(internal quotation marks omitted)

November 5th, 2015

The Bluebook Change

Hat tip to Eva Resnicow, aka Editrix Lex, who brought this Bluebook change to my attention.

Since the eighteenth edition, The Bluebook has included “(internal quotation marks omitted)” among the parenthetical expressions listed in Rule 5.2. That is The Bluebook rule addressing the broader question of how to signal any number of alterations a writer might make to a quoted passage. Similar parenthetical notices to be appended to citations as appropriate include “(emphasis added)” and “(citations omitted).” Prior to this year’s twentieth edition, The Bluebook itself provided no guidance on when a writer could or should omit internal quotation marks. It merely specified how to report their removal. However, a “Blue Tip” posted to The Bluebook site in 2010 addressed the “when to omit” question. In essence it called for the omission of internal quotation marks whenever the primary quoted material consisted entirely of an embedded quotation. “In all other cases,” the tip advised, “include all internal quotation marks.”

Although less clearly expressed, the twentieth edition has added comparable directions on when to omit internal quotation marks to The Bluebook proper. At the same time, it has removed the “(internal quotation marks omitted)” parenthetical from Rule 5.2’s roster. There is no ban on its use. The phrase has simply been deleted from 5.2, presumably, on the ground that it is unnecessary. Added to 5.2 is a new paragraph (f)(iii) which directs (as Bluebook editions reaching back as far as the fourteenth have advised) that a parenthetical identifying the source of the embedded quote be appended to the citation of the passage in which it appears. Arguably, that identification of underlying source provides adequate notice that the quotation is derivative. The revised rule is also as emphatic as the Blue Tip was before that interior quotation marks should be retained in any case where the embedded quote makes up less than the entirety of the primary quoted passage.

An Illustration of the New Rule’s Effect

A note published this past June in the Harvard Law Review contains the following passage, footnoted as shown:

Expansive though it is, the President’s enforcement discretion is not limitless. In the OLC’s analysis, legal constraints on nonenforcement derive ultimately from the Take Care Clause24 and are spelled out in a series of judicial opinions following a focal 1985 case, Heckler v. Chaney.25 The Opinion interprets this case law as standing for four general principles: (1) enforcement decisions must reflect “factors which are peculiarly within [agency] expertise”;26 (2) enforcement actions must be “consonant with … the congressional policy underlying the [governing] statutes”;27 (3) the executive cannot “‘consciously and expressly adopt[] a general policy’ that is so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities”;28 and (4) “nonenforcement decisions are most comfortably characterized as judicially unreviewable exercises of enforcement discretion when they are made on a case-by-case basis.”29

24. See id. at 4 (locating the President’s enforcement discretion in his constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed” (quoting U.S. Const. art. II, § 3) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
26. The Opinion, supra note 3, at 6 (quoting Chaney, 470 U.S. at 831) (internal quotation marks omitted).
28. Id. at 7 (alteration in original) (quoting Chaney, 470 U.S. at 833 n.4) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Had this note been prepared and published under the twentieth edition, the parentheticals appended to notes 24, 26, and 28 would be gone. Observe that the passage appearing in clause (3) includes internal quotation marks. The marks that the author omitted are those showing that the quotation from the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, to which the “Id.” refers, was itself a direct quote from the Chaney decision. The retained marks appear in the quoted Chaney passage and are attributed in it to a D.C. Circuit opinion. (Bluebook Rule 10.6.2 provides that “only one level of ‘quoting’ or ‘citing’ parentheticals is necessary.” Note 28’s failure to identify the source of the embedded quote is, therefore, in compliance. Also in compliance is the parenthical in note 28 reporting that the alteration to the embedded quote appearing in Chaney originated with the Office of Legal Counsel opinion.)

Courts Quoting Themselves Quoting Themselves

Some courts, including the nation’s highest, remove internal quotation marks under circumstances in which the new Rule 5.2 (and the prior Blue Tip) would require their retention. For example, in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992) Justice Blackmun’s dissent cites a prior decision of the Court as follows:.

Cf. Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U. S. 95, 102 (1983) (“Past wrongs were evidence bearing on whether there is a real and immediate threat of repeated injury”) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Id. at 592.

A portion, but only a portion, of the parenthetical quote (“whether there is a real and immediate threat of repeated injury”) was drawn from a still earlier decision of the Court, O’Shea v. Littleton, 414 U. S. 488 (1974). Per The Bluebook, that quote within a quote should have been wrapped in single quotation marks. However, this is judicial writing, not a journal article. Judges may well consider it far less important to separate out exactly which language quoted from a past opinion of their own court was in turn recycled from a prior one. They are likely, however, The Bluebook notwithstanding, to continue to feel an obligation to note the occurrence of such reuse with an “internal quotation marks omitted” parenthetical.

Courts Quoting Themselves Quoting Other Sources

The situation is markedly different when one judicial opinion quotes a prior one that rests on constitutional or statutory language. Being absolutely clear about that dependency argues for retaining the interior quotation marks, even when The Bluebook would trim them. Justice Thomas, dissenting in a 2015 case, Elonis v. U.S., 135 S. Ct. 2001 (2015), wrote:

For instance, in Posters `N’ Things, Ltd. v. United States, 511 U.S. 513 (1994), the Court addressed a conviction for selling drug paraphernalia under a statute forbidding anyone to “‘make use of the services of the Postal Service or other interstate conveyance as part of a scheme to sell drug paraphernalia,'” id., at 516 (quoting 21 U.S.C. § 857(a)(1) (1988 ed.)).

Since Thomas’s quotation from Posters ‘N’ Things consists entirely of language drawn from the U.S. Code, The Bluebook would omit the single quotation marks and rely on the “quoting” parenthetical to inform the reader of the ultimate source.

What Should Lawyers Do in Brief or Memorandum?

Negligible space is saved by trimming single quotation marks. Indeed, space is sacrificed and the word count increased if that trimming compels the author to add a four word parenthetical phrase. That suggests, at minimum, lawyers not be influenced by the judicial practice of occasionally removing internal quotation marks from quotes that rest within longer ones, no matter the ultimate source. Absolute clarity argues for including them even when The Bluebook considers them unnecessary. In no case should there be need for an “internal quotation marks omitted” parenthetical.

