Archive for the ‘Cases’ Category

Should It Be “Commissioner”, “Comm’r”, or “Commr.”?

Thursday, February 27th, 2014

1. Truncating and Abbreviating Case Names

The “case name” segment of a case citation serves a very different function from the rest.  Rarely is it used to retrieve the decision.  Although “case name” searches are possible with all online services, use of the case “cite” delivers more accurate results, particularly if the parties have common names or are frequent litigants.  (Try searching on “Smith v. Smith”, “Smith v. Wal-Mart”, or, heaven help you, “Smith v. United States”.)

So why include the parties’ names as part of a citation?  I’ve seen a variety of lame explanations (e.g., “reveals the nature of the litigation”), but am convinced that the fundamental justification rests on the brain’s greater capacity to handle names.  Imagine having to remember or to discuss cases by their retrieval IDs.  Suppose, for example, after making a point in oral argument or law school class you were to be challenged to reconcile your position with “499 U.S. 340.”  Those who litigate in federal court may need to think and argue about “Rule 11 sanctions,” but I wager that most will find it easier to refer to the Supreme Court’s 1991 decision published at 499 U.S. 340 using its name or style or title or caption and will be able to remember that name long after forgetting the case cite.

In the official report that decision appears under the heading “Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc.”  In oral exchange, and perhaps in memory, that may reduce to “Feist.”  But when constructing a complete citation how should the case name be written?  On that question interests of completeness and intelligibility collide with the need to minimize a case citation’s interruption of the flow of argument it is intended to support.  As one might expect there are different answers as to how that balance should be struck.

2. Stripping Off Excess

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Beginning with the heading or title the deciding court has given a case, there seems to be a fair degree of consensus around several truncation principles:

  • If multiple actions are consolidated in an appeal, drop all but the first.
  • If multiple parties are involved on either or both sides of the case, use only the first.
  • With individuals trim down to a single name, the surname unless that does not appear (“Pickering” rather than “Marvin L. Pickering”, but “Marvin P.” if the surname is not given).  This practice can stumble over Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean names when they appear in traditional sequence.
  • Shrink longer procedural phrases (in English) to a short set of Latin equivalents (“In the Matter of Buddy Lynn Whittington, Petitioner” becoming “In re Whittington”).
  • Limit designations of business organization to the first (which would lop the “Inc.” off “Rural Telephone Service Co., Inc.”).

And so on.

3. Compressing What Is Left through Abbreviation: The Bluebook (and ALWD Citation Manual)

The Bluebook takes an aggressive approach to further party name reduction.  It directs that some 144 words that may appear in a business, non-profit, or public entity’s name be abbreviated and prescribes the abbreviation to be used for each.  Actually, the number is larger than 144 since some entries are word families – that is two or more words with the same root, treated as one, “Transport” and “Transportation”, for example.  Words not on the list may, the manual says, be abbreviated so long as they contain eight letters or more and the abbreviation would save “substantial” space.  Any word on the list, however, must “always” be abbreviated “even if the word is the first in a party’s name.”  (Rule 10.2.2.)  (Prior to 2000 The Bluebook spared the first word, but the seventeenth edition ended that dispensation.)  Applying these Bluebook rules to Feist compresses the case name by nearly one-third to Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co.  The ALWD Citation Manual, which achieves the same result in this and most other cases, contains an even more extensive list of abbreviations.  (Striking a very different balance, The University of Chicago Manual of Legal Citation pronounces that “Abbreviations in case names are rarely used.”)

4. The Bluebook’s Limited Influence on This Point

Of the many respects in which the styles prescribed by The Bluebook and the remarkably similar ALWD Citation Manual fail to reflect the diversity of citation formats in the professional writing of lawyers and judges, this may be the most conspicuous.  Style manuals governing judicial writing in important states exhibit quite different levels of enthusiasm for case name compaction (shorter lists, a first word exemption).  Some add words.  Some specify different abbreviations for words on The Bluebook list.

While the rules of appellate practice in a small number of states (Delaware, New Mexico, North Carolina) do appear to direct that case citations in memoranda and briefs conform to the style set forth in The Bluebook, both context and the citation practices of those very courts cast doubt on whether their directives were intended to extend beyond the cite, date, and court components of a case citation to case name abbreviation.  Moreover, in several instances (Alabama, California, Idaho) where a court rule refers to Bluebook style, it also authorizes use of one or more alternative citation guides or speaks of The Bluebook as providing guidance (South Carolina).  In most U.S. jurisdictions, including the federal courts, there are no directives that can reasonably be construed as requiring the use of The Bluebook’s case name abbreviations.  An FAQ at the Supreme Court’s web site states quite explicitly: “The Supreme Court does not have a style manual for advocates before the Court.”  It goes on to suggest those seeking guidance might “search Supreme Court materials for citation to a similar document.”

5. The Supreme Court’s Approach

Anyone following that advice will quickly realize that on this point, as on so many others, the Supreme Court’s citations do not conform to The Bluebook.  To begin, the Court does not abbreviate the first word of party names.  A recent citation of an earlier Supreme Court decision identifies the case as Federal Election Comm’n v. National Conservative Political Action Comm., 470 U.S. 480 (1985).  Per The Bluebook both “Federal” and “National” should be abbreviated.  Indeed, the length of both “Conservative” and “Political” make them candidates for elective abbreviation.  In other respects as well the Court exhibits a gentler approach to abbreviation.  There are numerous words on The Bluebook list it does not regularly abbreviate.  The Supreme Court’s subsequent citations of “Feist” consistently render its case name, which contains three words on The Bluebook’s mandatory list (“Publications”, “Telephone”, and “Service”), as Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co.  A recent citation of Pickering v. Board of Ed. of Township High School Dist. 205, Will Cty., 391 U. S. 563, 568 (1968) abbreviates neither “Township” nor “School” as The Bluebook directs.  Even more significantly, the Court’s citation includes both the name of the township and county which The Bluebook would drop.  It also employs “Cty.” rather than The Bluebook’s “Cnty.” for “County”.  Another case recently cited by the Court is Bank of America Nat. Trust and Sav. Assn. v. 203 North LaSalle Street Partnership, 526 U.S. 434 (1999).  According to The Bluebook that case name should be shrunk to Bank of Am. Nat’l Trust & Sav. Ass’n v. 203 N. Lasalle St. P’ship.  In short, there is only limited correspondence, in degree or detail, between Supreme Court’s use of abbreviations in citations to its own precedent and The Bluebook rules.  Some of the federal circuit and district courts follow the Supreme Court’s lead in this area; many do not.

6. Fifty States, Diverse Styles

A. New York Style

New York’s reporter of decisions has a published style manual.  Since the state’s Law Reporting Bureaus oversees the publication of decisions of New York’s intermediate appellate courts and some trial decisions as well that manual guides the writing of judges throughout the state and indirectly influences the citation practices of lawyers submitting memoranda and briefs to them.  While the New York manual shares The Bluebook’s enthusiasm for abbreviation, containing an even longer list, it takes a different position on one point of style on which reasonable minds (and therefore citation practices) can easily differ.  In forming abbreviations, The Bluebook favors contractions (e.g., “Eng’r” and “Int’l”, though curiously “Envtl.”). Prior to the fourth edition, the competing ALWD Citation Manual used no apostrophes; all its abbreviations ended with periods (e.g., “Engr.” and “Intl.”).  Its fourth edition authorizes use of contractions as an alternative (e.g., “Engr.” or “Eng’r”, “Intl.” or “Int’l”).  Judging from the advance publicity, the stance of the forthcoming fifth edition is likely to be at least as deferential to The Bluebook on this esthetic matter.  But New York courts are not.  With only two exceptions New York style ends abbreviations with a period.  In New York it is “Assn.” not “Ass’n”, “Commr.” not “Comm’r”, “Govt.” not “Gov’t”, “Intl.” not “Int’l”, and so on.

