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Case Citations

This guide discusses basic issues with citing to judicial opinions and includes examples of properly cited judicial opinions.

Preliminary Case Citation Matters

Check Rule 10 on page 94 of the 20th edition along with other sections that it cross references to find out how to cite judicial opinions.

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 10, at 94 (Columbia Law Review Ass'n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015).

Case Reporters are print sources, and they ARE NOT digital sources. To cite to a judicial opinion in a case reporter properly you must get the print copy of that reporter and off the shelf and find the judicial opinion in that reporter and verify the starting page number and the pinpoint page number. Whether everyone actually does this will remain a mystery…

Judicial Branch at the Federal, State, and Local Levels of Government

There are 3 levels of government in the United States of America, and each level has a judicial branch: the federal level, the state level, and the local level. In California the local level was eliminated by merging it with the state level.

  • The judicial branch at the federal level includes these courts:
    • the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS),
    • the United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, and
    • the United States District Courts.
  • The judicial branch at the state level in California includes these courts:
    • the Supreme Court of California,
    • the California Courts of Appeal, and
    • the Superior Courts of California.

Systems of Citation: The Bluebook & The California Style Manual

Federal court rules refer you to The Bluebook for how to cite a resource. California court rules refer you to the Bluebook or to the California Style Manual—you get to decide. You are expected to cite any authority in the way that the court to which you will cite that authority demands, which means that you are expected to be able to use these citation manuals.

This guide uses the Bluebook.

Pinpoint Citations

If you are citing to specific material within a judicial opinion, then use a pinpoint citation to show which page number it is on. This is sometimes called a “pincite.” Pinpoint citations are discussed in Rule B10.1.2 on page 12 and Rule 3.2 on page 72. When you refer not to the whole case, but instead to a quotation or to ideas at a particular point in the case, then you would put the page number where the case begins in the report, then a comma, and then the page number where the quotation or ideas that you are referring to can be found. An example of a pinpoint citation is listed with each reporter in this guide.

Short form Citation for Judicial Opinions

Short form citations for judicial opinions are handled by Rule 10.9 on page 115 of the Bluebook. They allow a shorter citation to cases when that case has already been cited in your paper within the last 5 footnotes. While we include examples of possible short form citations in the this guide, the particulars of creating a short form citations are a bit particular and most likely require you to examine the rule and decide what will work for your paper.

Official Reporters and Unofficial Reporters

Some reporters are designated as official. This means that a statute or court rule makes that reporter the official source of a court's judicial opinions. All other reporters are unofficial reporters.

Multiple Series in one Reporter

Reporters are print sources, and part of that print system include various series. A series means that the reporter can have multiple volumes with the same volume number; there is volume one of the first series, volume 1 of the second series, volume one of the third series, and so on. This is done whenever the publisher creates a new series and so restarts the volume numbering. The new series typically continues where the former series ended, and sometimes there is a change in format or editorial enhancements that seems to indicate a reason for the publisher to have created a new series. The Federal Reporter has three series (F., F.2d. and F3d.) that all start at volume one. Take care to note of the case citation to ensure you are looking for your case in the correct series.

Reporters Report Judicial Opinions, and Only Courts "Publish" Judicial Opinions

Reporters report judicial opinions. Courts decide whether a particular judicial opinion is published. This makes the term "published" special when it comes to judicial opinions. Any judicial opinions can be reported, but a published judicial opinion is one that the court issuing it determined could be precedential. I.E. a published judicial opinion can be mandatory authority, while an unpublished judicial opinion cannot be mandatory authority. In some jurisdictions you are not even permitted to cite unpublished cases to a court. This concept brings up a variety of issues, and you might ask a reference librarian if you wish to find out more.

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This guide was created as a Case Citations guide by Erin Grimes and Robert O'Leary. Ms. Grimes wrote the section on federal judicial opinions.