Make that “Advert.” not “Adver.”

October 6th, 2015

For nineteen years The Bluebook has decreed that when the word “Advertising” appears in a case name it should be abbreviated as “Adver.”  The pairing of word and abbreviation first appeared in the sixteenth edition.  The codification at once captured the then prevailing professional practice and encouraged use of that abbreviation over the two common alternatives.  Those were: 1) to include the word in full or 2) to abbreviate it to coincide with the British informal term, rendering it “Advert.”

Inexplicably, the latest edition of The Bluebook has added a terminal “t”, embracing an approach it rejected in 1996. Henceforward, all who follow its mandate must cite:

  • City of Columbia v. Omni Outdoor Adver., Inc., 499 U.S. 365 (1991)
    • as
  • City of Columbia v. Omni Outdoor Advert., Inc., 499 U.S. 365 (1991)

Why make the change?  Successive editions of The Bluebook have regularly added new “mandatory” abbreviations. The T6 list of the sixteenth edition had 120 entries. In the nineteenth there were 144, including an entry for “County” (to be abbreviated “Cnty.”). This latest edition is the first, in my memory, to substitute new abbreviations for established ones. In addition to supplanting “Adver.” with “Advert.” it has replaced “Cnty.” with “Cty.” Neither change addresses a source of potential confusion. Neither is driven by professional citation practice.

A failure to proofread? Implausible. The most likely explanation lies in the increasingly proprietary claims of The Bluebook enterprise. Faced with a better teaching book, the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, and with data sources and software packages that purport to deliver citations that conform to its rules its editors made a number of arbitrary changes. “Copy if you dare,” they seem to be saying. For those operating within the universe of law journal publication such arbitrary changes may be hard to resist. With lawyers and judges, they’ll largely be ignored.


2015 version of Introduction to Basic Legal Citation released

October 1st, 2015

The latest edition of Introduction to Basic Legal Citation is now online at: http://www.law.cornell.edu/citation/  with conformed ebook versions at: http://access-to-law.com/citation/. For those wanting the convenience of a direct download to a Kindle or Kindle app, the updated work is also available through the Kindle store. Only the latter carries a charge – $.99, the minimum Amazon will allow.

This year’s revisions include description of a number of changes in The Bluebook‘s approach to core citation issues reflected in its 2015 edition, flagging those that lack any basis in the writing of lawyers and judges. As is true every year, the tables and pages identifying and illustrating jurisdiction-specific citation norms for cases, statutes, and regulations have been carefully audited and, where necessary, updated.

Aimed at those who write as practicing legal professionals or are learning to do so, this resource leaves coverage of the distinctive format requirements and myriad potential sources cited in academic writing to The Bluebook (BB) and ALWD Guide to Legal Citation.  It contains detailed information on how judges and lawyers cite core legal materials in each of the fifty states and the District of Columbia, furnishing examples, but none on how to cite statutes and regulations of the Czech Republic (BB at 353) or decisions of France’s Conseil d’État (BB 359).

As was true in years past, the revision process unearthed a number of policy issues that deserve discussion here. Some of them (such as how to cite Restatements) have already been addressed.

Bluebook (20th ed.) and Restatements, Model Codes, etc.

September 8th, 2015

Prior to publication of the new Bluebook, law journals, lawyers, and judges were in pretty close agreement on how to cite a Restatement section (e.g.Restatement (Second) of Torts § 46 cmt. j (1965) [as cited in the May 2015 issue of the Harvard Law Review] or Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 349, cmt. a (1981) [as cited in an Aug. 2015 decision of the Seventh Circuit]).  Journals put the titles in large and small caps.  Lawyers and judges didn’t.  Furthermore, consistent with their treatment of other static material, many lawyers and judges left off the date element.  In an era in which briefs are held to a maximum word count, why include the redundant “(1965)” or “(1981)”?  The Bluebook reflected that consensus.  Its prescribed formats for citations to provisions in Uniform Codes, Model Acts, the federal sentencing guidelines, and the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct were consistent with it.  See The Bluebook R. 12.9.5 (19th ed. 2010).

Without warning the 20th edition of The Bluebook changed that. Revised rule 12.9.4 would add a new component to all such citations – namely, the institutional source of the work.  The new rule requires that the date parenthetical include the source’s name, abbreviated.  That means adding “Am. Law Inst.” (3 words) to Restatement citations, “Unif. Law Comm’n” (3 words) to most Uniform Code citations but “Am. Law Inst. & Unif. Law Comm’n”  (7 words) in the case of the U.C.C., and “Am. Bar Ass’n” (3 words) to Model Rules citations.   To what end?  Does the additional element aid “the reader to efficiently locate the cited source”? The preface to the new edition simply notes the revision and makes vague reference to “citation principles”.  It furnishes no rationale.

The preface does, however, credit two individuals for “valuable advice and assistance in revising this rule”.  Their identities furnish a clue.  One is Richard Revesz, identified by The Bluebook as dean, as he was at N.Y.U. Law School from 2002-2013.  However, since 2014 Revesz has been Director of the American Law Institute or ALI.  The other individual, Professor Robert Sitkoff of the Harvard Law School faculty, is a member of the ALI Council (its governing board) and a Uniform Laws Commissioner.  I have little doubt that the two of them pressed for the attachment of the America Law Institute’s name to all Restatement citations, with equal treatment for entities issuing uniform laws, model rules, etc.  In a  process as opaque as that leading up to revision of The Bluebook and with law students as the ultimate arbiters, it is not surprising that Revesz and Sitkoff prevailed.  Had the proposed change been floated for public comment, it probably would not have survived.

Will the change stick?  Most if not all law journals will blindly implement the revision.  With its commitment to follow The Bluebook in lockstep the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation seems certain to as well.  Will lawyers and judges comply?  Even in those jurisdictions that purport to require that citations in briefs conform to The Bluebook, I have my doubts.  The revision has created a very interesting test of The Bluebook‘s influence on citation practice within the legal profession.

