“Copy with Reference”

November 10th, 2020
Westlaw

A 2014 review in this blog of the citations delivered by the major online research services along with copied blocks of text concluded:

At their current stage of evolution none of the major research services (including not only Westlaw and Lexis, but Bloomberg Law, Fastcase, and Casemaker) can be relied upon to produce primary law citations that fully comply with The Bluebook or, indeed, any of the other citation styles they may list.  In any setting where citation format is critical, users need to know that. And all researchers need to be aware that the citations of statutes or regulations these systems generate will often be seriously incomplete.

Six years on, the gap between promise and performance of the “copy with reference” feature of these systems has not diminished.

Incomplete Citations

Codified Material (Statutes, Regulations, Court Rules) — A Consistent Failure

To begin where that prior review ended, citations to highly structured documents like statutes, regulations, and court rules commonly require more than the section or rule number. The copied material may lie deep within a nested framework of numbered or lettered subsections and paragraphs. A full citation to a key passage must specify its exact location within that structure. For examples, consider 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(1)(B)(i), Ky. Rev. Stat. § 355.4-406 (4)(b), 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(d), and Fed. R. Civ. P. 19(b)(2). A researcher drawing crucial language of any of those provisions from a non-commercial online source will either copy the entire section or rule or, presumably, know that a copied sentence or two must be accompanied by a full designation reaching all the way down to the subsection, paragraph, or subparagraph level. Copy any of the cited passages alone, from Bloomberg Law, Fastcase, Lexis, or Westlaw and the citation or reference that accompanies it will contain only the section or rule number.

Journal Article References — A Problem on Lexis

In accordance with standard citation practice, a specific passage copied out of a journal article, with reference, from Westlaw will be designated:

Guyora Binder, The Origins of American Felony Murder Rules, 57 Stan. L. Rev. 59, 74 (2004)

The same passage copied from Lexis carries only the following elements:

ARTICLE:The Origins of American Felony Murder Rules, 57 Stan. L. Rev. 59, 74

If the researcher doesn’t want to return, at some later point, to complete her citation to the copied passage, whether in a memorandum, brief, or article, that information must be added to the citation produced by Lexis, manually, at the time the passage is copied.

A researcher on Fastcase and HeinOnline who downloads the pertinent page or the entire article in pdf will receive it covered by a page furnishing the article’s citation in seven different styles including “Bluebook 21st ed.” Since the downloaded file will include the full page on which the passage appears, all the information that will be required for a complete, properly formatted, citation is available.

Bloomberg Law has no law journal database and, therefore, does not pose the problem.

Non-Compliant “Standard” Format Citations

Both Lexis and Westlaw continue to treat citation as a form of branding. The (incomplete) “standard” format citation Lexis furnishes for the U.S. Code provision listed above is “42 U.S.C.S. § 416 (LexisNexis, Lexis Advance through Public Law 116-163, approved October 2, 2020)” while Westlaw delivers “42 U.S.C.A. § 416 (West).” In jurisdictions where these two companies compete in print, their respective citations to state statutes exhibit the same tendency. On Lexis, even the federal rules receive this treatment: “USCS Fed Rules Civ Proc R 19” instead of “Fed. R. Civ. P. 19.” Unlike the failure to furnish a complete designation for a copied passage, this proprietary flavor of a “standard” format can be rectified in a final piece of writing through use of a “search and replace” that converts all statutory, regulation, and rule citations to their official or generic form.

The same is true of non-compliant case name abbreviations. The “standard” format case references of both Lexis and Westlaw, as well as the citations delivered for cases by Bloomberg Law and Fastcase deviate in some particulars from the abbreviations set out in The Bluebook. (20th ed.). (To date, none have moved to the additional and altered abbreviations of the latest edition.) For example, Westlaw favors the abbreviation “Nat.” over The Bluebook‘s “Nat’l” for “National,” Lexis follows The Bluebook, Bloomberg Law reduces “National” to “Natl.” and Fastcase leaves the word in full. Both Lexis and Westlaw followed The Bluebook‘s 2015 switch from “Adver.” to “Advert.” as the abbreviation for “Advertising” and from “Cnty.” to “Cty.” for “County.” Bloomberg Law did not; Fastcase abbreviates neither word.

The good news is that all four systems appear quite consistent in their treatment of case names. As a consequence, to the extent that close Bluebook adherence is important to a writer who has relied consistently on any one of them, a “search and replace” operation can address discrepancies. For most purposes, that consistency itself is sufficient. The California Style Manual explicitly authorizes use of “a shortened title shown in a computer-based source” for cases.

Jurisdiction-Specific Citation Formats Generated by Lexis and Westlaw

Lexis and Westlaw invite the user to select among an array of formats for the citation attached to a copied passage. The format choices offered by Lexis include “Standard,” “ALWD,” and all fifty states. Westlaw’s list adds a “Westlaw” format option, but includes only 34 states plus the District of Columbia. (Omitted are smaller states in which Thomson Reuters does not sell a West-branded statutory compilation in print.)

Westlaw’s omission of states like Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas is particularly troubling since they (and numerou others) have quite distinctive local ways of citing their own codified statutes and regulations. See Basic Legal Citation § 3-300. Within Alaska, for example, a provision for which The Bluebook prescribes citation in the form “Alaska Stat. § 28.22.011 (<year>)” will be cited “AS § 28.22.011.” Choosing the “Alaska” format on Lexis gets that result, albeit with a brand and date element appended “(Lexis Advance through 2020 SLA, ch 32).” Overall, Lexis does a better job of furnishing state-specific versions of citations to statutory and regulatory codes.

In jurisdictions where there is an official report, Lexis gives the user a choice as to whether to attach it to a copied case reference, whether to include a citation the Thomson Reuters regional reporter, or whether to provide both. Citing an Illinois case to an Illinois court, one need not include any parallel citation. The medium neutral, public domain citation, by itself, is complete — “Yarbrough v. Nw. Mem’l Hosp., 2017 IL 121367, ¶¶ 21-22.” Lexis will produce Illinois citations in that format. In contrast, Westlaw gives the user no choice over whether a reference will include the company’s parallel regional reporter citations. Its Illinois version of the same reference (containing four unnecessary words) is: “Yarbrough v. Nw. Mem’l Hosp., 2017 IL 121367, ¶¶ 21-22, 104 N.E.3d 445, 448–49.”

In Conclusion

As of 2020, none of the “copy with reference” features of the major online legal research services can be relied on to provide complete, pinpoint citations of the principal categories of primary legal authority, in either fully compliant “standard” or jurisdiction-specific format. While they are, unquestionably, a convenience, they do not remove the need for a user to have full command of the requirements of legal citation.

Bluebook Weight Loss Program – Part Two: The Merger of Tables T6 and T13.2

October 16th, 2020

The twenty-first edition of The Bluebook has eliminated the separate table that previously prescribed how to abbreviate common words appearing in the name of a cited publication.  That table, Table T13.2, was a single purpose reference, to be used solely when citing articles.  Its columns, together with the institutional abbreviations contained in Table T13.1, turned “Harvard Law Review” into “Harv. L. Rev.”, “Yale Law Journal” into “Yale L.J.”, and “Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization” into “J.L. Econ. & Org.”  A writer consulted Table T6, not T13.2, when abbreviating a word in a case name or in the name of an institutional author.  In this latest edition, The Bluebook has collapsed the two.  The new, consolidated, T6 applies to case names, and to the names of publications, as well. 

Modest Gains

For the sponsoring organizations this constitutes the type of periodic revision valued by all publishers of higher education texts. It is the sort of change that will, inevitably, undercut the market for second-hand copies of The Bluebook‘s prior edition among the nation’s annual 38,000 or so beginning law students. For users the merger achieves only a slight reduction in the book’s heft—two pages, plus or minus. Any additional gains for a novice user of the reference, one of those beginning law students, say, are less clear.  For legal professionals committed to Bluebook compliance, as well as the research services and citation software tools upon which they rely, the change raises confounding issues.

Significant Costs

Unnecessary and Confusing Case Name Abbreviations

Providing separate tables for distinct types of material poses little risk of confusion, allows them to be tailored to the word patterns characteristic of each type, and relies on an abbreviation’s context to assist the reader.  (The Bluebook continues to employ many special purpose tables—one for court names, another for legislative documents, etc.) Set against uncertain gains, the merger of T13.2 and T6 has definite costs.  Collapsing the two deploys abbreviations that worked well so long as it was clear that they were part of a publication title into a setting in which they are far more likely to confuse.  The word “Law,” ubiquitous in journal names, illustrates the poor fit.  “Law” was never a candidate for a case name abbreviation.  Party names contain many more, much longer, “L” words.  In the new T6 “Law” has two entries and accompanying instructions on when to use each.  “Journal” at seven letters was not abbreviated in prior versions of T6, but as part of a periodical name the single letter “J” served as an intelligible stand-in.  Had “Journal” been included in the pre-merger T6 it would most likely have been trimmed to “Jour.”  (The only single letter abbreviations contained in that T6 were for the four cardinal directions.  Consistency with reporter abbreviations in Table T1 would have rendered “Atlantic” as “A.” but it is, and continues to be, shrunk only to “Atl.” when part of a case name,)  Consider a 2018 decision of the Nevada Supreme Court.  Per The Bluebook’s twentieth edition, the case should be cited as: “Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Las Vegas Review-Journal, 429 P.3d 313 (Nev. 2018).”  Run through the new consolidated Table T6 its name becomes: “Clark Cty. Sch. Dist. v. Las Vegas Rev.-J.”

