Citing Court Cases
Last Updated 8/2005. Links verified 10/2009. Direct feedback on this page to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Court cases are generally cited in a uniform format, beginning with the name of the parties (generally in italics or underlined) followed by the volume number of the reporter, the abbreviated name of the reporter, the pager number, and the date of the decision (in parentheses). For example:
Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57 (1986)
This citation tells you that this case will be found in Volume 477 of United States Reports at page 57, and the case was decided in 1986.
Since more than one publisher compiles cases into reporters, often a case name will be followed by several citations. These are called parallel citations. The above case, including the parallel citations, would look like this:
Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 106 S.Ct. 2399,
91 L.Ed. 2d 49, 54 U.S.L.W. 4703 (1986).
In this example, United States Reports is the official (government) publication, Supreme Court Reporter is put out by West Publishing Company, United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition is put out by Lawyer's Cooperative Publishing Company, and United States Law Week is published by BNA. The case will be the same in all versions, but the commercial publishers add various editorial enhancements to their reports of cases.
(In many instances, these abbreviations will be followed by an indication of a second, third, fourth, etc., series. For example, F 2d. means Federal Reporter, Second Series. These subsequent series generally follow one another on the shelves; it is important to be sure you are in the correct series.)
Supreme Court Cases:
U. S. .......... United States Reports
Many states have discontinued publishing official reporters. State cases can also be found in a regional reporter covering several states in the same region. For example, before 1978, Minnesota cases will be found in Minnesota Reports as well as North Western Reporter and North Western Reporter, Second Series. Later cases will be found in the North Western Reporter, Second Series (N.W. 2d) along with cases for Iowa, North and South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska.
Cal. Rptr. ...... California Reporter (West Publishing)
To decipher other title abbreviations, consult Prince's Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, (Law Library Reference Office KF 246 .B46 2001). A copy is available in the Reference Office. To determine whether the University of Minnesota Law Library has the reporter, do a browse title begins search on MNCAT.
If you only have a citation to an official reporter and need to find the parallel citations for a case, check the National Reporter Blue Book. It is located in the Reference Section (Law Library Reference KF 152 N383 1928). The Table of Cases in an appropriate digest will also provide parallel citations for the case. Many digests are available, check with a reference librarian for assistance in locating one to use.
To answer other questions related to legal citation, consult The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (18th ed. 2005). There are several copies at the Reserve Desk, and in the Reference Office, (KF245.B58).