The Bluebook’s Inconsistency about When to Identify an Electronic Source

August 28th, 2015

The Issue

Most legal research in the U.S. is conducted using electronic source material, and for many types of cited works, primary and secondary, there are at least several possible sources.  A pervasive issue is whether a citation ought specify the source relied upon by the author or whether instead a generic citation, adequate to retrieve the cited work from all widely used sources, will suffice.  The latest edition of The Bluebook delivers inconsistent and, at times,  confusing guidance on the point.


Consider a brief that cites a slew of cases, state and federal.  If the author has retrieved them all from an online source (Westlaw, Fastcase, Google Scholar, an official court Web site) should her citations note that source?  A fair reading of The Bluebook (20th ed.) yields the conclusion that they need not.  Rule 10.8.1 authorizes, but does not require, citation to a specific database when “a case is unreported but available in a widely used electronic database.”  There is no suggestion that a citation to a “reported” decision (i.e. reported in print), such as State v. McIver, 858 N.W.2d 699, 702 (Iowa 2015),  need state that the author relied upon Google Scholar or Fastcase or acknowledge that despite the use of volume and page numbers, she did not review the text in the print reporter to which they correspond. Similarly, a citation to State v. Ortega, 2014-NMSC-017, ¶ 55 is apparently complete without a notation clarifying whether the writer relied upon the official digital version available from the New Mexico Compilation Commission site or the altered version offered by Westlaw.  On this point The Bluebook‘s silence is in full accord with the citation practice of lawyers and judges.  The twentieth edition, like the nineteenth, appears to accept generic case citations.

Statutes, Constitutions, and Court Rules

What The Bluebook Says

Generic citations to a constitution or statutory provision are a different matter.  Rule 12.5(a) insists that when the writer’s source for a statutory code citation is an electronic database, the citation should include the name of the database, the publisher (unless a public office), and its currency.  Rule 11 lays down the same requirement for citations to constitutions even though it doesn’t call for identification of source if it is printed. (Presumably, one can be working from the U.S. Constitution as printed in The World Almanac and Book of Facts without confessing it.)  In contrast, rule 12.9.3 fully embraces citations to rules of evidence and procedure that leave off source, whether print or electronic.  Consistency in approach is lacking; no clear rationale for the different requirements is evident.

What Judges and Lawyers Do

When contemporary decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court or U.S. Court of Appeals cite provisions of the U.S. Copyright Act they refer to them by U.S. Code title and section number – no date (current provision being implied), no indication of source.  The odds are very high that the source relied upon by the judges or their clerks was Westlaw.  That being the case The Bluebook (rule 12.5) would call for a citation along these lines:

  • 17 U.S.C.A. § 301(a) (Westlaw through Pub. L. No. 114-49).

Instead the opinion will almost certainly cite the provision generically:

  • 17 U.S.C. § 301(a).

As will briefs submitted in the case.


The Bluebook‘s strong stance on the primacy of print when citing treatises was the subject of a prior post.  Its position on law journal articles appears, at first, to be stated in similarly unequivocal terms.  Rule 16.8 requires that when “citing periodical materials to a database” one include “a citation to the database”.  But rule 18.2.1 (added with the nineteenth edition in 2010) provides that when an exact copy of a print source is available online it can be cited “as if to the original print source.”  That, of course, is standard professional practice with law journal citations.  Surely, such citations needn’t indicate whether the author retrieved the article in question from Lexis, Westlaw, HeinOnline or the journal’s own online archive.

The Rule that Should Swallow its Exceptions

The relationship between rule 18.2.1 and The Bluebook‘s various mandates to identify one’s actual source is unclear.  In all likelihood this is a case where the specific (the mandate concerning statutes, for example) is intended to prevail over the more general rule.  Both reflect the continuing grip of a print mindset, quite at odds with the world in which today’s lawyers and judges work.  Rule 18.2.1. itself carries a heading that refers to “the original print source.”  In truth the original source of nearly all print documents of the current era is electronic.  Rule 18.2.1(a)(iii) and rule 18.2.2(f) express an attachment to electronic material that is held in pdf format because it “preserves the pagination and other attributes of the printed work.”  Yet the information sources most heavily used by the legal professions, Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, and the rest, scroll and hyperlink rather than page.  What is critical is that the source be reliably accurate and that it contain the accepted units of citation for the cited work, whether page, section, or paragraph numbers, and not that it look and behave like print.  Need it be an “exact copy” as rule 18.2.1 would seem to require?  On its face that would rule out all the online services that enhance decisions and statutes with parallel citations and other editorial tampering.  The Bluebook‘s level of unreality on these points can only be excused on the ground that it is prepared by students at four elite law schools and aimed primarily at the legal education market (list price $38.50).  Ironically, the proprietors now offer “the full content of The Bluebook” online (on a subscription basis – $36 for one year, $46 for two) and as an Apple ios app ($39.99).  Presumably, they intend these different formats to be viewed as interchangeable.  Believing it safe to rely on the authors for consistency, I don’t feel obliged to report which I relied upon in preparing this post.

How to Cite Treatises

August 24th, 2015


The twentieth edition of The Bluebook is out in time for sale to a fresh crop of 1Ls.  This is the first of a series of posts that will explore how well that venerable guide addresses the conceptual and practical issues faced by lawyers, judges, and law students whose legal research and writing take place in a predominantly electronic environment.  Like the citation reference to which this blog is related, the focus here will be on writing and citing in professional practice and not the norms that prevail in academic journal publication.

Where Have All the Treatises Gone?

Once upon a time legal treatises were produced in print (and only in print) by a wide array of publishers.  West Publishing was one of them, but many treatises had no tie to a vendor of primary materials.  Citation practice made that possible.  The purchaser of a treatise published by West Publishing Company could use it with statutes published by the Michie Co. or law reports published by Lawyers Cooperative Publishing.  The same “interoperability” enabled such companies as Little, Brown & Company, Warren, Gorham & Lamont, and Matthew Bender & Co. to publish highly successful treatises without having any involvement in the publication of primary authority.  Law libraries could and did mix and match.