B. Massachusetts and Illinois

The Massachusetts style manual sides with The Bluebook on contractions.  The Illinois manual also agrees that “Association” should be reduced to “Ass’n” but like the University of Chicago manual, it calls for very little abbreviation.  Illinois style restricts case name abbreviations to “Association” and ten other words.  Even words on this short list are to be written in full if they are “the first word in the name of a party.”

C. Michigan

If New York favors periods, Michigan rejects them as altogether unnecessary.  The Michigan Uniform System of Citation includes a number of contractions (e.g., “Ass’n”, “Comm’r”, “Int’l”) but trims the concluding period off all abbreviations.  “Brothers” is “Bros”, “Construction”, “Constr”, and so on.

D. Oregon and California

Oregon’s approach to case names rests on the editorial norms of the source.  Rather than imposing a set of its own abbreviation rules, the Oregon manual incorporates those of the cited jurisdiction by providing that case names be drawn from the running heads of the case’s official reporter or failing that the regional reporter in which it appears.  During the print era this rule, which gives up on uniformity, had the advantage of simplicity.  Now that few writers rely on print reporters, with many actually lacking reasonable access to them, the rule’s explicit prohibition on using Westlaw or LEXIS (or presumably any other electronic source) “as a source for the official case name” is manifestly an anachronism.  By contrast, the California Style Manual steps into the modern era.  Its section 1:1 provides: “Follow exactly the shortened title used in the running head of a paper-based reporter or a shortened title shown in a computer-based source.” (Emphasis added.)

7. What Approach Should the Writer of a Brief or Memo Adopt?

What should an attorney to do in the face of so many different approaches?

A. Be Consistent

First: Be consistent.  California has a distinctive style manual.  A court rule calls for citations to conform to it or, alternatively, to The Bluebook.  It concludes, however: “The same style must be used consistently throughout the document.”

That is a sound principle in any jurisdiction.  In states like Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, and Oregon where judges follow a clear set of abbreviation norms, but lawyers are not directed to adhere to them, the prudent lawyer employs some set of abbreviation principles consistently.  Convenience to the judge may argue for employing the state’s distinctive style, while law school training, available software tools, or the citations provided by the writer’s preferred case law database may point another direction.  A failure to adhere to a single, consistent approach throughout a piece of writing is far more likely to create a negative impression of care than a lawyer’s particular choice of style.

B. Routinize the Process

Second: Avoid devoting serious time to what ought to be routine.  Some find it possible to internalize that routine.  But consistent use of a single digital source for case law should do most if not all of the job.  The major services all impose an acceptable measure of case name uniformity across courts and jurisdictions.  Some make it easier than others to copy the complete citation of a retrieved case, including their rendering of its name, but at worst the step requires a simple block and copy of a case’s title or listing.  Without marketing the fact, Lexis has long provided case names that conformed to Bluebook citation norms (e.g., Bank of Am. Nat’l Trust & Sav. Ass’n v. 203 N. Lasalle St. P’ship).  WestlawClassic conforms to National Reporter System style (e.g., Bank of America Nat. Trust and Sav. Ass’n v. 203 North LaSalle Street Partnership).

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westlawnextWestlawNext and Lexis Advance provide ease of citation extraction as a feature, coupled with a measure of style selection.  With WestlawNext the style selected affects how the case name is abbreviated.  In both services “Standard” citation format (code name for Bluebook) is the default but not the sole option.  Presumably, The Bluebook’s registered trademark prevents their identifying its style using the name by which we all know it.

There are also a variety of software tools that offer case name abbreviation along with citation checking and reformatting, but they are a topic large enough to warrant treatment in a later post.

 

Oklahoma Makes It Official (But What Does That Signify?)

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

1. “Official” Digital Case Law

For over 16 years Oklahoma appellate courts have attached non-proprietary, print-independent citation data to their decisions at the time of release, placed those decisions online at a public site, and required lawyers to cite state precedent using this contemporary system. Moreover, setting Oklahoma apart from other neutral citation pioneers, the judiciary staff applied neutral citations retrospectively to all prior decisions rendered during the print era, placed copies of them online as well, and encouraged but did not require that they also be cited by the new system.  Until this year, however, the print reports of the National Reporter System remained the “official” version of Oklahoma decisions.  As of January 1, 2014, sixty years after the Oklahoma Supreme Court designated the West Publishing Company as the “official publisher” of its decisions, it revoked that designation.  For decisions of the Oklahoma Supreme Court and the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals rendered after that date, the digital files published on the Oklahoma State Courts Network constitute the official versions.  Reflecting the new status, decisions that have become final will now be marked official by “the placement of the respective court’s official seal of authentication” in the upper right hand corner.  See, e.g., Carney v. DirectTV Group, Inc., 2014 OK CIV APP 4.

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The Oklahoma judiciary is not the first to declare electronic versions of its appellate decisions “official.”  It follows Arkansas, Illinois, and New Mexico in taking this step.  In addition there are states that while not making such a declaration nonetheless maintain reliable online collections of final, citable copies of their appellate decisions as Oklahoma did prior to 2014.  Nonetheless, Oklahoma’s recent action set on top of its strong history of electronic publication and viewed alongside the situation in other states that take digital publication seriously invites scrutiny of the implications of declaring a jurisdiction’s electronic case law files “official.”

2. Implications for Citation?

In some cases “official” means “must cite to,” but as applied by the Oklahoma Supreme Court the new label compels no change in case citation.  Ever since 1997 the state has required use of citations embedded in the electronic decision files released by the court and stored at its public web site.  Furthermore, while the Thomson Reuters regional reporter has had its “official” status revoked court rules still call for lawyers to furnish parallel citations to P.3d.   (Since the Oklahoma State Courts Network has, from the beginning, furnished each decision’s regional reporter citation and the rule does not mandate parallel pinpoint citation, that requirement, while unnecessary, imposes no added research burden on the state’s lawyers.)

3. In the Event of Discrepant Texts, the “Official Version” Prevails

Presumably one consequence of the “official” designation is an altered rule for resolving conflicts among versions.  The U.S. Supreme Court web site, which distributes electronic slip opinions on day of decision, and years later, following publication of the final bound volume of the United States Reports, a pdf file of that volume in full, explains “official” in these terms:

Only the printed bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States. In case of discrepancies between a bound volume and the materials included here–or any other version of the same materials, whether print or electronic, official or unofficial–the printed bound volume controls.

In truth in the modern era this meaning of “official” has little occasion for application.  As I observed in a 2011 article about Arkansas’s break with official print reports:

Most legal research and law writing is done without checking key passages drawn from unofficial sources against the version designated as “official.” In those rare cases where discrepancies appear and where they bear directly on the resolution of a critical issue courts generally do not take the literal text of the official publication as dispositive. They weigh other evidence, looking to the context of the contested word, phrase or passage, its consistency with other decisions and whether a typographical error seems probable. [Footnotes omitted.]

4. Having Designated a Public Database as the “Official” Record of Its Decisions, the Court Will Take All Necessary Steps to Assure Its Accuracy

In varying degrees courts fiddle with their decisions in the days and weeks following initial release.  The judicial web sites of some jurisdictions are very clear that one shouldn’t count on such post-release revisions being incorporated into the electronic texts they hold.  A recent example from Indiana illustrates the problems this can generate.

