3.4.2 – Caption, Parties, Citations
Captions and Citations
Let's break a case down. You're going to be confronted with lots of cases in your reading, and I want you to be able to look at those cases and figure out, what am I supposed to take away from this? What are the moving pieces? To start with, I want you to look at a case and look at the information that you can glean from the case before the actual body of the opinion starts.
Cases, as I said before, are opinions. They're usually going to be opinions from appellate courts. Appellate courts are courts that hear appeals of rulings by lower courts. They're higher in the hierarchy. Not every case in your casebook is going to be from an appellate court. Sometimes they will be from trial courts where someone has asked the trial judge to do something and the trial judge writes an opinion explaining why the trial judge is doing something or is not doing something.
The majority of the cases are going to be from appellate courts because trial courts don't write opinions for everything they do, but appellate courts are really courts that proceed in opinions and they write these opinions that lay out legal principles that are going to apply to future cases. As you'll see with an opinion, there's going to be a lot of text, but there's stuff before that. There's stuff before that, and you can actually learn a lot.
CaptionsCaptions are title/formal name of case, consisting of name of parties
One thing you'll see at the beginning is something that looks like just the title of the case, Smith versus Jones. In our example case, it's United States versus Jewell. You might call that the title. The more precise term for that is the caption. This is the formal name of the case. It's usually been assigned by the court or some kind of person who works for the court, like the clerk of a court. This is often by itself going to tell you a good amount about this case, about what's going on here.
The most common way for a caption to work is that you'll have party 1 versus party 2. The first name is usually the party that is seeking relief in the trial court, the plaintiff, the prosecution, if it's a criminal case. The second name is usually the person who's on the other end of the lawsuit, the defendant, usually. In some courts, the Supreme Court of the United States is an example where they actually flip the order, depending on who is seeking relief in the Supreme Court itself, but most ordinary appellate courts don't do that. You can't necessarily draw anything from which order the parties are in, but sometimes you can.
That's going to tell you, "We know that this case involves these two people or these two entities or these two companies." Sometimes there are weirder captions where it arises in a certain kind of procedure. Let's say maybe it's a bankruptcy case, and that it'll say "In re Blank" and then it might be the name of the debtor. There's other kinds of cases where the lower court is actually listed in the caption as a party to the case. Smith versus Superior Court. That's because of some weird procedural situation where, given the precise thing that one of the parties is doing, it's formerly styled as an action against the trial court.(1) Criminal cases generally involve state versus a person, (2) civil cases generally involve person versus person
These might look a little weird, but try to look at the caption and try to understand, "What's going on here? Who are the people or entities involved?" Then maybe at that first step, look at the opinion a little bit and just say, "Why is this case called this? Who are these folks?" As an example, the very first case I always assign in criminal law is a case that is called The Queen versus Dudley and Stephens, or sometimes it's called Regina versus Dudley and Stephens.
In Latin, a queen is Regina. I actually like casebooks that call it Regina rather than The Queen, because I always ask the first student I'm calling on, "Hey, who the heck is Regina?" The student, since it's very early in law school, doesn't really have any idea who Regina is. Then I walk them through, "This is criminal law. Criminal law cases always are going to involve the state versus a person. In England, the sovereign is the King or the Queen, as the case may be, and that's why it says Regina."
Let's look at the caption of Jewell. It says UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee versus Charles Demore JEWELL, Defendant-Appellant. If you notice, there's a few words there that are actually in all caps. That full thing, UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, et cetera, is what you'd call that full caption. The court has actually helpfully put certain words in caps to show you the shortened form of the caption. When this case is subsequently cited, people are just going to cite it as United States versus Jewell. That's usually the way we do things. We simplify case names. We simplify party names to have a shorter form of the citation, but it's nice to have the whole thing there.
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee versus Charles Demore JEWELL, Defendant-Appellant. What do those words mean? You might be familiar with them or you might not. Plaintiff and defendant. Plaintiff is usually the person who is seeking the relief. He's going to court and trying to get the court to take some kind of action. They're suing somebody or, in this case, they're the prosecution. They're the prosecutor who's bringing charges. Defendant is the person on the receiving end of that.
Then the appellant is the plaintiff but in the appellate court. They're the person going to the appellate court and saying, "Hey, appellate court, give me something." The appellee is the defendant in the appellate court. They're the person who's saying, "No, appellate court, you don't need to give the other person what they want." Just from that caption, we've been able to figure out this is a case where the United States was going against this person, Jewell. This was a criminal case.