During the final decades of the twentieth century, through a series of acquisitions, Thomson Reuters, Reed Elsevier, and Wolters Kluwer gathered the works owned by those publishers into large treatise portfolios and placed them online.  While most treatises can still be purchased and sustained through updates in print form, contemporary researchers are far more likely to encounter the likes of Nimmer on Copyright or American Law of Zoning in electronic format.  In 2015 electronic format most likely means via the publisher’s online service, but not necessarily.  Treatises in ebook form have begun to appear.

The Resulting Citation Challenges

When a researcher identifies a treatise passage she wishes to cite (in memorandum, brief, or opinion), should her citation indicate in which of that treatise’s multiple versions (print, online database, or ebook) she has found it?

Here are two examples, one each drawn from the Westlaw and Lexis treatise collections.

1) From a Thomson Reuters treatise

A search on WestlawNext for the zoning treatment of “adult” businesses might well lead to the following passage, copied directly from that service together with what it terms “standard” citation:

§ 29:7. Place regulation: defining and zoning adult businesses

In the wake of Renton, regulations governing the places where adult businesses may operate have been widely adopted by governments at both the state and local levels. These regulations, which apply to a range of adult establishments, must comply with various limitations to ensure that they are constitutional “place” regulations for protected speech.

3 Am. Law. Zoning § 29:7 (5th ed.)

According to Rule 15 of The Bluebook, three items are missing from this “standard” citation provided by Westlaw: the name of the author (currently, Patricia E. Salkin), the full title (American Law of Zoning) and the date.

I see from the publisher’s web site that updates to the print version were shipped in May 2015.  The immediately previous update occurred in late 2014.  Since the Cornell library does not have the fifth edition of this work, let alone its updates, in either print or in ebook form I must rely on the online version.  It  reports “Database updated May 2015”.  If I were to cite the passage as if working from print, I would add the author whose name is provided online above the section text, expand the abbreviated title to full, and add a date, producing the following:

3 Patricia E. Salkin, American Law of Zoning § 29:7 (5th ed. 2014).

Because the print work is in looseleaf form and the updates come in the form of substitute pages, and I can see from the publisher’s site that the May update did not include new material for § 29:7 it’s not clear that I shouldn’t instead use the year of the 5th edition’s publication or that section’s most recent revision.  The online version does not furnish that information so I’ll have to stick with “2015”.  Or should it be “May 2015”?

Back to The Bluebook, despite contemporary reality it seems to assume that I’ll be working from print.  I’ll not count the ways, but note that rules 15.1 and 15.3 refer to “the title page” and 15.9(c) speaks of the print version as being “authoritative”.  Rule 15.9 warns against treating the online version of a book as interchangeable with the print.  Rule 15(c) limits citation of an ebook version to works that are only available in that form.

Well, the practical difficulty for this writer and most others is that although this treatise is available to the world in three formats, I have feasible access to but one.  Consequently, I can only cite to the Westlaw version.  Rule 15.9 suggests that in that case I should recast my citation along these lines:

3 Patricia E. Salkin, American Law of Zoning § 29:7 (5th ed.), Westlaw (database updated May 2015).

If I, instead, had only the ebook version to work from, Rule 15.9(c) instructs that I report that by means of an “ebook” parenthetical.

2) From a title owned by Reed Elsevier

A LexisAdvance search on the same zoning topic leads to a paragraph that Lexis suggests should be cited as:

2-11 Zoning and Land Use Controls § 11.03

The proposed citation contains no author, edition, or date.

Using the online table of contents to climb back to the top matter of the work, I find both “Author(s)” and “Cite As” pages.  The latter proposes that I cite this material in the following format:

Zoning and Land Use Controls, Ch. no., Title, § (LexisNexis Matthew Bender).

The former lists two authors: Patrick J. Rohan and Eric Damian Kelly.

The text I would cite shows a 2015 copyright notice and indicates by footnote that its text was the subject of a major revision by “General Editor, Eric Damian Kelly” in 2003.

I know that Dean Rohan died in 2009.  A search for Eric Damian Kelly leads me to Ball State University, where he is listed on the urban planning faculty.  Kelly’s CV describes his role with Zoning and Land Use Controls as “General Editor”.  It’s not clear exactly what that means; perhaps that the treatise is being maintained by Matthew Bender editorial staff under Professor Kelly’s general supervision.

It is from such data scraps that one must construct a citation.  As with American Law of Zoning I have no access to either the print or ebook version of this treatise, no idea what they display on their respective title pages.

Doing my best to apply The Bluebook‘s practitioner rules to this treatise section I would cite it:

2 Zoning and Land Use Controls § 11.03 (Eric Damian Kelly ed., 2015).

However, I confess to uncertainty whether this is the sort of editor role to which Rule 15.2 is addressed.  And there is, again, the question of whether the database, “Lexis” in this instance, shouldn’t be noted.

How Real Lawyers and Judges Do It

Examination of a sizable sample of recent judges’ opinions and lawyers’ briefs that cite treatises yields these conclusions:

  • No matter what The Bluebook says, print and electronic versions are treated as interchangeable.
    • Citations of treatise sections that are almost certainly based on the online version invariably fail to say so.  And there is, as yet, no trace of an acknowledged ebook citation.
  • The year of most recent revision is generally, although not consistently, provided.
    • Since briefs and opinions are focused on a specific matter and dated, a treatise citation can arguably drop the year of publication or most recent revision so long as it is referring to the most recent version of the text as of the date of writing.  That is presumably the logic of citations like: 1 Melville B.  Nimmer & David Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright § 6.03.
  • Whether or not the date is given, the edition is usually indicated (e.g., “4th ed.” or “rev. ed.”).
  • Whether and, if so how, to credit subsequent authors or editors of treatises that still carry the name of a deceased author is a matter on which practice varies widely.  In truth, so long as the title adequately identifies the work – Zoning and Land Use Controls, Powell on Real Property – it is hard to understand why the current editor need be named.
  • The citation format furnished by publisher or online service for a treatise often prevails over The Bluebook when the two conflict.