On October 17, 2012, the Indiana Supreme Court issued an opinion in J.M. v. Review Bd. of Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development.  The decision was posted at the web site of Indiana’s judicial branch.  As released footnote 1 of the decision read:

Identities of the claimant and employing unit are generally subject to the confidentiality requirements prescribed in Indiana Code section 22-4-19-6(b) (2007). This confidentiality requirement is expressly implemented as to judicial proceedings by Indiana Administrative Rule 9(G)(1)(b)(xviii).

Less than a month later Indiana’s intermediate appellate court quoted the J.M. case for that proposition.  Sometime later (it being unclear exactly when) the Indiana Supreme Court revised footnote 1 of the J.M. case to read:

Although in this case we kept the claimant and employing unit confidential, our practice going forward will be to keep these parties confidential only if they make an affirmative request as outlined in Recker v. Review Board, 958 N.E.2d 1136, 1138 n.4 (Ind. 2011). As discussed in Recker, an affirmative request must be made for confidentiality.

BUT although the change was communicated to Thomson Reuters for sure and perhaps other publishers, as well, the opinion file at the judicial branch web site remained unaltered.  Now the web site does caution:

Opinions posted here are for informational purposes only. Official copies of opinions are available from West (Thomson/Reuters) or from the Clerk of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court.

But the discrepancy between the footnote text in the regional reporter and the original version posted at the court site forced the Court of Appeals in a later case to consider which one to follow.  In Albright v. Review Bd. of Indiana Dept. of Workforce Development, decided on September, 12, 2013, the court concluded that “[a]lthough there is no indication of the supreme court having issued an order that footnote 1 was being amended or entering notice thereof on the official docket maintained by the clerk of the supreme court” and despite its own past precedent relying on the original version, it was obliged to conform to the practice set out in the regional reporter version.  Manifestly, the appeals court was displeased with the failure to flag the revision of the J.M. decision at the judicial web site.  Before long an updated J.M. file appeared at that site.  But reflecting the site’s uncertain function, that revised file purports to be the original 2012 decision, for it carries an image of the Clerk’s seal showing the date October 17, 2012. Only the file’s metadata (“properties”) show that it was modified on October 30, 2013, following the Court of Appeals decision pointing out the discrepancy.

5. Official Digital Case Law and Authentication

Indiana’s failure to track or report opinion revision at the court site highlights the need for official sites to furnish some means of assurance to those relying on their electronic decision texts that they have not been altered, altered either by the court or in the course of redistribution by a legal information service or publisher.  Section 5 of the Uniform Electronic Legal Material Act (UELMA), promulgated in 2011 and now enacted in eight states, requires that public bodies using electronic means to disseminate “official” legal materials provide authentication, namely “a method for the user to determine that the record received by the user … is unaltered.”  While the Act is careful to remain “technology-neutral, leaving it to the enacting state to choose its preferred technology for authentication” it clearly requires more than the insertion of an image of the court’s seal, Oklahoma’s measure for assuring users that a decision file is the “final” and “official version.”  The Indiana example, noted in the prior section, demonstrates how easy it is to change a decision file and reinsert such an image.

Two of the states moving to official digital case law provide authentication in the UELMA sense.  Both Arkansas and New Mexico use digital signatures to do so.  See, e.g., Loveless v. Agee, 2010 Ark. 53 and State v. Sisneros, 2013-NMSC-049.

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An alternative, employed by Utah with its administrative code, is to provide a hash for each official electronic document.  Although these states were not required to provide technical assurance of this sort since, like Oklahoma, none of them has yet adopted the uniform act, their authentication measures illustrate what “official” electronic law reports can and ought to include.

Costs of the (Increasingly) Lengthy Path to U.S. Report Pagination

Monday, January 27th, 2014

On May 17, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Comstock, holding that Congress had power under the Necessary and Proper Clause of the U.S. Constitution to authorize civil commitment of a mentally ill, sexually dangerous federal prisoner beyond his release date. (18 U.S.C. § 4248).  Three and a half years later, the Court communicated the Comstock decision’s citation pagination with the shipment of the “preliminary print” of Part 1 of volume 560 of the United States Reports. That paperbound publication was logged into the Cornell Law Library on January 3 of this year.  (According to the Court’s web site the final bound volume shouldn’t be expected for another year.) United States v. Comstock, appears in that volume at page 126, allowing the full case finally to be cited: United States v. Comstock, 560 U.S. 126 (2010) and specific portions of the majority, concurring and dissenting opinions to be cited by means of official page numbers.

U.S. Reports

This lag between opinion release and attachment of official volume and page numbers along the slow march to a final bound volume has grown in recent years, most likely as a result of tighter budgets at the Court and the Government Printing Office.  Less than two years separated the end of the Court’s term in 2001 and our library’s receipt of the bound volume containing its last decisions. By 2006, five years later, the gap had widened to a full three years. Volume 554 containing the last decisions from the term ending in 2008 didn’t arrive until July 9 of last year. That amounts to nearly five years of delay.

If the printed volumes of the Court’s decisions served solely an archival function, this increasingly tardy path to print would warrant little concern or comment. But because the Court provides no means other than volume and page numbers to cite its decisions and their constituent parts, the increasing delays cast a widening ripple of costs on the federal judiciary, the services that distribute case law, and the many who need to cite it.

The nature of those costs can be illustrated using the Comstock case itself.

The Need for Some Alternative Citation System to Use over the Lengthy Interim

As released the Court’s slip opinions do not provide the information necessary to meet current citation norms. For the period they carry Supreme Court decisions lacking official volume and page numbers legal database providers must, therefore, decide whether to employ a proprietary citation scheme of their own and further which of the dominant, competing unofficial volume and page number systems (S. Ct., L. Ed. 2d) to insert as slip opinion identifying numbers and divisions. Since neither of the latter are instantly available, their use requires later editorial intervention. None of these alternatives is without costs.

Incomplete and Temporary References in the Original Opinion Texts, Requiring Later Revision

In the original 2010 Comstock text (at page 20 of the slip opinion) Justice Breyer, writing for the majority, refers to a dissent by Justice Thomas, as follows:

Indeed even the dissent acknowledges that Congress has the implied power to criminalize any conduct that might interfere with the exercise of an enumerated power, and also the additional power to imprison people who violate those (inferentially authorized) laws, and the additional power to provide for the safe and reasonable management of those prisons, and the additional power to regulate the prisoners’ behavior even after their release. See post, at 12-13, 17, n. 11.

The Thomas dissent cites a 2008 decision of the Court but had to do so in the following form because it had not yet, in 2010, appeared with official report pagination:

To be sure, protecting society from violent sexual offenders is certainly an important end. Sexual abuse is a despicable act with untold consequences for the victim personally and society generally. See, e.g., Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U. S. ___, ___, n.2, (2008) (ALITO, J., dissenting) (slip op., at 9, n. 2, 22–23).

In the preliminary print volume Justice Breyer’s cross-reference reads: “See post, at 169, 170, 173-174, n. 12.” Note not only that it now lists three rather than two sets of pages but also that “n. 11” has become “n. 12”.  Comparing the slip opinion and preliminary print, it seems evident the Court’s reporter of decisions was helped to see how, more precisely, the slip opinion page references mapped to the later version’s pagination and that the original footnote cross reference was off by one. (Although such changes have been known to occur, Justice Thomas did not add a footnote in the interim.) The citation in Justice Thomas’s dissent has been filled in and the parenthetical slip opinion references removed: “See, e.g., Kennedy v. Louisiana, 554 U. S. 407, 455, n.2, 468-469 (2008) (ALITO, J., dissenting).”