Only “University” has been spared merged treatment.  The T6 instructions conclude with a paragraph that applies solely to periodical titles.  It directs that although the abbreviation for “University” in T6 remains “Univ.” when that word is part of a journal name it can (and should) be reduced to “U.”

The Inclusion of Abbreviations for Words that Infrequently Appear in Case Names

Any number of the words moved from Table T13 into Table T6 have fewer than eight letters.  Many of those appear rarely, if ever, in case names.  Examples include: Africa, Ancestry, British, Civil, Cosmetic, Digest, Dispute, English, Faculty, Forum, Human, Injury, Labor, Lawyer, Library, Military, Mineral, Modern, Patent, Policy, Privacy, Record, Referee, Statistic, Studies, Survey, Tribune, Week, and Weekly.  Inserted into a table used to abbreviate case names, words like these constitute unnecessary clutter.  Their prior placement in Table T13 alongside the Institutional name abbreviations with which they often must be combined (abbreviations which remain in T13) provided the writer doing a lookup or format check on a journal citation, a simpler path. 

Displacement of Established and Intuitive Case Name Abbreviations

The merger also forced, otherwise unnecessary, changes in a number of case name abbreviations.  Separate tables allowed different abbreviations for the same word, with context determining which to use. The universe of journal names is many multiples smaller than that of party names.  In a citation they stand next to the full, unabbreviated title of the cited article and the author’s name.  This warrants a very different trade-off between the saving of space and clarity of reference.  That is why abbreviating “Law” as “L.” and “Journal” as “J.” and “Review” as “Rev.”—in the context of a journal name—works, while abbreviating a litigant named “Los Vegas Review-Journal” as “Los Vegas Rev.-J.” seems both unnecessary and cumbersome. That is why abbreviating “Employ,” “Employee,” and “Employment” as “Emp.” worked in a separate table for journal titles, but erasing the distinctions among “Employee” and “Employer” and “Employment,” as the merged T6 does, reduces clarity.  One can readily read and refer to “White v. Mass. Council of Constr. Emplrs, 460 U.S. 204 (1983)” (abbreviated according to prior editions of The Bluebook) by name, while “White v. Mass. Council of Constr. Emps., 460 U.S. 204 (1983)” (abbreviated per the twenty-first edition) leaves a reader unsure, without checking, whether it is the “Massachusetts Council of Construction Employers” or the “Massachusetts Council of Construction Employees.”  Previously, the abbreviation “Lab.” stood for “Laboratory” in a case name, “Labor” when it appeared in a journal title.  In context both were clear and not a source of confusion.  The table merger forced disambiguation.  “Laboratory” became a totally non-intuitive and unfamiliar “Lab’y”. Grotesquely, under the general rules on plurals that results in an abbreviation for “Laboratories” of “Lab’ys” (already, the subject of justifiable ridicule).

Will the Change Alter Professional Citation Practice?

To what degree will such changes in Bluebook abbreviations affect professional, as distinguished from academic, writing?  The answer is unclear.  It depends, in large part, on how the online research services and electronic legal citation formatting tools respond.  Case name abbreviations remain a matter of significant jurisdictional variation.  For certain, the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to cite its 1983 White decision by the name “White v. Massachusetts Council of Constr. Employers, Inc.”  Illinois appellate courts citing it will not even abbreviate “Construction.”

In part because of this degree of jurisdictional variation, the two dominant legal data vendors offer “choice of format” in their copy-with-citation features.  Among the choices both offer for cases is one labelled “standard.” 

Currently, both LEXIS and Westlaw provide a “standard” format case name for this 1985 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court at 471 U.S. 707 of:  “Hillsborough Cty. v. Automated Med. Labs., Inc.”  Will they, should they convert “Labs.” to “Lab’ys”?  Will they, should they retrospectively convert all the case names they deliver as part of a “standard” citation to the word abbreviations brought into T6 from T13.2 or altered there because of the merger?  When the twentieth edition of The Bluebook arbitrarily altered the abbreviation for “Advertising” from “Adver.”  to “Advert.” and the abbreviation for “County” from “Cnty.” to “Cty.“ in 2015, LEXIS and Westlaw followed. Bloomberg Law did not.  “Adver.” still regularly appears in appellate brief citations.

As yet, none of the online research systems have incorporated the numerous new abbreviations resulting from The Bluebook’s 2020 table merger.  Will they? May they not, instead, decide that the abbreviations resulting from this ill-considered move don’t warrant the label “standard,” since they fail to conform to widespread professional practice?  An option they might consider is the addition of a new “law journal” format to their array of options, thereby meeting the need of those law student editors and academic writers for whom Bluebook conformity is essential.  A similar puzzle over audience or market confronts those numerous other enterprises that provide legal citation formatting tools and citation guides.

The Bluebook’s 2020 Weight Loss Program – Remove All Foreign Citations

October 7th, 2020

The twenty-first edition of The Bluebook has shed a lot of weight.

20th edition | 21st edition

At 365 pages the citation reference has slimmed down over one-third to its dimensions of twenty-four years ago.  Up through the twentieth edition published in 2015 (560 page) successive editions exhibited unrestrained growth.  The trend was reversed this year, principally by transferring all of Table T2 (Foreign Jurisdictions) to the www.legalbluebook.com web site.  There, unlike the rest of the site’s content, it can be accessed without charge.  (Still in the print edition and therefore behind a paywall are Tables T10.2 and T10.3 upon which T2 draws.)  In a single move that trimmed 184 pages, pages that for most Bluebook users, legal practitioners especially, were simply added bulk and weight.

That is weight that the ALWD manual (now ALWD guide)—with its greater emphasis on the citation needs of U.S. legal professionals—has never tried to carry.  A single sentence in the first ALWD guide offered sound, if incomplete, advice: “If you need to cite a legal source from a foreign country, we suggest using the form of citation adopted by the country whose law is being cited.”  Missing from that formula is an instruction that a U.S. out-of-country citation should note the country of origin if that is not clear from the core cite or context.  Consider “R. v. Pires, 2005 S.C.C. 66, at para 8.”  For a Canadian lawyer or judge that is a complete pinpoint citation to a specific passage of a constitutional decision of the Canadian Supreme Court.  Placed in U.S. brief it needs more; however, a trailing “(Can.)” should suffice.

Why Not Let Go of the Table Altogether?

The decision to move The Bluebook’s Table T2 to the web was sound.  Wiser still would have been a decision to drop it altogether.  The ALWD Guide to Legal Citation now refers its users to the Guide to Foreign and International Legal Citations of the NYU Journal of International Law and Politics.  Keeping Table T2’s content up-to-date for forty-four countries is patently beyond the reach of student law journal editors.  In the current era, sluggish maintenance can result in an anachronistic print bias and subject the effort to the influence of commercial publishers.  Those flaws can be seen in Table T2’s treatment of Canada.  The entry for Canada can be read as advising that a U.S. citation to Pires be constructed as: “R. v. Pires, [2005] 3 S.C.R. 343 (Can.),” using volume and page number rather than the neutral citation scheme that the Canadian Supreme Court has employed for two decades.  Public domain, medium neutral, citation is mentioned in the Canada entry and said to be “preferred.”  In context, however, that appears simply to mean that the neutral citation should be placed in front of the print reporter citation, not that it should be used in its stead.

Commercial Influence or Bias?

Under the heading “Case citations to electronic systems,” the table describes Westlaw Canada and Quicklaw, as the country’s “main” ones—a puzzling elevation of those subscription services, to which many in the U.S. will not have access, over CanLII, the public site funded by the Federation of Law Societies of Canada.  From the CanLII database any U.S. lawyer, judge, or journal reader can retrieve a contemporary Canadian decision by its neutral citation without charge.  Moreover, in describing the CanLII approach to citation, the entry fails to distinguish between its treatment of cases that come with court-supplied neutral citations and the dwindling number that do not.

