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First Year Seminar- Basic Legal Research: Citation of court opinions

This research guide is specifically for Barbara Tarter's FYS class that focuses on legal research.

Citing court opinions (also known as "case citations")

Bluebook

Court opinions have a special citation format, based on the court issuing the opinion and where you find the opinion. Since 1879 court opinions were published in physical books as part of the National Reporter System from West Publishing.

A full citation includes

  1. The abbreviated names of the main parties (the plaintiff or appellant versus the defendant or appellee)
  2. a number representing the volume of the "reporter" where the opinion is published
  3. an abbreviation of the name of the "reporter"
  4. a number representing the first page of the opinion
  5. the information in #2-4 for any other "reporters" or sources of the opinion (such as Westlaw)
  6. in parentheses, an abbreviation for the court and the year the opinion was issued
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 157 (1973)
Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113, 157 (1973)
Case/Party names Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Specific page
being quoted
Year of opinion
Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm, 558 U.S. 310, 130 S. Ct. 876, 175 L. Ed. 2d 753 (2010)
this case is reported in three separate reporters, one official and two commercial
Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm 558 U.S. 310, 130 S. Ct. 876, 175 L.Ed.. 2d 753 (2010)
Case/Party names Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Year of opinion
Cooper v. City of Charleston, 218 W. Va. 279; 624 S.E.2d 716; 2005 W. Va. LEXIS 172 (2005)
this case is reported in three separate reporters, one official, one commercial, and one commercial on-line only
Cooper v. City of Charleston 218 W.Va.. 279, 624 S.E.2d 716, 2005 LEXIS 172 (2005)
Case/Party names Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Reporter
volume
Reporter
abbreviation
First page
of opinion
Year of
opinion
Online
Reporter
First page
of opinion
Year of opinion

APA Style

Appendix 7.1 of the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association gives guidance on referencing legal materials. Follow the Bluebook on abbreviations for the published source, court, dates,and the proper form to signal the various stages in the case's history. For in-text citations, give the name of the case (italicized) and the year of the decision. If more than one year is given, include those years as well.

  Reference list:   Name v. Name, Volume Source Page (Court Date) in-text citation
Decided case Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Roe v. Wade (1973)   or   (Roe v. Wade, 1973)
Appealed case Roe v. Wade, 314 F. Supp. 1217(N.D. Tex., 1970), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Roe v. Wade (1971/1973)   or   (Roe v. Wade, 1971/1973)
Unpublished opinion State ex rel. White v. Narick, No. 15957, 1984 W. Va. LEXIS 401, (W. Va. March 21, 1984) State ex rel. White v. Narick (1984)   or   (State ex rel. White v. Narick, 1984)
State Appeals Crt case Cooper v. City of Charleston, 218 W. Va. 279 (2005) Cooper v. City of Charleston (2005)   or   (Cooper v. City of Charleston, 2005)

MLA Style

Paragraph 5.7.14 of the 7th edition of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers gives guidance on referencing legal materials. Although legal citations are often full of abbreviations, you should only use those abbreviations that would be familiar to a general audiences; chapter 7 of the MLA Handbook gives some of these. The important words of each party's name are spelled out, with "v." between them.

In the reference list, the citation includes: Name v. Name, Volume Source Page. Court. Year. Source of information. Medium. Date accessed if on the Web. In-text citations use the first part of the first party's name.

Reference list in-text citation
Roe v. Wade, 410 US 113-178. Supreme Court of the United States. 1973. LexisNexis Academic. n.d. Web. 4 April 2016. Roe or Roe v. Wade

Common abbreviations

Abbreviations you will see most often are:

  • U.S. Supreme Court:
    • U.S.    --- U.S. Reports [official version, published by the US government]
    • S. Ct.    --- Supreme Court Reporter [published by West]
    • L. Ed., L. Ed.2d    --- U.S. Supreme Court Decisions, Lawyer’s Edition [published by Lawyers Cooperative and LexisNexis]
  • U.S. Court of Appeals:   F.     F.2d     F.3d --- Federal Reporter (first, second, or third series)
  • U.S. District Court:   F. Supp.      F. Supp. 2d      F. Supp. 3d --- Federal Supplement (first, second, or third series)
  • State Appellate Courts (in West's National Reporter System)
    • A.     A.2d     A.3d    --- Atlantic Reporter (CT, DE, D.C., ME, MD, NH, NJ, PA, RI, VT)
    • N.E.     N.E.2d    --- Northeastern Reporter ( IL, IN, MA, NY, OH;)
    • N.W.     N.W.2d    --- Northwestern Reporter (IA, MI, MN, NE, ND, SD, WI)
    • P.     P.2d      P.3d    ---  Pacific Reporter (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY)
    • So.     So. 2d    --- Southern Reporter (AL, FL, LA, MS)
    • S.E.     S.E.2d    --- Southeastern Reporter (GA, NC, SC, VA, WV)
    • S.W.     S.W.2d     S.W.3d    --- Southwestern Reporter (AR, KY, MO, TN, TX)
    • Cal. Rptr.     Cal. Rptr. 2d     Cal. Rptr.3d    --- California Reporter (CA)
    • N.Y.S.     N.Y.S.2d    --- New York Supplement(NY)
  • Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia:  W. Va.

If an opinion is available in several different sources (such as Supreme Court opinions), those will be listed in what is know as a "parallel citation". For example:
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310, 130 S. Ct. 876, 175 L. Ed. 2d 753, 2010 U.S. LEXIS 766 (U.S. 2010)
shows the official reporter (U.S.) and three commercial reporters--two in print (S.Ct. and L. Ed. 2d) and one online (LEXIS).

Fuller lists of abbreviations are at::