In short, because the Comstock decision, itself, and the Kennedy decision cited by Justice Thomas lacked permanent citation data in 2010, its text carried temporary and incomplete references that later had to be interpreted and filled in by the Court’s Reporter of Decisions (Frank D. Wagner through 2010, since 2011, Christine Luchok Fallon). That, however, is only the beginning of a cascade of revisions that must follow.

Database Services Must Detect, Extract, and Insert the Later Changes

All redistributors of the Court’s decisions must merge these and any other changes in the Comstock opinions into online versions that have been in place since spring 2010 – a costly process and one that injects risk of error. Strangely, the Court’s web site seems oblivious to the problem for it does not offer preliminary print versions of the United States Reports in electronic format. Consequently, legal database providers that care about conforming Supreme Court decisions to the official reports at this point must work from print. Their only alternative is to wait another year or so for release of the final bound edition which the Court does offer in digital format. (The most recent bound volume, received by the Cornell Law Library five years after the date of its contents, is the one holding the2008 Kennedy case cited by Justice Thomas. It is available for download at the Court web site.)

As of today, less than a month after the availability of Comstock in preliminary print form, what have the major online services done with its updated content?

Westlaw’s editors have inserted the official report page breaks in that service’s version of Comstock, but have failed to conform Justice Breyer’s cross reference. In Westlaw, as in the “Interim Edition” of the Supreme Court Reporter, his reference tracks the original, with the pagination converted to that in the company’s print reporter. It still points to “n. 11”. Justice Thomas’s citation to Kennedy v. Louisiana, has the jump cite pages in the official report blank, augmented by complete parallel references to the Supreme Court Reporter.

Lexis has caught the change in the footnote referenced by Breyer and substituted the official report pagination for that used in the slip opinion, placing the cross-reference pagination of its Lawyers’ Edition reporter in parallel.  It has also filled in the blanks in Thomas’s citation of Kennedy, placing Lawyers’ Edition pages in parallel but it has missed the additional page range appearing in his citation that was not signaled in the original by a blank (“468-469”).

Bloomberg Law has inserted the official report page breaks but the cross reference remains exactly as it was in the slip opinion, complete with the now useless slip opinion pagination. The Thomas citation also stands exactly as it was, providing no page numbers in 554 U.S.

Loislaw has added the new official cite to the Comstock slip opinion, enabling retrieval by cite alone but has not added page breaks or conformed the text in other ways.

Casemaker has not added the official cite so the case must be retrieved by name or by use of the Supreme Court Reporter cite. The case carries Supreme Court Reporter page breaks and is in other respects conformed to the Thomson Reuters edition.

Fastcase holds the case in slip opinion form, with slip opinion pagination, but it can be retrieved using the Supreme Court Reporter cite.

Google Scholar like Casemaker conforms to the Supreme Court Reporter and does not yet reflect the availability of the official version or its cite.

The Multiplier Effect: Other Cases

This is only the beginning of the cascade, for during the three and a half years separating Comstock’s release and its acquiring an official cite the decision was cited (necessarily in some incomplete or unofficial fashion) by hundreds of lower courts. Shepards (Lexis) shows 191 entries on Comstock’s subsequent appellate history, 231 other citing decisions, and 441 citing references in law reviews and treatises. Legal database providers must decide which of these references to edit to include the Supreme Court’s decision’s official citation and how, if at all, to translate any pinpoint references into official pagination.

A Citation System that Avoids These Costs

How much simpler it would be for those of us who work with case law and less costly for the services on which we rely if the U.S. Supreme Court were to release its decisions in final and citable form rather than allowing a three to four year lag between release and the near final preliminary print.

Illinois appellate decisions (as well as those of several other states) demonstrate the comparative advantages of such an approach.

Less than a year ago, on March 21, 2013, the Illinois Supreme Court released People v. Cruz, 2013 IL 113399. One of several intermediate appellate court decisions to cite Cruz decided in the months immediately following was handed down only eight days later, People v. Cage, 2013 IL App (2d) 111264. Because Illinois decisions have, since 2011, been released with full official citation information the Cage references could be both complete and final:

¶ 15 We find support for our determination in our supreme court’s recent decision in People v. Cruz, 2013 IL 113399, 985 N.E.2d 1014, 369 Ill. Dec. 28. In Cruz, the defendant filed a petition seeking relief under the Act. The case proceeded to the second stage, and the State moved to dismiss, arguing, inter alia, untimeliness; the trial court granted the State’s dismissal motion. Id. ¶¶ 8, 15. The defendant appealed, and the State argued for the first time that the trial court’s dismissal should be affirmed because the defendant failed to attach a notarized affidavit to his pro se supplemental petition alleging a lack of culpable negligence. Id. ¶ 16. The appellate court agreed with the State, concluding that, “‘because [the defendant] filed no notarized affidavit to support the allegations of cause for the delayed filing, the trial court properly dismissed the postconviction petition.’ [Citation.]” Id.

Under the Illinois citation scheme, cross-references between opinions in a case can also be complete and in final form without a need to wait months or years to see what volume or page numbers have been assigned to the passages in question. Footnotes 1 and 2 in the majority opinion of Chicago Teachers Union v. Board of Education, 2012 IL 112566, illustrate:

1. The dissent appears to assign pretextual motives to the Board’s economic layoff of tenured teachers. Infra ¶ 41 (Theis, J., dissenting, joined by Kilbride, C.J.). However, it is undisputed that the layoffs in this case were based on nonpretextual economic reasons.

2. The dissent acknowledges this statutory distinction (infra ¶ 45 (Theis, J. dissenting, joined by Kilbride, C.J.)), yet fails to recognize its legal significance in construing these statutes.

Legal information providers can load Illinois decisions “as is”. When they later receive volume and page numbering in unofficial reports (notably N.E.2d of the Thomson Reuters National Reporter System) they can, but need not, merge the resulting case cites and page breaks into the official versions.

Conclusion

At a time when few researchers rely on print reports, the Supreme Court’s continued dependence on a set of print volumes, produced long after the fact, for a case’s official cite (and final text) is a costly anachronism. The growing lag in production of those volumes cannot be excused by the existence of many electronic sources. Indeed, their number and importance in legal research increase the ultimate burden of the delay.

Finally, there is an indeterminate hidden cost. So long as years separate initial slip opinions from their final official versions, justices face a troubling temptation to continue fiddling with their texts. One trusts that a desire to have a lengthy period for revision is not the cause of the recent increase in delay, but that delay does inevitably invite authorial “improvement”.

 

Citation as DNA

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

In a guest post this week on Justia’s Verdict blog, I explain how one can use citation format to determine a legal information service’s data source for case law and report on the results of such an investigation.

Case citation and the proposed “Edicts of Government” amendment to the Copyright Act

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Yesterday, Carl Malamud testified before Congress on behalf of an amendment to the U.S. Copyright Act that would codify the following exception to its coverage:

Edicts of government, such as judicial opinions, administrative rulings, legislative enactments, public ordinances, and similar official legal documents are not copyrightable for reasons of public policy. This applies to such works whether they are Federal, State, or local as well as to those of foreign governments.