Inadequate Maintenance

The Bluebook’s preface asserts that “eleven jurisdictions in Table T2 have been comprehensively updated and one new jurisdiction has been added.”  The eleven countries are not identified (Portugal is conspicuous as the new entry.) and unless “comprehensively” is very generously construed Canada is not among the updated.  (The Cases portion of that country’s entry has seen minimal change since the nineteenth edition, published a decade ago.)  Other jurisdictions that have implemented systems of neutral citation in the modern era (e.g., South Africa) are similarly still thrust by T2 into a volume, reporter name, page number template.  Although not consistently, New Zealand is an exception.  That country’s entry directs: “If a medium-neutral citation has been assigned by the court it should be used to cite the case. If the case has also been reported, cite the medium-neutral citation followed by the citation to the report, separated by a comma. Do not give the court identifier at the end of the decision, as this is evident from the neutral citation.”  The question in this case is: Why include a parallel citation to a print report?  A Google search using its neutral cite will retrieve a decision of the New Zealand Supreme Court.  A parallel citation to its volume and page number in the New Zealand Law Reports has minimal utility to a U.S. lawyer, judge, or journal reader.

More serious failures to update dot the online Table T2.  The Republic of Zambia’s 2016 Constitution established a Constitutional CourtThat nation’s entry in The Bluebook table, unchanged since 2015, does not list it.  Also unchanged is the guidance for Kenya.  As a result, the citation system now employed in the official database holding the case law of that country and used by its courts—case name> [<year of decision>] eKLR—is not described.

Table T2’s Minimal Utility

Citations to foreign case law in U.S. journals, other than those focused on comparative law topics, are rare.  They are even less common in U.S. legal proceedings.  America’s neighbor to the north is its second biggest trading partner.  Yet over the past five years only a handful of U.S. appellate decisions have cited decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada. (A Lexis search uncovered five.)   A comparable citation count for all U.S.-based law journals falls well under one hundred.  A daunting challenge to maintain, of scant utility to U.S. legal professionals, The Bluebook’s Table T2 might best be retired.

Advice Instead of a Table

How should a U.S. lawyer or judge cite a foreign primary source?  The aim of such a citation is, of course, to facilitate retrieval by the intended reader.  In the case of many jurisdictions that can be accomplished by adopting the citation format of the source jurisdiction with the addition of a country identifier, as necessary.  For an increasing number of nations that will enable retrieval from a public or other non-commercial site using Google or a Google alternative.  In 2019 the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was called upon to adjudicate the legality of the Prime Minister’s attempt to have the Queen prorogue Parliament.  An Internet search using the citation “R. v. The Prime Minister, [2019] UKSC 41” will take one directly to the official version of the court’s decision in that case.

The Bluebook’s Treatment of Court Rules

October 1st, 2020

From its first appearance in 2000, the ALWD manual (now “guide”) has furnished both a format for and examples of citations to state court rules.  Through successive editions, such little coverage as The Bluebook has given citation of court rules, however, has focused on the rules governing proceedings in federal courts.  Up through the twentieth edition, published five years ago, there was, at least, a nod toward the existence of state rules in the form of one example “Del. Ct. C.P.R. 8(f).”  Over time, that illustration became a curious, even an embarrassing, one, since for over a decade it bore no obvious connection to an existing Delaware court rule.  Nonetheless, “Del. Ct. C.P.R.” sat, undisturbed, between “1st Cir. R. 6(a)” and “Fed. R. Evid. 410” through multiple Bluebook editions since at least the fourteenth (1986).  (How much cite checking of examples goes into the updating of The Bluebook?)  The twenty-first edition, published this year, could have fixed the Delaware example.  (Citations to “Del. Super. Ct. C.P.R.” and “Del. Fam. Ct. C.P.R.” appear in contemporary decisions of that state’s courts.)  It could have replaced the Delaware example with one from a state like Texas where the court rules and their citation map closely onto the federal model (e.g., “Tex. R. Civ. P.”).  Instead, it provides no state example.  The only guidance offered in its pages, white or blue, is the advice, preceding the Rule 12.9.3 list of examples, to “[u]se abbreviations such as the following or abbreviations suggested by the rules themselves.”

The Bluebook’s Table 1, a catalog of “abbreviations and citation conventions” for the primary legal materials of all fifty states, fails to cure the omission.  State court rules are not among its categories.

If The Bluebook didn’t purport to provide “guidance for the everyday citation needs of … summer associates, law clerks, practicing lawyers, and other legal professionals” (to quote from its introduction) this lacuna might be excusable.  Little academic writing in the four law journals responsible for The Bluebook’s production concerns state law, let alone the rules of state courts.  Federal rules of judicial procedure and evidence do receive some discussion and therefore citation in their pages, but almost never a civil procedure rule of, say, Missouri or Texas.  As The Bluebook acknowledges in the preface to Table 1, “[t]he abbreviations and citation conventions … [it contains] are primarily intended to serve a national audience.” 

State style manuals (California, New York) do address the citation of their own state’s court rules.  For them it is an inescapable topic.  Citations to a state’s rules governing civil or criminal trial proceedings, evidence, and appeals are critical elements of in-state memorandum, brief, order, and opinion writing.  The Bluebook devotes five times the space to “Model Codes, Principles, Restatements, Standards, Sentencing Guidelines, and Uniform Acts” that it does “Rules of Evidence and Procedure.”  The ratio reasonably reflects the importance of the respective sources to elite law journals.  By contrast, in court opinions and briefs there are, perhaps, a hundred court rule citations to one of a restatement.

The difficult truth is that there is no nationally observed template for state court rule citations.  Rarely are they cited outside the jurisdiction to which they apply.  An Ohio court rule citation must be intelligible to an Ohio attorney or judge.  It need not be written with a Kentucky lawyer or judge in mind (and vice versa).  An Ohio judge will understand that a citation to “Crim.R. 32(C)” invokes Rule 32(C) of the Ohio Rules of Criminal Procedure.  “CR 23.01” directs a Kentucky judge or lawyer straight to Rule 23.01 of that state’s rules of civil procedure.  In both instances the jurisdiction is implied, not named.  More commonly state rule citations do include an abbreviation of the state name.  States adhering to this practice include California (e.g., “Cal. Rules of Court, rule 4.421(a)(1)”), Illinois (e.g., “Ill. Sup. Ct. R. 341”), New York (e.g., “22 NYCRR § 806.13”), and Texas (e.g., “TEX. R. CIV. P. 322”).  As those examples illustrate, even among jurisdictions where rule citations include explicit reference to the state, formats vary.  Some conform to the pattern employed for federal rule citations and adapted by the ALWD guide to state rules.  Some do not.

What advice should a citation reference provide about this important category of primary legal material, advice that will assist “summer associates, law clerks, practicing lawyers, and other legal professionals” with their “everyday citation needs?” 

  • First, when citing a rule governing federal court proceedings, a citation in the standard format exemplified by “Fed. R. Crim. P. 16” should be appropriate across the country.
  • Second, when citing a rule governing state court proceedings within that state the best guide to acceptable format will be recent decisions of that state’s highest court.
  • Third, the online research systems’ copy-with-citation functions are of no help on this point.  None of them picks up on local norms for citing court rules.

How many words is a citation?

September 25th, 2020

The Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and many state counterparts impose “word limits” on briefs and similar documents.  Rule 32(a)(7)(B) requires that a principal brief contain no more than 13,000 words, a reply brief, no more than 6,500.  Briefs that comply can exceed the respective page limits of 30 and 15.  Rule 28.1(e)(2)’s length limits for briefs filed in cross-appeals take the same form.  An alternative measure, available only to briefs prepared with a monospaced typeface, is lines of text.  While a brief’s table of citations is excluded from those word-count caps, all of the citations in its body, including those contained in footnotes, are tallied.  See Rule 32(a)(7)(B)(f).  The question explored here is: How are they counted?

The following citations are among those that appear in a brief randomly selected from U.S. Court of Appeals filings of this past June:

  • Clear Sky Car Wash LLC v. City of Chesapeake, Va., 743 F.3d 438 (4th Cir. 2014)
  • Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016)
  • 10 U.S.C. § 1552(a)(5)
  • 32 C.F.R. § 70.8
  • Department of Defense Directive 1332.28

Each refers to a single source. But how many words does each of those references add to the brief’s total?  Is that sum affected by the citation format employed?  Understand that this is no mere theoretical question.  The attorney filing a brief must certify that it complies with the relevant word limit.  More precisely, that certificate must “state the number of words” contained in the brief.  Rule 32(g)(1).  So to repeat the question:  How many words do these five citations represent? 

Of course, few, if any, attorneys or their support staff grapple with that question in its raw form.  That is because the federal rule and its state equivalents allow the person preparing the certificate to “rely on the word … count of the word-processing system used to prepare the document.”  Rule 32(g)(1).  Set forth below are the figures Microsoft Word (2016)* provides for each. 

