonable" by the courts.

But that's not all: next are many pages of "Reporter's Notes," which refer you to other, related Rules of the Restatements of Property (this and previous editions), law review articles, and cases -- including some cases from California. Toarmina and Villa Roma are there, as well as some California cases which discuss the "reasonableness" requirement more generally. The result? You can not only cite the Restatement Rule itself and the illustration, but you now have additional cases which you can cite -- either to your client, to tell her that she is unlikely to have this deed provision declared invalid; or to the court, if you decide to go ahead and argue that the provisions are, in this situation, "unreasonable" under the law. Don't forget to Shepardize or Keycite the cases you decide to rely upon. And you will want to take a look at the other, surrounding Restatement Rules; some of these may be useful, as well.

How do I find out if this Restatement Rule has been cited by the California courts? Or any other courts?

If a Restatement Rule has been cited with approval by the California courts, it obviously will have more authority to the judge hearing your case. And the opposite is also true: if California courts have, in the past, explicitly declined to follow a Rule, then you had better be prepared to address this if you cite it yourself. And if it has been cited in other states in fact situations which are very similar to your client's, this may also be helpful to you. There are three ways to find such cases:

  1. First, check the pocket part, looking under your handy Rule number, § 3.4. The pocket part will include any cases which have cited that Restatement Rule since the volume was issued. For older Restatements, there are typically so many citations that the ALI issues "Appendix" volumes, which are shelved after the main volumes (for some Restatements, such as the Second Restatement of Torts, there are over a dozen such volumes. Look carefully at the dates and Rule numbers on the spines of each, and try to check all that include your Rule). Pocket parts are issued annually; in between, look at the pamphlet entitled Interim Case Citations to the Restatements of the Law, which is issued every few months. The ALI also used to publish a series called Restatement in the Courts, which collected the citations to all of the different Restatements, but this was discontinued in 1976
  2. You can also look at Shepard's Restatement of the Law Citations, a special Shepard's publication which, like the old Restatement in the Courts, collects all citations to Restatements.
  3. Finally, you can KeyCite your Restatement Rule on Westlaw, or Shepardize it on Lexis.

What are all these "Drafts" and "Revisions" of Restatements which I keep finding in the library catalog?

These are just what they sound like, drafts of a proposed new Restatement, which has been submitted to the entire ALI for its consideration, and may (or may not) be adopted as it stands. You could certainly cite to a "Rule" in a Tentative Draft or Final Draft to show how the law seems to be evolving, but do not expect the court to give it the same level of trust and authority that it would a fully adopted Restatement.

Can I search the Restatements online?

Yes! On Westlaw, the Restatements are available in the "ALI Restatements of the Law & Principles of the Law" directory (you will see this directory either by clicking on "Restatements" in the general Westlaw Directory, or by typing "Restatements" into the "Search these databases" box on the left). Westlaw's Restatements databases include all of the Restatements on each topic, even those which have been followed by later Restatements, and there is also an "archive" database for each topic, which includes the various drafts issued by the American Law Institute before a Restatement was adopted.

List of Restatement Databases

Click on the picture at left to see a list of the Restatements databases. You can search one Restatement topic, or all of them at once. Like the others, the "Restatement of the Law -- Property" database includes all three property Restatements, as well as links to all of the cases citing each section. A simple search of "covenant* and restrain* and alienat*" (which will get you any document with covenant or covenants, restraint or restraining, and alienate or alientation) in the Restatements -- Property database got 11 results, including § 3.4.

Navigating Restatement Database

As when using the books, you will want to look at the other Rules around this one, to see if any are also (or more) useful to your case. The easiest way to do this is to click on the "Full-Text Document -- Table of Contents" link on the left side of the screen (click on the picture at left to see what this looks like).

Table of Contents

This will bring you to the Table of Contents for this part of the Restatement of Property (see the picture at left), where you can troll for other useful Rules. You could also click on the "Previous Section" and "Next Section" links next to the title of the document, to view the sections near this one. And of course, it is easy to KeyCite any Restatement Rule which you find on Westlaw by clicking on the "KeyCite" link at left. You can also click directly on a link in the document to the cases citing that Rule, which is just like looking in the Restatement's pocket part or Appendix.

On Lexis, the Restatements are available in the "Restatements" directory, found with the "Secondary Legal" resources. Lexis includes only the most recently-enacted version of a particular Restatement in its database. Therefore, you will not be able to use Lexis to, for example, read the Servitudes section of the first Restatement of Property. Lexis also does not carry the various drafts of the Restatements.

Lexis Restatements

As with Westlaw, you may search an individual Restatement topic, or all of the Restatements combined. Unlike with Westlaw, you can also search all of the cases citing the various Restatements separately (although it's not quite clear why you would want to...). Click on the link at left to see the Lexis "Restatements" directory.

Lexis search

If you choose to search an individual section of the Restatements (such as, in this case, the "Servitudes" section of the Third Restatement of Property), you will be taken to a search screen which not only gives you the usual search window where you can type your terms and connectors, but also, below, a Table of Contents, which you can expand to view the different Rules in that section of the Restatement. This is often a much easier way of finding useful Rules than hoping that you use the right combination of words in a search.

Shepardize the Restatement

Once you find a useful Rule, you can click on the "Case Citations" link to see subsequent cases citing that Rule. You can also click on the "Book Browse" link at the top of the page to see nearby Rules in the Restatement volume. And you can Shepardize the Rule by clicking on the "Shepard's" link at the top of the page.

How do I properly cite a Restatement section, comment or illustration?

Here is the proper citation, according to the Bluebook: Restatement (Third) of Property § 3.4 cmt. h, illus. 11 (2001). See the Bluebook: a Uniform System of Citation (2005) Rule 3.4. Simply drop the "cmt." or "illus." part if you're not citing to one of these.