The language is drawn directly from a 1984 publication of the U.S. Copyright Office, which has been under revision for over two years. As Malamud explained, the legal position it expresses traces back to two nineteenth century Supreme Court decisions, Wheaton v. Peters, 33 U.S. (8 Pet.) 591 (1834) and Banks v. Manchester, 128 U.S. 244 (1888), is grounded in Constitutional values, and despite the absence of explicit expression in the current Copyright Act has continued to be affirmed by twenty-first century rulings. See Veeck v. Southern Building Code Congress International, Inc., 293 F.3d 791 (5th Cir. 2002).

The case he presented to Congress cited the experience his non-profit, Public.resource.org, has had with states’ claiming copyright in their codified statutes (the subject of a prior post). The principal target of his testimony and the proposed amendment, however, are copyright claims asserted by standards development bodies in the safety and other codes that are, as intended, adopted as law by state and federal governments. Testifying in opposition to the proposed amendment was the vice president and general counsel of the American National Standards Institute.

Malamud’s testimony made no mention of his organization’s past work with case law and the cloud of copyright uncertainty overhanging law reports. Nor would his proposed amendment resolve a copyright issue that has been a major source of that uncertainty for nearly three decades.

The issue first arose in 1985 when Lexis announced its intention to add volume and page numbers drawn from the National Reporter System of the then West Publishing Company to its database of federal and state judicial opinions, not merely the page numbers on which decisions began but the page-breaks within them necessary for pinpoint citation (“star pagination”). West sought and was granted a preliminary injunction on the ground that while the decisions issued by courts were in the public domain the selection and arrangement of them in West’s books as expressed in volume and page numbers qualified for a compilation copyright. West Pub. Co. v. Mead Data Cent., Inc., 616 F. Supp. 1571 (D. Minn. 1985), aff’d 799 F.2d 1219 (8th Cir. 1986). Three years later, the litigation was settled in an agreement that allowed Lexis to incorporate West page numbers in its online system upon payment of “substantial” license fees (reported to be $3 million a year). A Lexis spokesperson noted that although there was no definitive court ruling on the merits “contractually we are recognizing their copyright.” Since the license to Lexis was limited to the online service it constrained the company’s later initiatives in CD-ROM distribution.

While a 1991 Supreme Court decision, Feist Publications, Inc. v. Rural Telephone Service Co., 499 U.S. 340 (1991) cast substantial doubt on the West copyright claim, the company continued to use it to beat back the flock of new entrants drawn to case reporting during the early 1990s by the low cost of CD-ROM publication. See Oasis Pub. Co. v. West Pub. Co., 924 F. Supp. 918 (D. Minn. 1996) (settled while on appeal, also with a West license affirming its copyright claim).

In 1992 the Thomson Company, not yet owner of West or merged with Reuters, supported a bill introduced in Congress by Barney Frank (H.R. 4426, 102d Cong. (1992)) that would have specifically excluded copyright coverage of the names, numbers, and citations of state and federal statutes, regulations, and law reports. Fiercely opposed by West, the proposal failed to get beyond committee hearings.

Later, during negotiations over the terms of the consent decree that cleared the way for Thomson’s acquisition of West, West’s agreement to grant star pagination licenses to others than Lexis was trumpeted by the U.S. Justice Department as a key concession.  Under pressure from District Judge Paul Friedman, West’s agreed-to licensing terms were repeatedly liberalized.  The judge explained:

Charging money to small publishers for obtaining a license to use a pagination system to which any copyright claim seems questionable would impermissibly shift the costs of litigating the legal uncertainty of West’s copyright claim.

The final decree deferred all license fees for small publishers “until a decision on the merits by the United States Supreme Court … with respect to West’s copyright claims or December 31, 2000, whichever comes first.”

December 31, 2000 came first and as of January 2014 the Supreme Court has not ruled. Thomson Reuters, now West’s owner, has yet to relinquish the claim that volume and page numbers drawn from its reports (the only accepted means of citing a passage within the opinions of a majority of U.S. jurisdictions) and inserted by others in public domain texts infringe its copyright. Malamud knows this well for in 2007 he wrote Thomson Reuters asking for clarification of the scope of its copyright claim in the National Reporter System. The reply by its deputy general counsel reasserted the company’s claim to a copyright in the “selection and arrangement, within each reporter, of the individual case reports.” His letter noted that the 1998 Second Circuit case, Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Pub. Co., 158 F. 3d 693 (2d Cir. 1998), holding that the insertion of the West star pagination was not an infringement of copyright, was decided 2-1 over a strong dissent and that the Eight Circuit had consistently held to the contrary. The Court of Appeals case law collection offered by Public.resource.org ends in 2007 and contains no West page-break data. See, e.g., Moore v. Quarterman, 491 F.3d 213 (5th Cir. 2007).

Regrettably Malamud’s proposed “Edicts of Government” Copyright Act amendment would not, standing alone, lay this claim to rest. That is because West, now Thomson, has consistently conceded that the decisions issued by a court, like the laws passed by a legislature, are in the public domain. Its proprietary claims have been limited to value its editors have added. Should Congress ever get around to amending the Copyright Act in this area, additional language like that contained in the 1992 bill is called for, language explicitly denying copyright coverage to:

  • … any name, number, or citation by which the text of State and Federal laws or regulations are, or ever have been, identified; [and]
  • … any volume or page number by which State or Federal laws, regulations, judicial opinions, or portions thereof, are, or ever have been, identified

The designations by which laws and judicial opinions are cited are so integrally connected with the texts they identify their copyright status ought to be addressed at the same time. All the reasons why copyright law should not be available for use by public bodies or commercial entities to restrict access to or republication of “edicts of government” apply equally to the data that identify them, whether volume and page numbers, title and section numbers, or more contemporary, medium-neutral citation schemes.

 

What does the start of a new year mean in legal citation?

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

A year change prompts reflection on the roles dates play in legal citation. I use the plural “roles” because of the diversity of functions dates serve in citations.  With some sources they are largely superfluous; with others, they are critical to retrieval.

Cases

As noted in a prior post, the full date of release is a crucial part of the identifying data for any unpublished opinion. Among the decisions released this week by the Second Circuit is one that should now and into the future be cited as: Wager v. Littell, No. 13-1683-cv (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2014).

In all U.S. jurisdictions that have adopted systems of medium neutral case citation, the year of a decision is an integral part of its cite or retrieval tag. The decision, People v. Radojcic, 2013 IL 114197, would have been designated 2014 IL 114197, had it been released by the Illinois Supreme Court during the early part of 2014 rather than on Nov. 21, 2013. On Dec. 23, 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court released its opinion in People v. Cunningham, 2013 CO 71. Had it instead been the court’s first decision of this month it would have been 2014 CO 1. (Illinois and Colorado employ different systems of designating decisions rendered within the year.)

In a majority of U.S. jurisdictions, however, the year of a precedential decision is not critical for identification or retrieval. Nonetheless, it is routinely included as one element of a complete case citation. Thus, when a 2013 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court cites an earlier decision, that decision is identified as Trainor v. Hernandez, 431 U. S. 434, 443 (1977). Why include the year? “431 U.S. 434” provides all the information one needs to retrieve that earlier decision from any database or library shelf? The reason presumably is that knowing the year of a decision may help a reader to decide whether to look at it. It provides useful but not critical information.

Finally, it may be worth noting that the year incorporated within a decision citation is not the year that the case was compiled into a print volume or that the volume was finally published but rather the year the decision was issued.

Statutes

Citations to session laws generally include the year of enactment. Indeed, the year is often part of an act’s name. If the legislation has not been named, its full date will be employed for that purpose, as, for example, “Act of Dec. 9, 2013”.