  • Clear Sky Car Wash LLC v. City of Chesapeake, Va., 743 F.3d 438 (4th Cir. 2014) (16 words)
  • Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540 (2016) (9 words)
  • 10 U.S.C. § 1552(a)(5) (4 words)
  • 32 C.F.R. § 70.8 (4 words)
  • Department of Defense Directive 1332.28 (5 words)

Some straightforward observations follow from those figures.  First, long case names expend words at a rate that bears no relation to their importance to a brief’s argument.  Second, the omission of a date element in the U.S. Code and Code of Federal Regulations citations—a widespread professional practice but one not sanctioned by The Bluebook prior to the 2020 edition—trims a word from each.  Third, the absence of a parallel citation for Spokeo (“194 L. Ed. 2d 635”) has reduced that citation’s word count by five.  Why five?  Because Microsoft Word woodenly treats every space as a word separator.  Third, the use of short-form citations can dramatically reduce a brief’s word count.  Substituting DoDD for “Department of Defense Directive,” as this brief does after the first occurrence of the full phrase, trims 3 words off what would otherwise be the added word count every time a directive is cited.  Finally, because of the treatment of spaces, citation format alone makes a difference. “S. Ct.” is counted as two words; “4th Cir.” is as well.  MS Word sees “L. Ed. 2d” as three words.  In a brief that makes repeated reference to a decision of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, published in the Thomson West reporter, Federal Supplement, Third Series, the incremental word count created by the spaces in “F. Supp. 3d” and “M.D. Fla.” can begin to add up.  If that important case has a long case name, as well, e.g., Wendel v. Fla. Dep’t of Highway Safety & Motor Vehicles, 80 F. Supp. 3d 1297, 1302 (M.D. Fla. 2015) (MS Word count 19), each recurrence (not employing a short form) expends the equivalent of a sentence worth of words from a brief’s allotted quota.

Along come the editors of the freshly released twenty-first edition of The Bluebook.  In light of this troubling counting algorithm embedded in MS Word, they grant leave to practitioners, although not law review authors or editors, to squeeze all spaces out of reporter names.  Per The Bluebook (21st ed.) “F. Supp. 3d” can be written “F.Supp.3d” and “S. Ct.” as “S.Ct.”  Alas, “M.D. Fla.” falls outside its meagre gesture of relief, and short-form citations remain the only remedy for wordy case names.

California attorneys have a clear advantage in this area.  The California Rules of Court give them the option of citing in accordance with the California Style ManualCal. Rules of Ct. 1.200.  That manual’s abbreviation format for both reporters and courts omits the spaces that The Bluebook requires.  It compresses “Cal. App. 4thto “Cal.App.4th” and does the same with abbreviations of deciding courts.  The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California is “N.D.Cal.”  See California Style Manual (2000).  (California appellate briefs are also allowed 14,000 words.  Cal. Rules of Ct. 8.204.)

Since the word count limits currently codified in appellate rules reflect a collective judgment on ample length for a citation-filled brief, any widespread shift in how attorneys format citations would be likely, in the end, to produce an adjustment of the cap.  At present, only a very small percentage of briefs filed in federal court squeeze the spaces out of reporter names.  The online legal research systems that allow one to retrieve a formatted citation along with text copied from an opinion insert the spaces called for by standard abbreviation practice, and format-checking software will look for them. It seems likely that this option offered by the editors of The Bluebook will be grasped only in an emergency.  It offers a way for the author of a brief confronting an imminent filing deadline with a word count slightly over the limit to trim without sacrificing content.  With more time, the text could be tightened.  If the length is a consequence of the complexity of the case, an order raising the cap is possible.  See Rule 32(a)(7)(B)(e).  It’s little surprise that this measure (the contemporary equivalent of reducing a paper’s margins) occurred to a bunch of student journal editors.


*Results on these and other word count matters vary with the word processing software employed.  See Don Cruse, Worried about word counts? Your choice of word processor matters a great deal (2013).  They also, apparently, depend on the software’s version.  See DeSilva v. DiLeonardi, 185 F.3d 815 (7th Cir. 1999).

The First Supreme Court Opinion Rendered in 2018 Is Now Out – How Many Years Before It Will Be Published in Final, Official Form?

January 11th, 2018

At the beginning of this week, on January 8, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court released its first opinion of the new year. The decision in Tharpe v. Sellers, consists of a three-page per curiam, followed by a thirteen-page dissent written by Justice Thomas, joined by Justices Alito and Gorsuch. As posted at the Court’s web site readers are, perversely, invited to cite Tharpe as “583 U.S. ___ (2018)”.

In the form presented the citation is of little use. Only future decisions of the Court itself would dare to employ such an incomplete reference, at least without adding a parallel citation to facilitate precise retrieval. The Court’s practice is to leave that task to others. The Thomas dissent in Tharpe cites two 2017 decisions simply as: “Buck v. Davis, 580 U. S. ___ (2017) and Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, 580 U. S. ___ (2017)”. This approach forces his jump cite for a passage in the latter to read: “580 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 17)”. Bloomberg Law, Lexis, and Westlaw have already augmented all such useless references with complete parallel cites to one or more unofficial reports.

The question revisited here is how long it will be before Tharpe‘s skeletal “official” citation is filled in, along with those for succeeding opinions that in time will make up volume 583 of the United States Reports. (The delay in Supreme Court decision publication and its effect on citation have been the subject of two prior posts, one in 2014, the other in 2016.)

By now both the legislative and executive branches of the federal government have embraced digital publication in ways that provide researchers with citable versions of the United States Code and the Code of Federal Regulations far more up-to-date than print ever allowed. They lag official action by days not years. Yet the judiciary, led by the Supreme Court, remains stuck in a print-dependent approach to publication and citation. The demand for print law reports has, of course, plummeted. At the same time federal budgets have grown tighter. The result? Growing delays.

Extrapolation from the most recent past yields a prediction that it will be years (four and a half to five) before Tharpe and succeeding decisions released during the next month and a half will be distributed in a “preliminary print” volume containing consecutive page numbers. That temporary, paperbound book will be labeled “Part 1 of volume 583” of the United States Reports. Unfortunately, no electronic copy of it will be released to the public. The preliminary print edition of Part 2 containing another month and a half of decisions will follow. Ultimately, those two parts will be combined into a single digital file representing the full volume. Up to a year later the bound volume of “583 U.S.” will be distributed to depository libraries and other institutions that have ordered copies. And finally, only after that, will the digital file of the volume’s final text and page numbers be placed at the Court’s web site.  Total elapsed time? Unless the Court’s procedures change, Tharpe v. Sellers won’t be published in final, official printed form until 2023. And the digital replica of that volume won’t be released until some later point in the same year. (The sequence alone prompts two simple questions: (1) Why delay the release of the electronic volume until after the print version has shipped? (2) Why withhold the electronic files of the prior preliminary print edition?)

The two earlier posts detail the costs imposed on others by these delays, as well as specific steps the Court could take to remove them from its publication process. As 2018 gets underway, the only observation to make is that the problem has not diminished, and the Supreme Court appears oblivious to it.

 

Citing the Code of Federal Regulations

December 11th, 2017

I. C.F.R. Versus e-CFR and its Progeny?

A. The Historic Print-Determined Timeline

Federal regulations pose the same fundamental citation question as do provisions in the United States Code. On January 18, 2017, important new and amended regulations governing the determination of disability benefit claims under the Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income programs were published in the Federal Register.


January 18, 2017

The changes took effect on March 27. The Federal Register for that very date contained a series of “technical amendments” cleaning up minor drafting errors in the January version of the text. Those corrections arrived just in time to beat the April 1st cutoff date for the volume of the 2017 print edition of the Code of Federal Regulations that contains Part 404 of Title 20. That is where the regulations governing these programs are organized. (The Code’s annual editions are published in four waves: “[T]itles 1-16 are revised as of January 1; titles 17-27 are revised as of April 1; titles 28-41 are revised as of July 1; and titles 42-50 are revised as of October 1.”)

In due course the volume containing all Social Security Administration regulations, as of April 1, 2017, was published by the Office of the Federal Register of the National Archives and Records Administration. In that physical form the new regulations, fully compiled and in context, made their way to Federal Depository Libraries, arriving in mid-September.


Date of Arrival: September 13, 2017

Following distribution of the printed volume, a digital replica in PDF was placed online as part of the Government Publishing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys).

The citation issue posed by that schedule is this: During the eight months that separated initial publication of these regulations from their appearance in a volume of the “official” Code of Federal Regulations (print and electronic) would it have been appropriate to cite them in accordance with the code location designations they carried from the moment of release? Take the revised 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521, for example. The pre-2017 version of that section dated from 1985. How should a legal memorandum written and filed in July 2017 have cited the text of the section by then in effect?

Citation norms, formed during the era in which the printed volumes of the Code of Federal Regulations and its companion, the Federal Register, were the only trustworthy means of accessing federal regulatory texts, would require citing such a recently revised provision to the Federal Register issue dated January 18, 2017, until the C.F.R. volume holding it could be inspected.

B. e-CFR and Derivative Compilations

Today the same public offices that publish the official Code of Federal Regulations also prepare and disseminate online a continuously updated version of the Code they call the “Electronic Code of Federal Regulations” or e-CFR. It lags the most recently published final regulations by a few days, at most.

