Law School 101: Case Citations
What is a case citation?
Case citations are the unique citing reference given to each case referring to where the case is published in a book. Case citations are made up of three parts – volume, reporter designation and page number. For example; International Shoe v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310 (U.S. 1945).
- 326 is the volume of the official United States Supreme Court reporter
- U.S. is the designation for the official United States Supreme Court reporter
- 310 is the first page where the case is printed in the United States Supreme Court reporter
What’s a reporter? The reporter is the book that cases are printed in. A case is said to be “published” when it appears in a reporter. If a case does not appear in a reporter and is only available through an electronic source like LexisNexis then it is said to be “unpublished.” Cases that cannot be found in reporters or electronic sources are said to be “unreported.”
Where can I find a citation?
The citations for a case are listed at the top of that case in LexisNexis, for example: 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99, 1928 N.Y. LEXIS 1269, 59 A.L.R. 1253.
Citations are also found as references in cases, law review articles, and other secondary sources. For example, below is a quote from the case Petition of Kinsman Transit Co., 338 F.2d 708, 1964 U.S. App. LEXIS 4032 (2d Cir. N.Y. 1964) that references another case:
“The very statement of the case suggests the need for considering Palsgraf v. Long Island RR., 248 N.Y. 339, 162 N.E. 99, 59 A.L.R. 1253 (1928), and the closely related problem of liability for unforeseeable consequences.”
Why are there multiple citations for the same case?
Cases are found in many different reporters and electronic sources and each has a unique citation associated with it. It is common practice to mention the “parallel citations” for a case when referencing it so the reader can find the case no matter which source they are using. For example, you may see a citation like this:
Wood v. Lucy, Lady Duff-Gordon, 222 N.Y. 88, 118 N.E. 214, 1917 N.Y. LEXIS 818 (N.Y. 1917)
- 22 N.Y. 88 is the official New York reporter citation.
- 18 N.E. 214 is the North Eastern regional reporter citation.
- 917 N.Y. LEXIS 818 is the online LexisNexis citation.
Why do I need to know the citation/parallel citations other than to find the case?
You need to know the primary citation and all parallel citations so that you can properly cite a case when you refer to it in your memos, briefs, etc. You cannot assume that your reader will use the same reporter as you to look up the case.
How do I find a case if I don’t have a citation for it?
You can also find a case when you know the names of the Plaintiff(s) and/or the Defendant(s). For more on search techniques, see Legal Search: Get A Case.