What to do when citing to a section of a jurisdiction’s codified laws is bit of a puzzle. Should a year be furnished and, if so, what year? Now that the year is 2014 has section 110 of title 17 of the United States Code become 17 U.S.C. § 110 (2014)? Is that a function of the cutoff date of the writer’s source?

The most recent print version of 17 U.S.C. § 110 published by the Government Printing Office appears in a set denominated the 2012 edition. However, since that edition extends through the term of the 112th Congress it, in fact, includes laws passed and signed into law in the early days of 2013. The volume in which 17 U.S.C. § 110 appears was printed in 2013. Other volumes of the 2012 edition have yet to appear.  Westlaw doesn’t provide an “as of” date for this or other sections of the U.S. Code but it does report that the most recent amendment of this particular section took effect on April 27, 2005. Lexis represents that its version of the U.S. Code is “Current through PL 113-57, approved 12/9/13.” The LII notes of its version “Current through Pub. L. 113-52” without providing a date. However one interprets of The Bluebook’s prescription on this point, it definitely calls for some date to be appended to 17 U.S.C. § 110, in parentheses.

The more sensible approach, at least in legal writing produced by or for courts, is that followed by the U.S. Supreme Court. So long as an opinion of the Court is referring to sections of the code currently in effect, its citations include no date element. The lower federal courts follow the same practice as do most lawyers submitting briefs to federal courts. One also finds dateless statutory citations in the appellate decisions and briefs from such prominent states as California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Only when the provision being cited has, by the time of writing, been repealed or amended or has only recently been enacted does it become important to specify the date of a compilation that contains the language being cited. The precise form this takes will necessarily be governed by the form in which that compilation presents its cutoff date, and it ought to report the compilation date not the year that compilation appeared in print or online.

Regulations

The considerations bearing on citations to regulations appear very much the same. However, professional practice is less consistent. Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and judges of lower federal courts will often include the year of compilation for a Code of Federal Regulations provision in an opinion’s first citation to it, leaving the year off all subsequent references. Arguably, for as long as annual print compilations constituted the principal source for codified regulations that approach furnished useful information. Today, with constantly updated compilations maintained not only by commercial online services but the Government Printing Office, it makes better sense for both writer and reader to understand that a citation in a brief or opinion to 37 C.F.R. § 205.22 refers to the provision in effect at the time of writing. With a section that has not changed since 2008, the addition of 2013 or, as of last week, 2014 in parentheses serves little purpose. For that reason many judges and lawyers would cite to 37 C.F.R. § 205.22 (or a state equivalent) without indicating a year, again, unless the litigation concerned an earlier version or the regulation in question has undergone recent change.

Commentary

Dates are far less precise and therefore less useful in citations to journal articles. Because publication delays are common with student-edited journals, numerous articles that failed to appear in 2013 will nonetheless carry that date.  Many destined to appear in 2014 last received attention from their author or an editor in 2013. Judicial opinions, legislative enactments, and regulations all carry specific release or effective dates.  Individual journal articles do not. Notwithstanding the imprecision and limited utility, attachment of the nominal year of publication to article citations is accepted practice.

The same holds for treatise  citations with greater reason and despite a further difficulty. Most major treatises have been acquired by an online research service and are bundled with the service’s primary law materials.  In both print and online form they are updated at least annually. In print, the updates may be integrated, the case with treatises published in a looseleaf format, or they may be issued in a separate supplement.  Online, they are integrated without any indication of what was changed or when. Under these circumstances, how should one date a section of A. Wright, A. Miller & M. K. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure or M. Nimmer & D. Nimmer, Nimmer on Copyright in a brief or opinion prepared during 2014? Should that depend on whether one accessed the material in print or online? Assuming that one is citing to the current work rather than a prior edition or version, the best practice is to cite to the year of the most recent update or revision of the source relied on. Following that practice one would in January 2014 still use the year 2013 for both those works since they were last updated during that year, a fact noted in their print and electronic versions.

The updating phenomenon bestows greater importance on the date associated with a treatise citation. Unlike journal articles these are not static works. A reference to a particular section as it existed some years ago, 2004 say, or 1994, may well, if followed into the current version of the treatise, take the reader to significantly different text . The year accompanying the citation provides a reminder of that reality even though it may be difficult verging on impossible for those working in a contemporary research environment to determine exactly how the cited section read in 1994 or 2014. Neither Lexis (Nimmer & Nimmer) nor Westlaw (Wright & Miller) archive past versions of their treatises online as they do past statutory codifications.

Cite thoughtfully in 2014!

 

 

Citing unpublished decisions

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

On December 16, 2010, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, issued a per curiam opinion interpreting the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA), 18 U.S.C. § 924(e)(1) as it related to specific Florida crimes. The panel designated that opinion not for publication (“DO NOT PUBLISH”). This December opinion vacated an earlier one, dated September 8, also unpublished, that had misstated one of the defendant’s prior convictions. The new decision corrected the error. In all other respects it was identical. Although unpublished, under the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure (Rule 32.1) that December 16 decision can be cited. A rule of the Eleventh Circuit (p. 147, Rule 36.2) explicitly provides that unpublished opinions are not binding precedent but “may be cited as persuasive authority.”

The issue to be considered here is how to cite such unpublished, non-precedential decisions.

Both the September and December opinions are available on the Eleventh Circuit Web site. They and other Eleventh Circuit opinions applying the same sentence enhancement provision of the ACCA can be found with a Google web search (site:www.ca11.uscourts.gov “Armed Career Criminal Act” “residual clause”) or through a search on Google Scholar limited to the Eleventh Circuit. Anyone finding the court’s decision in United States v. Hayes on the open Web would, however, be unaware that, notwithstanding, the “DO NOT PUBLISH” label the editors of Thomson Reuters selected the decision for publication in a set of books that no law library I’ve ever used has seen fit to buy or shelve, the Federal Appendix of the National Reporter System. (The Federal Appendix is for sale. The full set, currently 523 volumes, covering a mere dozen years, can be yours for only $7,093.80, just marked down from $10,134, perhaps for the holidays. However, the print market was never that publication’s aim.) Within that series the Hayes decision is reportedly located in volume 409, at page 277. That information is not available on the open Web. Furthermore, unless a person finding and wanting to cite Hayes is a subscriber to Bloomberg Law, Lexis, or Westlaw, she would not be aware that those services have designated it, 2010 BL 299236, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 25741, and 2010 WL 5122587, respectively. Those high end services also provide the case’s Federal Appendix cite, 409 Fed. Appx. 277 (or as converted by The Bluebook, 409 F. App’x 277). Persons with access to Casemaker or Fastcase could discover and retrieve the Hayes decision using a suitable query, but neither of those services adds their own proprietary citation or reports the citations added by their competitors.