On December 8, for example, all sections of the e-CFR were current as of December 6. As is true with the Office of Law Revision Counsel’s online version of the United States Code, the e-CFR can be downloaded in bulk (in XML). That makes it possible for all major online legal information services to offer comparably up-to-date versions of the C.F.R. In short, in the current research environment, the lawyer, judge, or legal scholar who would read, quote, and cite to provisions of the Code of Federal Regulations as they stand at the moment of writing has no excuse not to draw upon the e-CFR or one of its reliable derivatives. (The latter include up-to-date versions of the C.F.R. maintained by Bloomberg Law, Lexis, Westlaw, and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII).)

II. Chronological Version as Distinguished from Source

A. Disambiguating Recently Altered Provisions

Unless the citation to a compilation like the Code of Federal Regulations or the United States Code indicates otherwise, it will be understood as pointing  to the cited portion as it stood at the time of writing. Recent regulatory (or statutory) changes to a provision are likely to require a parenthetical note to remove uncertainty about the reference. With a citation to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1521, for example, the reader will want to know whether the writer is invoking the section’s language before or after the 2017 revision. The writer may well also want to signal to the reader that she is aware of the change. On this score an initial citation reading “20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 (as amended in 2017)” or even “20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 (as amended, 82 Fed. Reg 5844, 5868 (Jan. 18, 2017))” is more useful than one that simply furnishes the year of the most recent official publication or the “as of” date of an unofficial version. On the other hand, a citation to 20 C.F.R. § 404.130, which was last amended in 1990, need carry no such baggage.

The existence of the chronological slices represented by the annual official versions does provide a ready means for citing to provisions as they once read. So long as the context makes it clear that the writer means to refer to the language of the section as it stood before the recent change, a citation reading “20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 (2016)” should suffice. But standing alone, one reading “20 C.F.R. § 404.1521 (prior to the Jan. 18, 2017 amendment)” provides a reader with more information. The GPO’s online archive of past C.F.R. editions, which reaches back to 1996, allows retrieval of no-longer-current regulatory texts on the basis of such references.

B. The Citation Manuals’ Requirement of a Date Element in All Cases

Rule 14.2(a) of The Bluebook calls for a C.F.R. citation to include the year of the cited section’s “most recent edition.” No exceptions. The mandate applies to a provision like 20 C.F.R. § 404.130 which has not been amended for over a quarter century. For a citation in a memorandum completed in July 2017, this rule would require  “20 C.F.R. § 404.130 (2016)”. A few months later, that, again per The Bluebook, would become “20 C.F.R. § 404.130 (2017)”. The Indigo Book, being limited in purpose to prying the citation system codified in The Bluebook out of its proprietary wrapper, takes precisely the same position. The ALWD Guide to Legal Citation (6th ed.) goes a step further and addresses the likelihood that the writer has relied on an online compilation more up-to-date than the once-a-year official edition. Acknowledging the e-CFR, it provides in Rule 18.1(c), that if one is relying on its version of the C.F.R. the citation should “indicate the exact date (Month Day, Year) through which the provision is current, and append its URL after the publication parenthetical.” If the writer has, instead, referred to a commercial service’s compilation, ALWD calls for the citation to take the form: “27 C.F.R. § 72.21 (Westlaw through Sept. 29, 2016)”. (The section in its example was last amended in 1995.) In the ordinary case, both are unnecessary.

C. How Federal Judges (and Lawyers Appearing before them) Cite the C.F.R.

With the exception of opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court do which include the year of the current volume in initial citations to the Code of Federal Regulations, the decisions of most federal judges cite its provisions generically. That is, so long as they are referring is to the language of a C.F.R. section currently in effect, they cite it without any indication of date or online source. See, for example, the citations in: Gorman v. Berryhill, No. 3:16-CV-05113 (W.D. Mo., Nov. 30, 2017); Trevizo v. Berryhill, 862 F. 3d 987 (9th Cir. 2017); and Cazun v. Attorney Gen., 856 F.3d 249 (3d Cir. 2017). Briefs filed by the U.S. Justice Department take the same approach.

D. The Publication Lag and Hoped-For Useful Life of Journal Articles May Legitimately Call for The Bluebook‘s or ALWD Guide‘s Approach

Generally, months pass between an author’s completion of a journal article and its eventual publication. Moreover, since publication delays are common, the date carried by the journal issue in which the article appears may or may not correspond to the actual date of its distribution. Finally, against the odds, the author may imagine the piece being read with care for years into the future. Arguably, these factors argue for attachment of an explicit statement of the “current as of date” to all cited statutory and regulatory code sections. At minimum their inclusion reminds an unknown, and perhaps distant, reader to check on whether subsequent amendments may have altered the force of the writer’s analysis.

In contrast, legal briefs and judicial opinions carry explicit dates of filing. So long as there is no indication to the contrary, those reasonably anchor an assumption that all citations to codified statutes and regulations they contain refer to the provisions in effect on that date.

How Should One Think about (and Cite) the U.S. Code?

December 4th, 2017

I. A Few Recent Changes to the United States Code (Virtual or Generic)

A. The Addition of a New Title

On September 1, 2017 the Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives (OLRC), released a Title 34 of the U.S. Code. It contains no new law. All of Title 34’s provisions had been filed elsewhere in the Code, a fair number of them in the form of notes. The editors of the official code simply gathered the growing number of statutes dealing with “crime control and law enforcement” and organized them into this new location. The results are to be found at the Law Revision Counsel’s online edition.

http://uscode.house.gov/browse.xhtml

The new title is also available in the constantly updated online editions of the U.S. Code offered by LexisNexis, Westlaw, and Cornell’s Legal Information Institute (LII). In dramatic form this poses the question: How should one think about and cite to a provision of the U.S. Code or any of its state counterparts? Is it appropriate to use the new code architecture and cite a 2001 law authorizing the Justice Department to develop and support computer forensic laboratories as “34 U.S.C. § 30102”? (It was previously stashed in a note to 28 U.S.C. § 509.) If not now, when will it be?

B. The Addition of New or Amended Provisions

The same question is posed less starkly each time a new statute of general and permanent applicability becomes law. On August 23, 2017 the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017, Pub. L. No. 115-55, became law. It amended numerous sections of Title 38 of the Code, one of the 37 titles that Congress has enacted into positive law. Two of the amended provisions are subsections (e) and (f) of 38 U.S.C. § 5103A. Although enacted those changes do not take effect immediately. (That is to happen only “on or after the later of 540 days after Aug. 23, 2017, or 30 days after the date on which the Secretary submits to Congress a certification of certain capabilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs ….”)

Five days earlier Pub. L. No. 115-50 amended Section 3 of the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000, which had been codified by the Law Revision Counsel in Title 42, one of the non-positive law titles, as 42 U.C.C. § 14135a. With the establishment of Title 34, however, that section including the amendment moved to 34 U.S.C. § 40702.

These changes were swiftly incorporated by the Office of Law Revision Counsel into its online version of the Code. (See its pages for 38 U.S.C. § 5103A and 34 U.S.C. § 40702.)  Following standard practice, 38 U.S.C. § 5103A contains notice of the delayed effective date of the 2017 amendments in an appended note.  From the OLRC site the titles, as revised, were picked up and incorporated immediately into the federal statutory compilations maintained by the major online legal information providers. (See, e.g., the LII’s versions of  38 U.S.C. § 5103A and 34 U.S.C. § 40702.) The OLRC offers bulk downloads in a range of formats (XML, XHTML, PCC, and PDF) to facilitate this rapid republication.

II. Their Delayed Appearance in the United States Code (Physical)

The compilation maintained by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) and available online to both the general public and law publishers is the ultimate source for a set of books put out by the Government Publishing Office (GPO). Every six years the OLRC publishes and the GPO prints a fresh edition.

United States Code (2012 edition)

The next edition to appear will carry a 2018 date, but it will not be produced and delivered until well into 2019 and 2020. In between editions there are annual supplemental volumes. They cumulate all changes made up to their cutoff date. The changes noted above will be contained in Supplement V to the 2012 edition of the code likely to be available in late 2018. Volumes and the annual supplements are produced sequentially so that titles with lower numbers and supplements to them appear in print sooner than, say, Titles 34, 38, or 42. As the print volumes are produced an electronic replica in PDF is placed, with authentication at the GPO website, in its FDsys (Federal Digital System) collection. Unlike their print counterparts, these files do not separate statutory text and notes into core volume and cumulative supplement. When the 2017 version of Title 38 appears at the FDsys site in late 2018 it will contain the full title as amended through the beginning of the year.


Authentication of Supplement IV Containing Title 38

III. Ought One to Cite to the Virtual or Generic United States Code?

A. What Do the Leading Manuals Say?

Citation manuals also appear in periodic editions.  This fall brought a new, sixth edition of the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation. (More on this Bluebook competitor in a later post). Tracking the fifth edition it states in Rule 14.1:

Federal statutes are cited either to the official print version of the United States Code (preferred, although it is rarely up to date …) or to the authenticated online version of the code in the Government Publishing Office’s Federal Digital System (“FDsys”)…. Cite an authenticated federal statute in FDsys the same way you cite it in print.