Although, just from this, you can't necessarily know that. There are civil cases where the United States is suing someone, but that's a clue as to whether a case is criminal or civil. Is it the government versus a person, or is it a person versus a person? If it's a person versus a person, it's more likely to be some kind of civil case where someone is suing somebody else and saying, "Hey, give me money." Here, this is a criminal case, so we've got the United States of America. We might see the People of the State of Georgia. We might see Minnesota versus, those are criminal cases.
We know that the United States was the one bringing the charges below against Jewell. Then we also know that the United States must have won below because the United States is now the appellee. Jewell is the appellate. Jewell is the one going up to the appellate court saying, "Hey, appellate court, give me something." We don't know what he wants yet. We don't know what the case is about yet, but we know just from that bit of information where we are.
Then let's also look at what court we're at, because that will always be listed up front. Here, we're in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. That's one of the intermediate appellate courts in the federal court system. Anytime you read a case, it could be helpful just to do a quick Google search and just figure out, what kind of court is this? Where does this court sit in the judicial hierarchy? Here, pretty straightforward, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.Google Latin phrases you come across.
Then it says this other thing. It says, "sitting en banc." Sometimes people say that phrase "en banc." It's from French. You'll hear it said different ways. I like to say, "en banc." What does that mean? You're probably not going to know the first time you read it. Maybe Google it, maybe look it up. If you see a weird Latin phrase you've never seen before, look it up. As it happens in the federal court system, en banc means the whole court or a larger group of judges and the court have gotten together to hear this case, whereas normally, it would just be three judges. Here, it's a larger group of judges. That suggests that the court thought this was an important case. That's just a thing to know.
Then you see it's a case from 1976, and that might seem like an old case to you, but as far as cases you're going to read in your casebook go, that's not even remotely old. You read ancient cases. You'll read plenty of cases from the nineteenth century and you can't necessarily take anything away from the date, but it might tell you, "Is this a super recent case? Is this really cutting edge or is this a case from 150 years ago that's designed to show me how the law used to be?" Now we know this case is going on fifty years old. It's an older case. Can't necessarily take anything away from that.
CitationsTo find cases in official reporters/casebooks
We've learned a fair bit just from looking at the information before the case even starts. I want you to go through this process every time you read a case. One other thing you'll notice often when looking at a case in a casebook is some numbers. In Jewell, we see these numbers and letters, 532F.2D697. What is that? That's what we call the citation to a case. That is basically a code that is going to help us find that case somewhere that it's been officially published.
In this particular case, let me tell you what that means. It actually dates back to an earlier time when you didn't have Westlaw, you didn't have any kind of electronic way of looking up cases. You had to use physical books. There were these, and there still are, but people don't really use them as books much anymore, but there were these basically volumes published that are the official reporters, and judges designate certain opinions to go in these official reporters. Here, 532, that's what we call the volume number. The middle thing, F.2D, is the reporter.
The last thing, 697, is the first page in which that case appears in that reporter, so this is the 532nd volume of F2D. That's the Federal Reporter, Second Series. There was a whole first series of the Federal Reporter that added up to 999 volumes and then they started over with Federal Second. This is the case that appears on the 697th page of that volume 532.
If you went to a law library, you'd say, "Where are the Federal Reporters?" and you'd go look there and you'd see a huge set of shelves of the first series. Then, you'd find the shelves that have the second series. You'd find the 532nd. You'd pull that off the shelf and you turn to page 697 and there you would find United States versus Jewell. You're not going to do that anymore unless you want to, maybe as an interesting exercise. Instead what you'd do is, you'd copy and paste that and plug it into Google Scholar, or to Westlaw, or to Lexis, or to Bloomberg Law.
It will be always able to find you that case instantly. It's useful when a casebook includes this because you might want to look at the case that's not in your casebook. One thing that you should be aware of, if you ever do that, you might notice that the case that you find online is going to look pretty different from the case you've been given in your casebook. The case in your casebook might be one page and you plug that case citation into an electronic database and get the whole case back. It could be 50 pages, it could be 100 pages, because often the casebook author will really pare down the case to only what they really care about, only what's really relevant to you, and try to take out a lot of stuff that's confusing.
With Jewell, I've edited it down a fair bit and there's some other stuff about why the case originally ended up before the full Ninth Circuit en banc that I left out, that you don't really need to worry about it. If you're ever curious, you want to say, "Hey, there's more I want to know here," use that citation, go plug it in. You can find the whole case yourself pretty easily.
Learn about our Law School Explained courses.
No note. Click here to write note.
Click here to reset