One further point about the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and Eleventh Circuit additions – they provide no explicit guidance on how to cite “unpublished” but widely available decisions like Hayes. One can, however, find indirect policy guidance in the same Eleventh Circuit rule that allows their citation. It provides that “If the text of an unpublished opinion is not available on the internet, a copy of the unpublished opinion must be attached to or incorporated within the brief, petition, motion or response in which such citation is made.” Patently, this requirement is not focused on judicial access to such decisions. The judges of the Eleventh Circuit, like other federal judges, have access to both Lexis and Westlaw.  Rather the rule addresses the problem of access faced by parties without access to Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law and the rest, and citation format bears directly on access.  A citation to Hayes in a brief, memo, or court opinion reading: “United States v. Hayes, 409 F. App’x 277 (11th Cir. 2010)“ is utterly useless on the open Web. It will also fail to retrieve the decision on Casemaker and Fastcase. Yet that is precisely how The Bluebook would have the case cited once it has been selected for and received volume and page numbers in the Federal Appendix. (See Rule 10.5(a).) No doubt that is because The Bluebook is written by and for law journals, whose editors have access to at least one, if not all, of the Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw trio. The ALWD Citation Manual similarly assumes the universal utility of a Federal Appendix citation. (See its Rule 12.14(b).)  In fact the ALWD manual goes farther down this false path than The Bluebook, for it authorizes citations to unpublished decisions that rely totally on Lexis or Westlaw cites, which are even less effective across systems, e.g., “United States v. Hayes, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 25741  (11th Cir. 2010)” or “United States v. Hayes, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 25741  (11th Cir. 2010).”

Until the federal courts begin attaching neutral citations to their own decisions, the only effective way to cite Hayes or any other “unpublished” but widely distributed decision is to include both the docket number and the full date of the decision, as in “United States v. Hayes, No. 09-12024 (11th Cir. Dec. 16, 2010).” The docket number, coupled with deciding court, enables retrieval of the opinion from all competing commercial research services, from Google Scholar and the open Web. The full date, particularly important with this example, allows anyone following the citation to realize that the vacated September 8 opinion, which the docket number will also retrieve, is not the target of the reference.

In sum, both The Bluebook and the ALWD Citation Manual have been led astray. An unpublished decision should be cited as an unpublished decision. Docket number, court, and full date work effectively to identify and retrieve a cited case across sources, including importantly the open Web. A citation to the Thomson Reuters Federal Appendix is no substitute. Nor is a citation using the proprietary numbering system of one of the commercial online services. Of course, there is no harm, beyond the space consumed, in adding a Federal Appendix, Bloomberg Law, Lexis, or Westlaw cite to that essential core. On the other hand, unless one is confident that all important readers of a document will have access to a system on which such a proprietary cite will work, the added value is not likely to be worth the increase in citation length.

Unfortunately, the judges of the Eleventh Circuit and the district courts over which it sits do not model this approach. Just as they impose no particular citation format on those appearing before them, they practice none. Hayes has been cited in numerous subsequent decisions, both published and unpublished. In United States v. Nix, 628 F. 3d 1341, 1342 (11th Cir. 2010) the earlier Hayes opinion is cited as “United States v. Hayes, 2010 WL 3489973 (September 8, 2010).” The dissent in Rozier v. United States, 701 F.3d 681, 688 n.5  (11th Cir. 2012)  cites to the Federal Appendix reporter, “United States v. Hayes, 409 Fed.Appx. 277 (11th Cir. Dec.16.2010).” United States v. Morris, No. 11-13064 (11th Cir. Aug. 15, 2012) (which appears in volume 486 of the Federal Appendix at page 853, if that is useful to you) cites the case, without either docket number or exact date, as “United States v. Hayes, 409 Fed. App’x 277, 278-79 (11th Cir. 2010).” Citations to Hayes, in recent decisions of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, appear in the form: “United States v. Hayes, 409 F. App’x 277 (11th Cir. 2010), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 132 S. Ct. 125, 181 L. Ed. 2d 47 (2011).”

Under the influence of those appearing before them and the guidance of their clerks, federal judges need to bring their citation practice into accord with the concern over access expressed in the Eleventh Circuit rule.

Parallel print citations in today’s digital environment

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

Back in the day when case research entailed pulling volumes from a shelf and many states published their own “official” reports, parallel citations fulfilled a useful function. They allowed the reader of a brief, opinion, or journal article to retrieve a cited case by pulling whichever of alternative sets of reports were available.  Reporter name, volume number, and page led straight to the case. True, look-up-tables (West’s  National Reporter Blue Book, Shepard’s Citations) made it possible to determine where a case in volume 50, at page 278 of the official reports could be found in the National Reporter System regional reports and vice versa —  a tedious process but manageable.  But tables did not translate pinpoint citations.  And in most instances publication lag or policy stood in the way of reciprocal star pagination.  In states or during periods when no single reporter furnished full dual citation information, the value of parallel citation rose, but of course so did its cost. To produce complete parallel cites under those conditions a writer had to have access to two sets of books. The late West publishing company produced numerous state-specific offprints of its regional reporters to meet the market need and strong law school libraries maintained dual sets of reporters, at least until the 15th  edition of The Bluebook (1991). That edition broke with the past by authorizing the use of the National Reporter System cite alone in journal articles and seemingly in all other legal writing, except briefs and memoranda submitted to courts “of the deciding state.” Even that exception disappeared in the 17th edition (2000) which simply told practitioners to cite to “reporters preferred by local rules, including any parallel citations to the official state reporter, if required.”

The vendor- and medium-neutral citation schemes proposed during the 1990s by the American Association of Law Libraries and the American Bar Association were purposefully designed to specify cases and passages within them using a single set of identifiers that would work across publications and media, thereby rendering multiple citations unnecessary. However, as a transition measure, reasonable for a period when a fair portion of the legal profession still worked from print case reports (and to soften opposition to the reform), the ABA included the following language in its 1996 resolution:

Until electronic publications of case reports become generally available to and commonly relied upon by courts and lawyers in the jurisdiction [adopting neutral citation], the court should strongly encourage parallel citations, in addition to the [neutral] primary citation …, to commonly used printed case reports.

Most states adopting some form of print-independent citation during this period went beyond “strongly encourage” and required parallel citation to the National Reporter System. A few states also required citation to a continuing set of official print reports. Some neutral citation adopters like North Dakota, but not all (see below), realized that since paragraph numbers attached to decisions by the deciding court traveled with it into print requiring a parallel pinpoint page served no purpose (being both redundant and less precise).

Any need for such deference to National Reporter System volume and page number citation passed years ago. Citation norms or requirements that still call for its use in parallel with a publicly attached citation, whether print-derived or medium-neutral, impose significant costs on all providers of legal information (other than Thomson Reuters) and consequently on their users. Appropriately, the two states most recently adopting neutral citation systems, Colorado (2012) and Illinois (2011), have not insisted on or even affirmatively encouraged parallel citation. Colorado courts will accept either court-attached print-independent or National Reporter System case citations; briefs need not include both.  Illinois Supreme Court Rule 6 mandates use of that state’s new citation scheme; parallel print-derived citations “may be added but [are] not required.”

Present conditions compel those maintaining legal databases to index cases by alternative citation systems where they exist. Consider, as an example, the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court in Kansas Dept. of Revenue v. Powell filed on June 4, 2010. In time that case acquired volume and page numbers, first in the Pacific Reporter (232 P.3d 856) and later in the state-published Kansas Reports (290 Kan. 564).  Either cite will retrieve the decision on: Westlaw, Lexis, Bloomberg Law, Casemaker, Fastcase, Loislaw, or Google Scholar. The first four of those services (including Casemaker, the one available without additional charge to all members of the Kansas Bar Association) have also inserted dual sets of page break notations in that and all other Kansas case files. As a consequence their users can make or follow pinpoint citations employing either the official report or regional reporter’s system. They don’t need both.

Decisions from jurisdictions that have implemented neutral citation schemes employing paragraph numbers arrive embedded with complete citation information. They and their key passages can be retrieved from a full spectrum of legal research services and even the open Web without resort to parallel National Reporter System volume and page numbers. In releasing lawyers from the obligation to furnish parallel citations Colorado and Illinois have simplified case citation without inflicting inconvenience on users of any of the competing legal research services.