Like The Bluebook, which it essentially mimics on this point and most others, the ALWD guide appears to forbid citation to any of the revised portions of the Code noted above in the format “__ U.S.C. § __” until they have been published by the government in print or the authenticated digital replica. In the interim, for new law, citations to print session laws (or presumably their digital counterparts) are preferred. For a revised packaging of prior law, such as the new Title 34, guidance is less clear. Neither manual has adjusted to the availability of a continuously updated version of the code directly from the public body responsible for its publication.

B. What According to Prevailing Professional Usage Does a “U.S.C.” Citation Represent?

Some time ago, in discussing whether The Bluebook‘s copyright extended to the system of citation it codified, I cited 17 U.S.C. § 102(b), which reads:

In no case does copyright protection for an original work of authorship extend to any idea, procedure, process, system, method of operation, concept, principle, or discovery, regardless of the form in which it is described, explained, illustrated, or embodied in such work.

Does the citation of “17 U.S.C. § 102(b)” as the source for that passage represent that I reviewed its text in the GPO print publication or on FDsys? Both the Bluebook and ALWD Guide appear to say so.  (Had I used Westlaw as my source they would have the cite read “17 U.S.C.A. § 102(b)”.) My intention and, I would argue, the widely understood meaning of the form of my citation was only to identify the location of the quoted passage in any of the many reliable, up-to-date versions of the Code.

In addition to their attachment to print the two academic citation manuals reflect the continuing strong influence of Thomson Reuters and Reed Elsevier. Both manuals allow citation to those companies branded versions of the United States Code (U.S.C.A. and U.S.C.S.) as a fallback. The ALWD Guide to Legal Citation explicitly places them ahead of named commercial alternatives (including Bloomberg Law and Fastcase) and ignores the leading noncommercial source (LII). On what grounds? Revealingly neither mentions the OLRC’s online version of the code on which all others are based.

C. The Use of “U.S.C.” as a Generic Reference

Long ago when the only statutory compilations were those published in print, alternatives could be counted on a few fingers, and publication lag was substantial and varied among them, a requirement that a statutory citation reveal which version the writer had relied upon was defensible. No longer. In 2017 “U.S.C.” amounts to a generic designation, almost certainly employed by the reader to find the cited provision not in the GPO book but in some online database, very likely one different from that used by the writer. Federal judges whose opinions reveal their reliance on Westlaw by the prevalence of “WL” citations to “unpublished” cases cite the Code generically.

D. Brand Reinforcement as a Vestigial Counterforce

A subscriber to Bloomberg Law who takes advantage of its “copy with citation” feature receives that citation in generic format, “__ U.S.C. § __”.  However, a Westlaw subscriber using that service’s “Copy with Reference” feature is furnished a “U.S.C.A.” citation, and “advanced copy” on Lexis cites the same section to “USCS”. Because of such “citation assistance” and the durability of citation habits forged in the print era, citations to those two commercial compilations still appear occasionally in briefs and judicial opinions. Rarely are they used selectively, i.e., limited to provisions not yet available in the print United States Code. Typically, a judge or lawyer who cites to U.S.C.A. or USCS today does so throughout a brief or opinion. See, e.g., HSP v. JK, 223 N.J. 196 (2015), Bank of America, NA v. Camire, 2017 ME 20.

IV. Indicating Chronological Version as Distinguished from Source

When Congress has injected new law into a positive law title of the Code or passed new law that the Office of Law Revision Counsel has compiled into one of the non-positive law titles and when the OLRC has gathered existing statutes into a new title, it is critical that a U.S. Code citation not generate confusion. Does it refer to the Code as it stood before or after the change? In most lawyering settings, a citation to the Code carries the implicit representation that the writer is referring to the Code as it stood when the brief was submitted or the opinion written. (Journal articles, the prime concern of The Bluebook and ALWD Guide to Legal Citation, carry no such clear “as of” date and therefore pose a greater risk of version uncertainty.) A citation to 34 U.S.C. § 30102 will frustrate any reader looking for the section in the GPO’s print or online version of the code. On the other hand, when entered in Google or any of the major online databases it will yield results. The exceedingly cautious writer can add an explanatory parenthical such as “(Prior to the 2017 codification of Title 34 this section appeared as a note to 28 U.S.C. § 509.)”

An Exclusive Right to Publish the California Style Manual?

August 31st, 2017

I. The California Style Manual (5th ed.)

A number of states that edit and publish (or contract for) their own case reports have style manuals.  Most are aimed principally at the state’s judges together with the law clerks and reporters of decisions who assist them in preparing and editing opinions.  Unless court rules say otherwise such manuals are likely, as well, to influence the citation format of memoranda and briefs submitted to courts in the state.  Usually, however, they are not prescriptive.  The California Style Manual is unusual, if not unique, in going beyond being a mere source of influence.  It provides one of two citation schemes that  are acceptable in attorney submissions.  Rule 1.200 of the California Rules of Court requires that any lawyer filing a document in state court conform its citations to the California Style Manual or to The Bluebook.  It also requires that whichever is employed must be used consistently throughout.

The first edition of the California manual appeared in 1942, prepared by the then Reporter of Decisions, Bernard Witkin, a towering figure in the chronicling of California law.  Subsequent revisions have all been overseen by Witkin’s successors, aided by court staff and employees of the official report publisher.  The fourth edition, prepared by Edward Jessen, who retired as Reporter of Decisions in 2014 after 25 years, was published in 2000.  Copies, produced under license from the copyright holder, the California Supreme Court, are available in print from Thomson Reuters for $16.95.

They can also be downloaded in PDF from the Sixth District Appellate Program (SDAP) for free.

This June the contract for a fifth edition was signed with LexisNexis.  The transaction was not completed as an independent agreement but buried as one paragraph among many in a contract for publication of the state’s official reports for the next two to seven years.  (By statute that contract may not exceed seven years.  Cal. Gov’t Code 68904.  As the underlying contract is structured, its term is for two years, followed by two options to extend that for a total of five more.)

Embedded within that two-year contract is the following provision:

The Contractor must assist the Reporter of Decisions in creation and production of the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition. Such assistance shall consist of all editorial, typographic, layout, and graphic design necessary to the production of an independent, separate print product. The California Style Manual, Fifth Edition, must be produced in both hard copy printed and electronic format. The format chosen must be able to support supplements and updates. Copyright to the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition, will be held by the State of California but the Contractor will be granted an exclusive perpetual license to publish and sell the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition, at the price agreed upon and in accordance with the price adjustment provisions set forth in this Agreement. The Contractor has discretion to propose editorial enhancements to or format for the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition, not specified above. The Contractor must print and make available for sale a sufficient number of copies of the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition, to supply all demands for 20 years from the date of publication. Volumes supplied pursuant to this requirement must be sold at prices no greater than the current applicable price authorized under the contract for publication of bound volumes of the Official Reports in effect at that time. [Emphasis added. PWM]

Note the word “perpetual.”  It did not appear in the RFP.  That strongly suggests that this term resulted from subsequent negotiation by the successful bidder, LexisNexis.  The result is an uncomfortably long-term relationship between the California judiciary and the incumbent publisher of the state’s appellate decisions.  On its face the license exceeds the maximum duration set out in the statute authorizing the contract in which it is embedded.  Thomson Reuters, printer and seller of the current version of the California Style Manual in print (the fourth edition), appears to hold no such right.  No other state has granted its publisher comparable control over the future format of judicial opinions and attorney submissions or effectively barred itself from distributing its own style manual, internally and to the public for free.

II. Other States’ Style and Citation Guides

Michigan’s Office of the Reporter of Decisions  prepares and follows the Michigan Appellate Opinion Manual.  It also offers the manual “as an aid to practitioners in the preparation of documents for submission to the courts.”   Use by lawyers is not mandatory, but it is available to them free, online.  Its copyright notice names the Supreme Court of Michigan.  The New York Law Reporting Bureau also distributes its Official Reports Style Manual online.  Updated periodically, it is available in both HTML and PDF formats, copyright New York Unified Court System.  The Oregon Judicial Department publishes the Oregon Appellate Courts Style Manual online and doesn’t bother to assert copyright.  The Washington Style Sheet, put out and placed online by that state’s office of the reporter of decisions, is treated similarly.

Court rules in a number of states specify how their own primary legal sources are to be cited.  No exclusive publication rights in these rules are granted commercial parties.  Examples include Fla. R. App. P. 9.800,  Ind. R. App. P. 22, and S.C. R. App. Pract. R. 268.

