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Understanding Legal Citations: Citing to Cases

A basic guide for interpreting and understanding citations to legal research sources.

Citing Cases, Generally

In legal research, term “cases” generally refers to Federal and state appellate court opinions. These opinions are collected in series of books called reporters. In general, cases are cited by giving

  • the case name, 
  • the volume and page number of the case reporter in which the case is found, 
  • a court designation and 
  • the year the case was handed down.

Note: We still use the “book” citiation even if we're citing to or searching for a case that is stored on an electronic database like Westlaw, LexisNexis, or an Internet database such as Google Scholar. Below is an example of a standard case citation for a Federal case.

Pree v. Burnswick Corp., 983 F.2d 863 (C.A.8 Mo. 1993).

The text in green is the case name, identifying the parties to the appellate case. Note that the full name of the parties might be abbreviated and some parties names may be excluded for brevity.

The text in blue is the reporter citation. In this case, F.2d refers to the Federal Reporter, Second Series. By this citation, you can see the case is a United States Court of Appeals opinion since only those courts' opinions are in this reporter.

The text in red is the Court identifier and the year of the decision. This case is from the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and arose out of the Federal district courts in Missouri. It was decided in 1993.

Again, this case would be referenced the same way even if it was found on an electronic database.

See the boxes below for additional informaton on how to cite Federal cases and Utah cases.

Citing Federal Cases

Federal case reporters are court-specific. Therefore, all United States Supreme Court opinions are located in their own reporters, as are all United States Court of Appeals opinions and any published United States District Court opinions.

Research Tip: You can tell which court handed down a Federal opinion by simply looking at the citation.

United States Supreme Court Opinions:

United States Supreme Court opinions can be found in three different reporters. The “official” reporter of the United States Supreme Court is the United States Reports (U.S.). In addition, two “unofficial” reporters are published by private vendors. The first is the Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.) and the second is United States Supreme Court Decisions, Lawyers' Edition (L.Ed.), and United States Supreme Court Decisions, Lawyers' Edition, 2nd (L.Ed.2nd). To cite to to a United States Supreme Court case, you should include the “official” reporter. You may also include “unofficial” reporters, as well. A full citation to a United States Supreme Court case would look like this:

Meritor Sav. Bank v. Vinson, 477 U.S. 57, 106 S.Ct. 2399, 91 L.Ed.2d 49 (1986).

This case can be found at the 477 volume of the United States Reports at page 57. It can also be found at the 106th volume of the Supreme Court Reporter, at page 2399, and the 91st volume of the United States Supreme Court Decisions, Lawyers' Edition, 2nd, at page 49. The case was decided in 1986.

Note that no court identifier is required in the parenthetical since the citation clearly identifies the case as coming from the United States Supreme Court.

United States Appellate Court Opinions:

United States Court of Appeals decisions are found in the Federal Reporter (F.), Federal Reporter 2nd series (F.2nd) and the Federal Reporter, 3rd series (F.3d). A court of appeals identification is included in the parenthetical at the end of the citation. See example below:

Utah Foam Products Co. v. Upjohn Co., 154 F.3d 1212 (C.A.10 1998).

This case is found in the 154th volume of the Federal Reporter, 3rd series, at page 1212. It was decided by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998.

There is only one reporter for United States Court of Appeals decisions.

United States District Court Opinions:

Generally, any published United States District Court opinions will be found in the Federal Supplement (F.Supp.) and Federal Supplement, 2nd (F.Supp.2nd). The district court identification is included in the parenthetical at the end of the citation. See example below:

City Consumer Services, Inc. v. Horne, 578 F.Supp. 283 (D.Utah 1984).

This case is found in the 578th volume of the Federal Supplement at page 283. It was decided by the United States District Court for the District of Utah in 1984.

For additional information, See Rule 10 of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (2010).

Citing Utah Cases

The current “official” reporter for the State of Utah is the Pacific Reporter (P., P.2d., P.3d).

Utah Supreme Court Opinions:

Citing to Utah Supreme Court cases depeneds, in part, on when the case was decided. Until 1974, Utah Supreme Court opinions appeared in both the Utah Reports (the “official” reporter) and the Pacific Reporter (then the “unofficial” reporter). After 1974, Utah ceased publication of Utah Reports and the Pacific Reporter became the “official” reporter for the State of Utah. See examples below:

After 1974:

Gardner v. Gardner, 748 P.2d 1076 (Utah 1988).

This case is found in the 748th volume of the Pacific Reporter, 2nd series at page 1076. It was decided by the Utah Supreme Court in 1988.

Prior to 1974:

For cases decided prior to 1974, the case can still be found in the Pacific reporter, however, they can also be found in the Utah Reports and the Utah Reports 2nd series. See example below:

Allen v. Allen, 25 Utah 2d 87, 475 P.2d 1021 (Utah 1970).

This case can be found in either the 25th volume of the Utah Reports, 2nd series, at page 87 or the 475th volume of the Pacific Reporter, 2nd series at page 1021. It was decided by the Utah Supreme Court in 1970.

Utah Appellate Court Opinions:

The above rule applies only to Utah Supreme Court opinons as the Utah Court of Appeals was founded in 1987, after the Pacific Reporter had been designated the official reporter for the State of Utah. Therefore, all Utah Appellate Court opinions can be found in the Pacific Reporter. See example below:

Boyer v. Boyer, 259 P.3d 1063 (Utah App. 2011).

This case is found in the 259th volume of the Pacific Reporter, 3rd series at page 1063. It was decided by the Utah Court of Appeals in 2011.

For additional information, see Section T1 (p. 269) of The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (2010).

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