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Legal Pathfinders

Laws and Court Cases

Understanding Legal Citations

Decoding a Case Citation

A case citation usually consists of the following items:

  • The case parties -- usually the names of the plaintiff and defendant. For example:  Roe v. Wade
  • The volume number of the "reporter," or the book series in which the case is published.
  • An abbreviation of the reporter title. For example:  U.S. stands for United States Reports, the government's official publication of Supreme Court decisions.
  • The page number on which the case appears within that reporter.

For example, the citation Florida v. Royer 460 U.S. 491 (1983) means that the case of Florida v. Royer was published in volume 460 of United States Reports on page 491. The case decision was issued in 1983, as noted in the parentheses.

Parallel Citations

It's important to note when the same case is printed in different book series (i.e. reporters), more than one citation may be given. These additional citations are known as parallel citations.

Example: 460 U.S. 491, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 75 L.Ed.2d 229.

In the above example, there are three parallel citations to the same case:

  • U.S. refers to the United States Reports (published by the federal government)
  • S.Ct. refers to Supreme Court Reporter (published by West)
  • and L.Ed.2d. refers to the Lawyer's Edition, Second Series (published by LexisNexis)

The text of the opinion will be identical in all three sources.  Any additional commentary or editorial material will differ with each publisher.

Typically, ANY one of these parallel citations may be used to locate a case within the LexisNexis database.