States that adopted neutral citation systems a decade or more ago but failed to make a complete break from print-derived citations (see below) should follow the lead of these two recent adopters. Any value parallel citation once had as a transition measure vanished along with printed law reports.

Parallel Citation Requirements in Neutral Citation Jurisdictions

State

Year neutral citation began

Parallel NRS print case citation to be provided, if available

Parallel pinpoint cite page numbers required, if available

Note

Arkansas

2009

Yes

Yes

Arkansas does not use paragraph numbers.

Colorado

2012

No

No

Use of the neutral citation is optional, but if one does use it a parallel print citation is not necessary.

Illinois

2011

No

No

Louisiana

1994

Yes

Yes

Louisiana does not use paragraph numbers.

Maine

1997

Yes

No

Mississippi

1997

No

No

Montana

1998

Yes (and to Montana Reports as well)

No

New Mexico

1997

NRS citation is optional, but parallel citation to New Mexico Reports is mandatory for cases published in it

No

Print publication of the New Mexico Reports ceased with volume 150.  All published decisions have been given neutral citations, retrospectively.

North Dakota

1997

Yes

No

Ohio

2002

Yes (and to Ohio Reports as well)

No

Oklahoma

1997

Yes

No

South Dakota

1996

Yes

No

Utah

1999

Yes

No

Vermont

2003

Yes (and to Vermont Reports as well)

No

Wisconsin

2000

Yes (and to Wisconsin Reports as well)

No

Wyoming

2001

No

No

 Source: Basic Legal Citation § 7-500.

Nowhere versus generic citations

Friday, November 1st, 2013

A recent New York Times piece on the prevalence of non-functioning links in Supreme Court citations (a topic for another day) carried the headline: “In Supreme Court Opinions, Web Links to Nowhere.” The phrase brought to mind the fierce attack mounted by the late West Publishing Company during the mid-nineties against proposals to replace that publisher’s dominant system of proprietary, print-based citation of U.S. case law with vendor- and medium-neutral citations. At the time West’s representatives repeatedly characterized citation identifiers applied by the issuing court as “citations to nowhere” or “nowhere citations.” They asserted that the approach, then and still, advocated by the American Association of Law Libraries and American Bar Association “provides absolutely no clue that helps the researcher to identify the publication, CD-ROM, or online service where she can actually find the opinion.”

Artfully, the argument conflated two quite distinct goals for a citation system – one central, the other secondary and often sacrificed to competing values. As explained in § 1-200 of Basic Legal Citation: a functional legal citation must, within limited space, “provide the reader with sufficient information to find the document or document part in the sources the reader has available (which may or may not be the same sources as those used by the writer).” A second and separate principle would call for disclosure of the writer’s actual source. In a much cited 1982 article on citation theory and practice, Paul Axel-Lute placed the latter citation principle dead last in his list of thirteen, a set which he noted carried inevitable conflicts.

As the Axel-Lute article observed this “writer disclose your source” principle is, in numerous settings, trumped by the principle of “brevity” and also overridden by rules calling for citation to “official” sources (whether or not in fact used by the writer). Noting that longstanding practice, codified in The Bluebook, which had just then appeared in its thirteenth edition, did not require specification of source in citations of court rules, Axel-Lute surmised this was because they “are found in a multiplicity of sources.” He observed that the same held for citations to the Constitution.

In the early 1980s case law was not available from a “multiplicity of sources” and a case citation in the format “___ F.2d ___, ___” at once directed readers to the cited passage and indicated the writer’s use of a specific source. Four decades later “multiplicity of sources” characterizes access to nearly all types of primary legal materials in the U.S., and such a citation cannot reasonably be understood as representing that the writer has read the decision in the pages of a particular printed volume or even in the digital replica sold online by the same publisher. Today, with few exceptions, cases and statutes are available from “a multiplicity of sources,” some free to all, others free to all members of a state bar, and still others wrapped in costly layers of added value. So long as a citation to a judicial opinion or statutory section enables a reader to retrieve the document from her preferred source there is no more need for the writer to declare his source than with a constitution provision or court rule.

In this environment of many competing sources, proprietary citations are more likely than those appended by the issuing court, legislative body, or agency to give rise to problems of access. Consider the recent decision of the Indiana Supreme Court interpreting that state’s statute on grandparent visitation rights, J.C. v. J.B., 991 N.E.2d 110 (Ind. 2013). As already noted, although the foregoing citation is derived from a specific print publication, no reader of this blog should take my use of it as representing that I relied on that source. In fact I first came upon the decision on Lexis. Prevailing citation norms do not, however, call on me to declare that. Nor does the formula “991 N.E.2d 110”, which conforms to the pattern specified by the major citation manuals and Indiana’s own rules of appellate procedure, drive the reader to a particular source. Ultimately, it will enable retrieval of the decision from all major legal research services including Casemaker, a system that is free to all Indiana Bar Association members. Unfortunately, however, since it is not the product of a system of court-applied citations, “991 N.E.2d 110” did not travel along with the opinion when it was added to all those databases. The decision was handed down on July 18, 2013. North Eastern Reporter volume and page numbers were not attached to it on Westlaw until roughly a month later.  At that point all other databases confronted the task of matching the Thomson Reuters cite and the corresponding internal pagination with their copy of the Indiana decision.  Until that is done “991 N.E.2d 110” cannot be used on them to retrieve the case nor can that citation be drawn from them by the writer of a brief or subsequent opinion.  Casemaker did not make that match until mid-October.  And as of this writing “991 N.E.2d 110” still draws a blank on Google Scholar (even though it holds the case).  Google Scholar has integrated volume and page numbers with opinions Thomson Reuters has allotted to “898 N.E.2d” but as yet none from “890 N.E.2d” or “891 N.E.2d.”

Consider also the statutory provision at issue in J.C. v. J.B. It  is cited by the court as “Ind. Code § 31-17-5-1.” On Lexis that section is presented as “Burns Ind. Code Ann. § 31-17-5-1.” Westlaw identifies the same provision as part of “West’s Annotated Indiana Code.” Both titles match those of copyrighted print compilations marketed by the respective companies. Were one to take the “writer disclose your source” principle seriously even a citation to “Burns Ind. Code Ann.” would have to indicate whether it referred to the publisher’s print or electronic version. Somewhat ambiguously The Bluebook instructs a writer to cite to “Indiana Code … if therein” rather than to either commercial version, but does it mean a specific “Indiana Code”? Although the Indiana Legislative Services Agency maintains an up-to-date compilation of the state’s statutes with that title at: http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/2010/, it is good bet that the Indiana lawyer who complies with the state’s rules of appellate procedure and cites to Ind. Code § 31-17-5-1 has secured its text from Lexis, Westlaw, or Casemaker rather than from that public site.

During the print era it was, in many settings, important for a statutory citation to indicate the specific source relied on by the writer, but today “Ind. Code” and the equivalent in other states are generic references. They are identifiers that enable retrieval of the relied upon text from a multiplicity of sources rather than a signal that the writer has consulted a particular one.  The major citation manuals and some state rules are not clear on this point, largely because they remain stuck in patterns shaped by print.

There are still some situations where the “writer disclose your source” principle merges with the core task of facilitating the reader’s retrieval of the cited text, where indicating source avoids the risk of a “nowhere citation” or misdirection.  In the present environment, however, generic citations of cases and statutes are the norm. Traditional formats that imply reliance upon a particular source too often consume unnecessary space, impose costs and delay, and run some risk of confusion.