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Legal Research: A Guide to Case Law


Legal citations, in general, are used to identify the source of information supporting a particular point in a legal document (such as a motion, a brief, or a decision). Citations that refer to court decisions identify where a particular decision has been published in a reporter; they are laid out in a specific and consistent manner so that a reader can easily find the text of the decision in a reporter. The typical form of a citation to a decision includes:

  1. the names of the lead parties (in most cases, the plaintiff or appellant versus the defendant or appellee),
  2. a number representing the volume of the reporter,
  3. an abbreviation of the name of the reporter,
  4. a second number providing the first page of the decision, and
  5. in parentheses, an abbreviation for the court and the year the decision was issued. 

For example, the citation Stearns v. Ticketmaster Corp., 655 F.3d 1013 (9th Cir. 2011), identifies a decision in a case between an appellant, named Stearns, and an appellee, named Ticketmaster Corporation. The citation indicates that the decision was published in volume 655 of the Federal Reporter, Third Series (identified by the abbreviation “F.3d”), beginning on page 1013. The citation also shows the decision was issued by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit (abbreviated as 9th Cir.), in 2011.

The Bluebook

The rules governing the most widely used legal citation style are found in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Below, find a link to fuller bibliographic information about this resource in the Library of Congress Online Catalog.

Online Legal Citation Guides

Online resources provide basic legal citation guidance, but should be used as a supplement to (not a substitute for) the Bluebook.