Oklahoma’s Court Network Threatened by Legislative Proposal

May 29th, 2015

In 2014 this blog reported on the decision by Oklahoma’s Supreme Court that the electronic versions of state appellate decisions published on the Oklahoma Supreme Court Network (OSCN) would replace those printed in the National Reporter System as “official”.  A budget crisis brought on by declining oil revenues now places that critical publication channel in jeopardy.  A proposal before the legislature would divert nearly all the dedicated fees on which OSCN depends to other uses.

New Mexico’s Mandate That Medium-Neutral Citations Be Used for Cases Originally Issued without Them

May 20th, 2015

New Mexico’s Unique Citation Rule

Since August 1, 2013 briefs, memoranda, and other papers filed with New Mexico’s courts have been required to use a system of medium-neutral case citation for all New Mexico appellate decisions. That citation system, similar although not identical to the model recommended by the American Bar Association and American Association of Law Libraries, was first implemented by the New Mexico Supreme Court in 1996. Pierce v. State, released for publication on January 4th of that year, was designated “1996-NMSC-001”. The first decision of the state’s court of appeals in 1996, State v. Gutierrez, carried the citation “1996-NMCA-001”. Both were issued with numbered paragraphs. Simultaneously issued citation rules required filings in New Mexico courts to cite those decisions and subsequent ones using their medium-neutral citations.

What is unprecedented about the 2013 amendment to those rules is that it requires that New Mexico’s print-independent citation system be used for all pre-1996 decisions reaching back to 1852. No other state has taken this step. Shortly after Oklahoma implemented medium-neutral citation in 1997, it retrofitted all prior reported decisions. But that state’s citation rule, then and now, simply provides that parallel citations employing the print-independent scheme are “strongly encouraged for opinions promulgated prior to May 1, 1997“.

Some Background

The New Mexico Compilation Commission began as an agency responsible for producing a full compilation of the state’s statutes, hence its name. In 1982, however, the commission was  given additional responsibility — publication of the New Mexico Reports. In 2004 it was declared to be the state’s official legal publisher. In 2011 the commission ended print publication of the New Mexico Reports, and the state’s supreme court designated the authenticated electronic files of decisions at the Compilation Commission web site their final, official version.  And in 2012 the Commission’s database of electronic decision files, each with a medium-neutral designation  (e.g., “1982-NMCA-051”) and paragraph numbering, was extended all the way back to Bray v. United States, 1852-NMSC-001.

Today, the Compilation Commission offers legal professionals and state offices the compiled statutes of New Mexico in both print and electronic format.  Combined with the state’s case law, court rules, decisions of the regional federal courts, and other material, the commission’s integrated DVD and online database serve state and local government offices and compete with the commercial research services in the legal information market.  Because of an attractive subscription price (roughly $60 a month for the general public, less for state and local government agencies), official status, and a growing list of features (most recently a limited citator service for its case reports) these services, known as NMONESOURCE, do, in fact, offer serious competition.

The principal drawback of the Compilation Commission’s database for legal professionals is its tight focus on New Mexico.  With some frequency the state’s judges and lawyers need access to federal case law, statutes, and regulations.  On occasion, they must consult decisions from other states.  Although the Compilation Commission’s electronic library includes a collection of the most useful federal decisions and serves as a portal, linking to Google Scholar for the case law of other states and U.S. government sites for the Federal Register and Code of Federal Regulations, it falls short of providing a full range of non-New Mexico primary legal material.  At a minimum the users of NMONESOURCE must, from time to time, turn to some other research service.   Convenience may lead them to stay or even start out elsewhere.  The default “other service” for New Mexico’s lawyers is Fastcase, available as a membership service to all members of the bar.   For the state’s judges it is Westlaw, to which all of them, from the district courts  through the state supreme court, have access under a group Westlaw subscription.

Consequences to Date

Compliance by Judges, Lawyers, and Law Students

Current decisions of the appellate courts of New Mexico model the citation format the 2013 rule requires of lawyers.  While that rule does not require parallel print-based citations for state decisions dated after the cutoff for the final volume of the New Mexico Reports, judges continue to include parallel references to the Pacific Reporter of the Thomson Reuters National Reporter System.   As the rule directs, however, their pinpoint references employ the paragraph numbers of the medium-neutral format.  Review of a small sample of briefs filed in recent New Mexico appeals leaves little doubt that the system has also taken hold among lawyers.  Student editors of the New Mexico Law Review employ the new citation method in their writing.

Take Up by Major Law Databases

To comply with the 2013 citation rule, the judge, lawyer, or law student needs access to a database that has retrofitted its collection of New Mexico’s pre-1996 decisions with medium-neutral case identifiers and paragraph numbers.  A database search on “contract breach” may lead a researcher to the 1959 decision of the New Mexico Supreme Court in Wolf v. Perry or the 1993 case, Mark V, Inc. v. Mellekas.  When first published and for years thereafter the volume and page numbers of those two decisions in the New Mexico Reports and Pacific Reporter would have provided proper citations.  Indeed, they had none other.  But as of August 1, 2013, Wolf v. Perry is to be cited as “1959-NMSC-044”; Mark V, Inc., as “1993-NMSC-001”.  While a search on Bloomberg Law, Google Scholar, or Fastcase will take you to those cases, none of those services yet delivers their neutral citations, let alone the paragraph numbering needed to direct a reader to a specific passage.

Does this place the subscription service offered by the New Mexico Compilation Commission in a unique competitive position?  No.  The same search conducted on LexisNexis or Westlaw reveals that those services have followed the commission’s lead and added neutral cites and paragraph numbers to all pre-1996 New Mexico cases.  Other research services serious about the New Mexico market will, no doubt, do the same.  No license from the state is required.  Despite the copyright notices that appear throughout the Compilation Commission site, New Mexico could not and does not claim copyright in either the case citations or paragraph numbers.