III. What Rights in the New Edition Are Left with the State?

Under the Copyright Act, an exclusive licensee can sue for infringement.  Indeed, the licensee can sue the copyright owner/licensor for infringing upon the granted rights.  See. e.g.Kepner-Tregoe, Inc. v. Vroom, 186 F.3d 283 (2d Cir. 1999).  There seems little doubt that under the current act a “perpetual license” extends for the full duration of the underlying copyright.  See, e.g., P.C. Films Corp. v. MGM/UA Home Video Inc., 138 F.3d 45 (2d Cir. 1998).  That is not “forever” but with a “work for hire” of this sort the copyright term is 95 years from the date of publication.  17 U.S. Code § 302(c).  In this instance, the right is coupled with a limitation on sale price and the obligation to produce the work in sufficient quantity to meet demand over the course of twenty years.  All of that puts enormous stress on the exact boundaries of the license granted LexisNexis, namely, the right “to publish and sell the California Style Manual, Fifth Edition.”  Confounding the puzzle is the requirement that the work’s “format … be able to support supplements and updates” and the explicit reference to both print and electronic versions.  Combine those with the enough-copies-for-20-years provision and it seems unlikely that a sixth edition will provide release from this unusual commitment any time soon.

Just as The Bluebook‘s copyright does not give its holders the exclusive right to communicate the system of citation it describes, others will be free to produce guides, software, and teaching materials that embody the system of citation and elements of style to be contained in this forthcoming edition of the California Style Manual.  Since the license does not convey the right to make derivative works, it should not prevent the state from producing a sixth edition when it decides to.  See Kennedy v. National Juvenile Detention Ass’n, 187 F.3d 690 (7th Cir. 1999).  But from publication of the fifth edition until the appearance of a sixth, the California judiciary’s ability to do as other states do – namely, disseminate its style manual online within state government and to the public, without charge – has been surrendered.

IV. Why?

Several provisions in the underlying official reports contract gesture toward the possibility of California’s appellate courts following those of other states that have shifted from print to official digital publication.  Most important among them is the limitation of the state’s commitment to two years.

On the other hand, the state’s breaking free of a model of producing official print reports using a commercial publisher would deny the incumbent the competitive advantage of privileged access to official, final, citable, versions of California case law in digital format.  There are many reasons why it is time for California to make that move.  However, it appears that LexisNexis values its privileged access sufficiently to commit significant editorial services and to provide the state’s appellate judges with complimentary copies of the reports, all at no charge.  Provisions in the RFP that would have reduced the contract’s value to LexisNexis (such as inclusion of page numbers and delivery of final versions of opinions in machine-readable form at the required public access site) drew no meaningful commitment in its proposal.

Having an exclusive publication and sale right to a resource critical to the editorial work on California’s opinions, one that runs for the maximum period to which the new official report contract can be extended and beyond would appear to reduce the risk to the publisher of California’s breaking out of the print-era paradigm during the next seven years.

V. Under What Authority?

On December 16, 2016, the California Judicial Council released the eighth edition of its Trial Court Financial Policies and Procedures Manual.  It is distributed online, without charge, and carries no copyright notice.  Less than a year later, the council released the most recent revision of the Judicial Branch Contracting Manual.  It does contains  copyright notice, although no copyright has been registered.

The statute authorizing the “official reports” contract is very clear about its maximum duration.  This is a contract to “publish and sell the official reports, for a period of not less than two nor more than seven years.”  Cal. Gov’t Code § 68904.  It is to be let to the publisher who will do so “on the terms most advantageous to the state and to the public.”  Id.  Surely, though, that “most advantageous” language does not provide boundless authority to grant the publisher perpetual exclusive rights to publish and sell other judicial branch manuals and guides, like those noted above.  Some might even question whether it authorizes the sort of value exchange embedded in the current official reports agreement since the statute is grounded upon a constitutional provision mandating that the judiciary’s opinions “shall be available for publication by any person.”  Cal. Constitution Article VI, Section 14.  Does it authorize the granting of a perpetual exclusive license to publish the California Style Manual?  The matter would seem debatable.

 

 

One U.S. District Court’s Lonely Gesture Toward Open Access and Medium-Neutral Citation

January 24th, 2017

I. Introduction

As 2017 opens one U.S. District Court – that for the District of New Hampshire – begins its eighteenth year as an isolated (and incomplete) model of how all federal courts might handle opinion distribution.  (Hat tip to Andrew P. Thornton of Little Rock for bringing its record to my attention.)

II. The Simple Steps this One Court Has Taken

In January 2000, the U.S. District Court in New Hampshire started identifying some of its decisions by year, numbering them sequentially.  It designated Silva v. Nat’l Telewire Corp., No.  99-219-JD, decided on January 3, for example, as “Opinion No. 2000 DNH 001“.  Panza v. Grappone Cos., No. 99-221-M, decided on October 20 of the same year, is “Opinion No. 2000 DNH 224“.  Immediately, upon release, the decision texts, carrying these identifiers, were placed in a court-hosted, searchable database.

The following year the court adopted a local “citation format” rule.  That rule directs those citing decisions released after January 1, 2000 and published at the court site to do so “using the four-digit year in which the opinion is issued, the letters ‘DNH,’ [and] the three-digit opinion number located below the docket number on the right side of the case caption ….”  For decisions published in “the Federal Supplement, the Federal Rules Service, or the Federal Rules Decisions” the rule authorizes volume and page number citations to those print reporters as an alternative.

This took place well before the E-Government Act of 2002 called upon federal courts to provide web-access to “all written opinions.”  While this island of non-print-based citation has escaped the notice of The Bluebook, the 2001 local rule remains in effect and the practice continues.  McFadden v. Walmart, 2017 DNH 002, was decided on January 5 of this year.  The district’s judges themselves do still, on occasion, cite using opinion numbers.  See, e.g., Hersey v. Colvin, 2016 DNH 203, 10 (citing  Corson v. Soc. Sec’y Admin., Comm’r, 2013 DNH 144, 24–25).  So do  attorneys.  The New Hampshire Bar Association publishes a monthly “US District Court Decision Listing” that contains summaries of selected decisions of the prior month.  The decisions covered are cited by their “medium neutral” or “public domain” opinion numbers.

Since the court-attached opinion numbers appear within the texts they identify, researchers need no other citation to retrieve a decision from any electronic source.  They do the job on Bloomberg Law, Casetext, Google Scholar, Lexis Advance, Ravel Law, and WestlawNext.  They also work with the GPO’s FDsys case law repository (about which more below).  For the same reason these sources also provide the opinion number required for a conforming District of New Hampshire citation.

III. Critical Respects in Which the Model Falls Short

A. The Use of Pagination as the Means for Pinpoint Citation

Although nearly all legal research services retain the opinion numbers attached by the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire, only Casetext, Fdsys, and the court’s own database preserve the location of the page breaks in the original version of a decision that the court’s rule directs be used for pinpoint citations. Arkansas and Louisiana, two state systems that, similarly, adopted neutral citation but sought to avoid paragraph numbering by specifying the pagination in a court-released pdf file as the basis for pinpoint references, have suffered the same fate in research services that, like Google Scholar, base their texts for many jurisdictions on the versions published in the Thomson Reuters National Reporter System.  Not only are paragraph numbers more precise and more tightly connected to the logical structure of a cited document than pagination, they travel far more reliably with the portions of text they denote into the full range of data services used by those doing legal research.

B. A Failure to Include All Substantive Opinions (Including Magistrates’ Reports and Recommendations)

Not all decisions rendered by District of New Hampshire judges receive court-applied opinion numbers, only selected ones.  In compliance with the E-Government Act of 2002 all written opinions of the court, including reports and recommendations by magistrate judges, are made available without charge through the PACER system, where they can be gathered by the online services.  A non-trivial number of those opinions – ten percent or more – have not been given opinion numbers nor placed in the court’s searchable database.  That is particularly true with categories of cases such as inmate suits and Social Security appeals that are routinely resolved by a magistrate’s report and recommendation, followed by a short judicial order adopting it.  As a result, a significant body of district case law cannot be found in the court’s searchable database nor cited by means of opinion numbers.  Because of this incompleteness, responsible case law research cannot be carried out using the court’s database.  Thoroughness requires use of one of the comprehensive research services.   And that leads to citations by the court of its own prior decisions that employ Westlaw or Lexis proprietary cites rather than, or in parallel with, the court’s public domain, medium neutral scheme.

C. Inherent Limits on a Single-District Citation System within a Federal Court with 93 Other Districts

The situation in the District of New Hampshire is categorically different from that in the numerous states that have adopted similar plans of electronic publication and court-applied citation.  Matters litigated in state court can often be argued and decided solely on the basis of that state’s own case law.  By contrast, rarely if ever can those representing parties to a matter before the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire or the judge handling the case disregard decisions from the First Circuit and other U.S. Courts of Appeals and decisions by other district courts as well.  For the district judge that calls for use of one of the two commercial systems available to the federal judiciary; for attorneys, use of those same systems or some comparably comprehensive alternative.  The court’s less-than-complete database of decisions may, conceivably, be a useful place to start research but never a place to finish it.  Thorough research and consistent citations of relevant decisions lead almost inexorably to the use of one or more of the proprietary systems.  With this district’s judges the dominant system is Westlaw.  Their pinpoint cites to unpublished decisions, including those in citations to cases that have court-applied opinion numbers, overwhelmingly use Westlaw pagination instead of the page numbers contained in the court’s original version.  The citations to Mudge v. Bank of Am., N.A.Gasparik v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, and Dionne v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n in LaFratta v. Select Portfolio Servicing, Inc., 2017 DNH 007, as released by the court, are examples.  LaFratta and other recent decisions reveal a declining use of the court’s opinion numbers and a growing practice of linking citations to authority of all kinds into Westlaw.