In the meantime, researchers who wish to cite pre-1996 cases identified through use of a database that has not inserted the new citation parameters can obtain them, case-by-case, from open access resources offered by the Compilation Commission.  The commission’s web site holds tables that allow one to convert any pre-2013 official cite (“65 N.M. 457” or “114 N.M. 778”, say) to the new system (“1959-NMSC-004” and “1993-NMSC-001”, respectively).  The site also provides, as a free public resource, a comprehensive case law collection reformatted in accordance with the new standard.  From it one can draw the paragraph numbers the new rule calls for in pinpoint cites.  Furthermore, because the commission’s site is open to external search engines it is possible to bypass the lookup tables and go straight to the decision one wants to cite.  A Google search on “114 N.M. 778” or “845 P.2d 1232” limited to the commission’s site will lead directly to the medium-neutral version of Mark V, Inc. v. Mellekas as well as recent cases citing that decision.  In fact, because the site is open to external search engines the initial case research need not begin elsewhere.

Lack of Reinforcement in NMSA and Most Other Annotations

As the state’s official publisher the New Mexico Compilation Commission also publishes the New Mexico Statutes Annotated and the New Mexico Rules Annotated.  Both are included in electronic form as components of its online and disc products.  They are also sold in print.  In neither have annotations to pre-1996 decisions yet been conformed to the new rule.  An annotation’s reference to a 1994 case will still cite it as  “In re Cutter, 118 N.M. 152, 879 P.2d 784 (1994)” rather than “In re Cutter, 1994-NMSC-086, 118 N.M. 152″.  So long as a researcher is working from the DVD or online version the annotation’s obsolete format is not a problem for the cites are linked to copies of the opinions, which carry the now official neutral citations and paragraph numbers.  On the other hand, since programmatic conversion of the old-form citations should be fairly straightforward there is reason to expect that it will occur before long.

The annotations that appear in Michie’s Annotated Statutes of New Mexico, as published online by LexisNexis, do contain cites that conform to the new rule.  Those in West’s New Mexico Statutes Annotated and in the Fastcase annotations to the New Mexico Statutes, as yet, do not.

Effects Limited to New Mexico

Many decisions of the U.S. District Court for New Mexico do employ the state’s medium-neutral citation scheme when citing its courts’ post-1996 decisions.  Not all do, however, and there is little evidence to date that federal judges will be induced to cite older New Mexico decisions in accordance with the 2013 rule.  When decisions from New Mexico, contemporary or older, are cited in other states, even states with their own systems of neutral citation, they are, almost invariably, cited by volume and page number.

A Model for Other States?

Oklahoma is the only other state to apply a non-proprietary medium-neutral citation scheme retrospectively to its full body of case law.  There, nearly two decades of “strong encouragement” to use the system in citing older decisions has had a pervasive effect on in-state citation practice.  In Oklahoma, like New Mexico, the policy was undergirded by creation of a comprehensive database of state law open to judges, other public officials, lawyers, and members of the general public — an initiative explicitly aimed at loosening dependence on commercial systems.

The barriers inhibiting prospective adoption of any new citation approach are sufficiently daunting and the costs of creating the necessary supporting database large enough that all other states adopting medium-neutral schemes have been content to leave their print-era case law wrapped in print-era citations.  Two of them, Arkansas and North Dakota, have done so despite having created public databases of earlier appellate decisions.  So long as the boundary between old and new is distinct this seems a totally defensible approach.  How a Illinois judge or lawyer should cite decisions of that state’s courts rests very clearly on when the decisions were filed.  Those released prior to July 1, 2011 and published in the Illinois Official Reports must be cited by volume and page number.  Decisions filed on or after July 1, 2011 with a “public-domain citation” must be cited using it.

What reasons might have led New Mexico to take a more radical approach to citation reform?  The first is that it could.  Without a full retrospective case law collection the publications and legal research services of the New Mexico Compilation Commission were seriously incomplete, including importantly its flagship New Mexico Statutes Annotated.  Assuming that construction of such a comprehensive digital archive had to be undertaken, the attachment of non-print-based citations in the same format as those that judges and lawyers had used for post-1996 cases may have seemed a modest add-on.  Moreover, the rule change could be seen as placing NMONESOURCE, the Compilation Commission’s subscription service, in a uniquely authoritative position.  Set up as an “enterprise unit” funded out of sales and subscription revenue along with a dedicated portion of court filing fees, the commission was in need of a resource boost.  As the annual report of the New Mexico judiciary for fiscal year 2013 noted:

The challenges facing the [commission] are the increases in publishing costs while revenue declined for the second year in a row. There is a significant loss in civil action filing fees due to the decrease in civil actions filed. There is strained subscription revenue stemming from the economy overall and the increase in self-represented litigants who elect to file civil actions and appear in court without legal counsel. Lawyers are forced to make difficult decisions to postpone subscribing to the official laws in favor of the limited, unannotated laws on the public access site.

However, since that same public access site provides a complete set of New Mexico decisions as well as look-up tables matching volume and page number cites with their medium-neutral equivalents and the leading commercial database services have rapidly incorporated the new cites, the 2013 rule change may not, in the end, have a significant effect on NMONESOURCE subscription revenue.

No other U.S. jurisdiction has an agency with the broad charge and challenging duties of New Mexico’s Compilation Commission or today has the initiative, incentive, or resources within the judiciary to create a database like the one Oklahoma established years ago.  For that reason it seems unlikely that the path New Mexico and Oklahoma have blazed will be followed by others anytime soon.


Judges Are Not Like Pigs

May 20th, 2015

A recent decision of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals quotes a local aphorism that underscores the importance of specificity when citing either to the record or legal authority.  It is to the effect that: “Judges are not like pigs, hunting for truffles buried in briefs.”


The Complex Relationship between Citations and Citators

April 29th, 2015

Shepard’s Citations

In 1873, Frank Shepard began compiling and selling lists of citations to Illinois decisions printed on gummed paper (Shepard’s System of Adhesive Citations).  Purchasers pasted them into the margins of their bound case reports.  Shepard’s lists linked each reported case to any subsequent reported decision that referred to it.  When gummed addenda proved too cumbersome a tool (even more troublesome to maintain than looseleaf volumes), Shepard’s Citations moved to separate volumes.  These were books of citations designed to stand beside law reports – volumes that simply pointed from one book to others by means of citation.


For over a century law students, lawyers, and judges conducted forward citation searches on key decisions using the Shepard’s publications.  So tight was the association that the process became known as “Shepardizing”.  One “Shepardized” a case to assure it had not be overruled by a higher court, to determine its status and range of interpretation within the jurisdiction of origin, to see how it had been treated elsewhere.

Cases and Citators Go Digital

Once electronic databases were central to case research, their incorporation of a citator function became essential.  The value of providing the digital equivalent of Shepard’s gummed list proximate to every retrieved opinion was obvious. And in a hypertext environment that list of citing cases could itself offer point and click access to each one of them.  Moreover, once held in a database the entries could be filtered and sorted.  Today, all case law database services of professional quality offer retrieval of subsequent citing cases as an option adjacent to each opinion.  Some not only list the citing cases but analyze and characterize those references as the Shepard’s print publications once did.

As electronic case law collections evolved, however, they posed fresh challenges for these companion citators.  Increasingly the leading online databases added decisions that the Shepard’s lists had ignored, cases without standard print citations.  These included opinions that would never be published in print, either because of court designation or publisher discretion, as well as “slip” versions of those whose publication was anticipated but had not yet occurred.  Generally unexamined is the extent to which the relative performance of today’s online citators is affected by how they deal with citations in and citations to opinions falling in these two categories.  That performance varies considerably.  Researchers who assume complete results are, with some services, likely to miss important cases.  Those who know the limitations of the citator on which they rely can, when necessary, augment its results with their own database search.

The Citator Challenges Posed by Unpublished Decisions

Citations to Not Yet Published Decisions

Because of their high volume Social Security cases provide a particularly clear illustration of the problem posed by the delayed application of citation parameters and the range of responses to it by the citators now embedded in the major online services.  As of April 23 five “precedential” decisions in cases appealing a denial of benefits by the Social Security Administration had been released by the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals since the beginning of 2015.  (Decisions the Court does not deem significant to other cases it labels “Nonprecedential” and withholds from publication in the Thomson Reuters Federal Reporter series.)  “Four of the five were written by Judge Richard Posner.  Three of his decisions and one by Judge Daniel Manion reversed trial court decisions that had affirmed the agency’s benefit denial.

From the moment of release, the potential ripple effect of opinions like these is substantial, throughout the district courts falling within the Seventh Circuit and beyond.  Consider the numbers.  During the twelve months ending June 30, 2014, those districts received 1,441 Social Security appeals.  Within weeks, in some cases days, the five 2015 Court of Appeals decisions were being cited.  Curvin v. Colvin, No. 13-3622 (7th Cir. Feb. 11, 2015), the earliest of the set, has now been cited at least 12 times.  (A pro-claimant Social Security decision of the Seventh Circuit handed down a little over a year ago  – Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118 (7th Cir. 2014) –  has been cited over 125 times, at least twice outside the circuit.)

Curvin illustrates the difficulty faced by anyone or any system attempting to track these citing references.  The decision was handed down on February 11, 2015 but did not receive its “778 F.3d 645” designation until a month and a half later.  During the intervening weeks it was cited at least eight times by district courts within the Seventh Circuit.  Perforce those citations identified the Seventh Circuit opinion by docket number and exact date or a proprietary database citation (“WL”).  Most, but not all, used both in parallel, yielding citations in the following form: Curvin v. Colvin, No. 13-3622, 2015 WL 542847 (7th Cir. Feb. 11, 2015).  A straight database search on “778 F.3d 645” will not retrieve those cases.  A database search on “2015 WL 542847” will retrieve those using the Westlaw cite (but not those employing the LEXIS equivalent “2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 2170” or the “F.3d” cite).  A search on “13-3622” and “Curvin” will retrieve those including Curvin’s docket number but not those relying solely on a proprietary database cite or the ultimate “F.3d” cite.

Most case law databases purport to do this messy work for the researcher.  With some Curvin’s rank in a set of search results may even be determined by how many citations to it there have been.  What not all manage to do is to include those instances of citation that occurred so soon after Curvin’s release they could not refer to the case as “778 F.3d 645”.  A review of how the major systems actually address this issue (or don’t) follows.


The dominance of Westlaw within the federal judiciary gives that system a clear advantage.  So long as the early decisions cite the not-yet-published version of a case using its “WL” citation, Westlaw can employ that identifier to link them with those citing to the version later published in the company’s National Reporter System (NRS).  But what about decisions written by  federal judges who use LexisNexis and cite using its proprietary system?  Senior Judge Donetta W. Ambrose of the Western District of Pennsylvania falls in this category.  Had she relied on Curvin in late February or early March 2015, her opinion would almost certainly have cited it: Curvin v. Colvin, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 2170 (7th Cir. 2015).  (See, for example, her decision in Nickens v. Colvin.)  How would Westlaw have responded?  It would have added a parallel “2015 WL 542847” to her Lexis cite, as it does to all opinion citations to “not yet published” or “never to be published” cases contained in the Westlaw database.  That editorial step simplifies aggregation of all citations to a case prior its print publication.  While Westlaw no longer displays the “WL” cite for decisions that have been given print citations in the National Reporter System, the service’s citation listings rest on its maintaining the association between preliminary “WL” cites and their subsequent NRS equivalents.  This approach enables Westlaw’s listing of cases citing Curvin to include the early ones that did not use its F.3d volume and page number.



Lexis follows a similar strategy.  Since most federal judges use Westlaw most of the early decisions citing Curvin used its Westlaw cite.  See, e.g., Haire v. Colvin, No. 1:14-CV-00322-TAB-JMS (S.D. Ind. Feb. 20, 2015).  On Lexis the cite to Curvin in Haire includes an added “U.S. App. LEXIS” cite.  That enables the inclusion of Haire in the service’s dynamically generated list of decisions citing Curvin.  It also facilitates another Lexis practice, the subsequent addition of parallel “F.3d” cites to decisions that did not, as written, include them.