IV. The Sorry Fate of Other Single-Court Citation Schemes within the Federal Judiciary

A. The Sixth Circuit’s Ancient DOS-Based Naming Scheme

Since 1994 decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, both published and unpublished, have carried a “file name” identifier.  Designed to fit within the name space of the MS-DOS operating system of that era those identifiers consist of eight characters, followed by a period, followed by two more.  The file name of one unpublished decision released in January 2016 is “16a0051n.06”.  Miller v. Comm’r of Soc. Sec., 811 F.3d 825 (6th Cir. 2016) decided the same month is: “16a0020p.06”.  (The “n” and “p” indicate whether the decision is to be published or not.)  While Lexis retains these identifiers, they don’t follow opinions into volumes of F.3d or Westlaw.  As seems gradually to be happening with the District of New Hampshire opinion numbers, the Sixth Circuit file names have become useless data.

B. The Relatively Brief Run of Neutral Citation in the District of South Dakota

Effective January 1, 1996, the Supreme Court of South Dakota began attaching medium neutral citations and paragraph numbers to its opinions.  The practice continues; the court’s rules of appellate procedure still require use of this public domain citation system.  Later in that year, by local rule the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota laid down the same steps.  Even at the time not all of the district’s judges bought into the change.  With the appointment of a new chief judge in 1999 who was not an enthusiast, the system continued in the opinions of only one of three active district judges and a magistrate judge.  When the district judge in question took senior status in 2008, all trace of the scheme disappeared.

V. Missed Opportunities to Implement Non-Print-Based, Non-Proprietary Citation across the Federal Courts

A. The Judicial Conference Response to the 1996 ABA Resolution

In 1996 the American Bar Association House of Delegates recommended that all U.S. jurisdictions “adopt a system for official citation to case reports that is equally effective for printed case reports and for case reports electronically published.”  The resolution proceeded to spell out the key elements of such a system: 1) attachment of identifiers to all decisions, consisting of the year, the court, and a sequential decision number, 2) insertion of paragraph numbers, and 3) adoption of court rules requiring that citations employ these elements.  In response the Automation Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States and the Administrative Office of the Courts simply surveyed federal judges and clerks regarding the ABA citation recommendation.  Without asking the Federal Judicial Center for a study or furnishing rationale or context, it simply asked all these individual actors whether they favored the steps.  Overwhelmingly they expressed satisfaction with the status quo, hostility to paragraph numbering, and puzzlement over the grounds for change.  The recommendation died in committee and has not since been revived.

B. Terms of the E-Government Act’s Mandate

The E-Government Act of 2002, in a section immediately prior to the one addressing the federal courts,  directed the creation of and authorized appropriations for an integrated online information system covering all federal administrative agencies.  That portal was to be designed to allow public access to agency material “integrated according to function or topic rather than separated according to the boundaries of agency jurisdiction.”  In contrast, reflecting the highly decentralized administrative structure of the federal courts, the act’s directive that all federal court opinions be made accessible online was directed at the chief judge or justice of each and every court in the federal system.  A more coordinated approach might have drawn attention to the citation issue.

C. Addition of Rule 32.1 to the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure

Similarly, the reform movement that led to the addition of Rule 32.1 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure in 2006 might well have focused attention on how the “unpublished” decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals, which by the terms of the new rule became citable, could or should be cited.  Its sponsor, the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, heard concerns about how those for whom Lexis and Westlaw were beyond reach would access to this large body of case law.  Ignoring the citation challenge the committee pointed to the E-Government Act’s mandate as addressing the problem.

The strategic appearance of the West Federal Appendix in 2001, which furnished the means for proprietary volume and page number citation for these “unpublished” decisions to members of the federal judiciary (all of whom have access to Westlaw) almost certainly encouraged this blindness.

D. Implementation of the Federal CM/ECF System, its PACER overlay, and the Fdsys Decision Archive

Federal court electronic case management systems trace all the way back to applications developed by the Federal Judicial Center in the late 1960s.  Those established the fundamental structural model that persists to this day: central development of a set of electronic tools, with most decisions about whether, when, or how to use them left to the individual courts.  It is probably significant that, having its own administrative and technical support, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken no part in promoting or coordinating technology adoption in the subordinate federal courts.  In 1990 Congress catalyzed the opening of existing court-located case and document management systems for remote electronic access.  At the time that meant dial-up.  The move to electronic filing began in 1995.  At around the same time the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts began work on a national party and case number index to the electronic records of the federal courts that had implemented its CM/ECF system.  For many federal courts this Public Access to Court Electronic Records service (PACER) subsequently became the mechanism for compliance with the E-Government Act’s mandate.  While access to other documents through PACER carries a fee, all documents tagged by the deciding court as “opinions” can be retrieved without charge.  However, PACER provides no full-text index of those opinions.  They can only be tracked down using docket number, party names, court, and case type.

As filed in a court’s CM/ECF system an opinion is stamped with identifiers that consist solely of case docket number, filing date, and the document’s place in the sequence of filings in the matter – “Case 1:15-cv-00200-LM Document 5 Filed 11/17/15” for example.  A uniform federal court citation system could have been appended to this system, either initially or in the “next generation” version now being rolled out.  It was not.

In recent years the Government Printing Office Federal Digital System (FDsys) has begun drawing opinions from participating federal courts and loading them into a text-searchable database.  Following a pilot phase, the Judicial Conference of the United States authorized national implementation of this inter-branch cooperative venture in September 2012.  Over four years later, it remains seriously incomplete in scope; only 49 out of 94 districts courts are included.  Furthermore, among included courts, the chronological depth and currency of the data vary considerably.  And while GPO authenticates each PDF file it receives from a participating court system and associates a useful array of metadata with it, it has not, as it could, attached an identifier that a lawyer or judge would recognize as a citation.  To date, this is simply another more missed opportunity.

At the beginning of 2017, the prospects of a system-wide citation scheme modeled on that launched in New Hampshire at the turn of the century appear dim.

VI. How Should Decisions of the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire Be Cited?

As noted above, this one district court still attaches medium-neutral citations to many, although not all, of its decisions.  Whether one obtains such a decision from the court’s database or a commercial source, its opinion number is available and, when included in a citation, it furnishes a highly efficient retrieval identifier.  Decisions that have been given a place in F. Supp. or F.R.D. can be retrieved by volume and page number from nearly all research services.  Adding the opinion number as a parallel adds negligible value.  For “unpublished decisions” whether or not, given an opinion number, Westlaw or Lexis citations may suffice for the court, its judges having access to both.  But limiting a citation to one or the other or even both in parallel may leave the opposing party and others who might rely on Google Scholar or Casetext or Ravel without an efficient retrieval hook.  Pincites pose a further problem.  Lexis includes Westlaw cites for unpublished cases but not Westlaw pagination.  Westlaw ignores both Lexis cites and Lexis pagination.

Useful guidance and models come from the court’s own decisions.  In Bersaw v. Northland Group Inc., 2015 DNH 050, Judge Joseph LaPlante offered this advice: “[I] would recommend that, with respect to unpublished cases that appear solely on electronic databases such as Westlaw or Lexis, counsel provide as much alternative identifying information (e.g., case number, issuing court, and opinion date) as possible.”  The judge, himself, practices what he recommends.  A citation appearing in Locke v. Colvin, furnishes a fully fleshed out example of this approach.  It reads:

Brindley v. Colvin, No. 14-cv-548-PB, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10757, 2016 WL 355477, at *5 (D.N.H. Jan. 29, 2016) (quoting Ortiz, 890 F.2d at 528) (remanding where ALJ neither called vocational expert nor explained why reliance upon the Grid was appropriate, but “merely stated, without explanation or citation to record evidence, that [the claimant’s] non-exertional limitations have little or no effect on the occupational base of unskilled light work”) (internal quotation marks and citation to the record omitted).

Four aspects of the example warrant notice:

  • While Brindley v. Colvin has an opinion number (2016 DNH 021) it is not included.
  • Westlaw pagination rather than pagination from the version held in the court’s database provides the pinpoint reference.
  • The addition of docket or case number and full date, as counseled by Judge LaPlante, make it possible to retrieve the Brindley decision from sources that hold it but neither its Westlaw or Lexis citation, including the court’s own database.
  • The parenthetical notes provide a clear path to the cited portion of Brindley for any reader who is inspecting that decision on a system in which having the Westlaw star page number is useless.