Bloomberg Law

Bloomberg has a “BL” citing scheme which it now deploys much like the Lexis cites, but with greater clarity.  When a case in its database is cited by a later decision using only docket number and date or a Westlaw or Lexis cite, Bloomberg inserts a parallel “BL” cite.  This editorial addition is, however, placed in square brackets, an acknowledgment that it was not part of the original text.  Bloomberg Law has expanded Haire’s cite to Curvin written by the court as “Curvin v. Colvin, No. 13-3622, 2015 WL 542847, at *4, — F.3d —- (7th Cir. Feb. 11, 2015)” to “Curvin v. Colvin, No. 13-3622, [2015 BL 34654], 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 2170 , 2015 WL 542847 , at *4, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. Feb. 11, 2015)”.  This practice appears relatively new.  Decisions of an earlier vintage Bloomberg loaded as received without adding “BL” parallel cites.  As a result decisions from that period are missed by Bloomberg’s linked retrieval of citing documents.  (The fact that Bloomberg’s versions of decisions now also include the Lexis cite, without the square brackets, suggests a data sharing arrangement between the two companies.)


Judging at least from this sample of one, Bloomberg appears to add cases more rapidly than either Westlaw or Lexis.  During the week of April 20th two more district court decisions citing Curvin were released.  Both were in the Bloomberg database and listed as citing cases the following day.

The More Limited Approach of Google Scholar, Fastcase, and Casemaker

Google Scholar does not to attempt to track citing references for cases until they have received a permanent citation in the Thomson Reuters books.  To date it does not have the NRS version of Curvin.  When one clicks on the “How cited” link for the “slip” version of the  case, one gets the message: “We could not determine how this case has been cited.”  To find those cases a researcher must know to search on the party names and Curvin’s docket number or, alternatively, on its proprietary cites.  The latter, of course, do not appear on Google Scholar or the public domain version of Curvin released by the Seventh Circuit and now (and forever?) available from the GPO’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).  At some point Scholar will replace the original version of Curvin with that published by Thomson Reuters.  Once it has, the decision’s “How cited” link will work, but it will not retrieve the early cases which did not cite Curvin by volume and page number because they could not.  Researchers who know that can augment Google’s automatically generated list by doing the sort of searches suggested above.

Like Google Scholar both Casemaker and Fastcase limit their retrieval of citing cases to those that cite by means of NRS volume and page number, thereby missing the earliest references.  Leavitt v. Cohen, No. 1:12-cv-1427-DKL-JMS (S.D. Ind. March 4, 2014) cited Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118 (7th Cir. 2014), released less than a week before, using the format: Moore v. Colvin, ___ F.3d ___, 2014 WL 763223, *1(7th Cir. 2014).  Since neither Fastcase nor Casemaker later fill in such blank “F.3d” citations or employ an enduring identifier for Moore (like the proprietary citation schemes of Bloomberg, Lexis, and Westlaw) neither includes Leavitt as a case citing Moore as those services do.

What about Newcomers like Ravel Law and Casetext?

Casetext does not yet have a fully developed method of indexing citing cases.  It is designed to allow the ranking of search results by “Cite count” but while its database includes many more it lists only two cases as citing Moore.

Ravel has stronger incentive to solve the citator problem because its visualization of search results derives in significant part from citation links.  However, to date Ravel’s cite count does not include case citations that pre-date the availability of the canonical NRS volume and page cite for a case.  It counts only 70 cases as citing Moore v. Colvin.  Those in its database not using that decision’s full “F.3d” cite do not make the list.

Citators and Never-to-be-Published Decisions

A 2013 “unpublished” Social Security decision of the Ninth Circuit illuminates this closely related citator issue. In Farias v. Colvin, No. 11-57088 (9th Cir. May 20, 2013), the court reversed a district court decision that had affirmed a denial of disability benefits.  Its memorandum opinion faulted the Administrative Law Judge’s uncritical acceptance of testimony from a vocational expert.  Being an unpublished memorandum opinion the Farias decision does not enjoy the status of precedent even within the courts that comprise the Ninth Circuit. Print-based Shepard’s would have ignored it.

On the other hand, unpublished decisions like Farias can be cited by counsel as persuasive authority.  In fact, at least fifteen subsequent (unpublished) district court decisions refer to the Farias case.  Because of the Thomson Reuters Federal Appendix reporter, Farias did in fact receive a print citation before 2013 was over, notwithstanding its “unpublished” designation, but not before being cited in at least two district court decisions.  Thus, in one sense cases like it pose the same problem for citation compilers as those posed by cases eventually published in the Federal Reporter – a need to gather the earliest citations together with later ones expressed in terms of print volume and page numbers.  However, the decision’s “unpublished” status and the dubious value of “Fed. Appx.” cites has led some case law services to stumble over providing useful citator results.  The major three –Bloomberg, Lexis, and Westlaw – use their respective systems of proprietary citation to link Farias to the full spectrum of citing district court decisions.  In contrast users of Google Scholar, Casemaker, and Fastcase are led to believe that Farias has not been cited unless they know enough to undertake a forward citation search on their own.  And because some of the citing cases use the Farias decision’s “Fed. Appx.” cite and others don’t, some include the case docket number but most don’t, some use a proprietary database citation and others not, no single search other than one based simply on the case name (“Farias v. Colvin”) will retrieve them all.

One More Argument for Adoption of Court-Applied Systems of Citation

In jurisdictions that attach official citations to decisions at the time of release there is little difficulty generating a complete list of subsequent citing cases.  Assuming that the court-attached citations are routinely used (whether or not in parallel with the National Reporter System or any other citation) a simple database search will retrieve all citing references.  In 1999 the Oklahoma Supreme Court decided an influential case dealing with attorney malpractice liability.  When released it carried the designation “1999 OK 79”.  A search on that string, whether carried out directly by a researcher or automatically by software generating a citator list, should gather a comprehensive list of references to Manley v. Brown.  That fact has enabled the Oklahoma State Courts Network database to append a list of citing cases to the decision in Manley.  Although the case appears in the National Reporter System as “989 P.2d 448” a researcher or automated citator searching cases for references to Manley will not be thrown off by use of that print reference so long as it appears in parallel with the court-attached cite, as it does in all Oklahoma decisions and in a 2013 decision of the Illinois Appellate Court.  Any citation search that relies solely on NRS citations for Oklahoma cases runs the risk of missing some.