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I. Distinctions
A. A case brief is a dissection of a judicial opinion — it contains a written
summary of the basic components of that decision.
B. Persuasive briefs (trial and appellate) are the formal documents a lawyer
files with a court in support of his or her client’s position.
II. Functions of case briefing
A. Case briefing helps you acquire the skills of case analysis and legal
reasoning. Briefing a case helps you understand it.
B. Case briefing aids your memory. Briefs help you remember the cases you
read (1) for class discussion, (2) for end-of-semester review for final
examinations, and (3) for writing and analyzing legal problems.
Do not try to memorize case briefs. Learning law is a process of problem solving
through legal reasoning. Cases must be read in light of the series of cases with
which they appear in your casebook or on the class syllabus.
III. Briefing a case: The steps
Although the exact form of your briefs may and can vary from case to case, the
following parts should appear somewhere in your brief in a way that helps you
understand the case and recall the needed information.
1. Read through the opinion first so you will understand the overall story and
identify important facts, etc., before beginning to brief the case on paper.
2. Heading:
a. Case name (to identify the parties)
b. Court name
c. Date of the decision
d. Page number where the case appears in the textbook
3. Statement of Facts
a. Identify the relationship/status of the parties (Note: Do not merely
refer to the parties as the plaintiff/defendant or appellant/appellee;
be sure to also include more descriptive generic terms to identify
the relationship/status at issue, e.g., buyer/seller,
employer/employee, landlord/tenant, etc.)
b. Identify legally relevant facts, that is, those facts that tend to prove
or disprove an issue before the court. The relevant facts tell what
happened before the parties entered the judicial system.
c. Identify procedurally significant facts. You should set out (1) the
cause of action (C/A) (the law the plaintiff claimed was broken), (2)
relief the plaintiff requested, (3) defenses, if any, the defendant
4. Procedural History (PH): This is the disposition of the case in the lower
court(s) that explains how the case got to the court whose opinion you are
reading. Include the following:
a. The decision(s) of the lower court(s).
NOTE: If the case was decided by a trial court and reviewed
by an intermediate appellate court before reaching the
court whose decision you are now reading, be sure to
note what each court decided.
b. The damages awarded, if relevant.
c. Who appealed and why.
5. Issues:
a. Substantive issue: A substantive statement of the issue consists of
two parts —
i. the point of law in dispute
ii. the key facts of the case relating to that point of law in
dispute (legally relevant facts)
You must include the key facts from the case so that the
issue is specific to that case. Typically, the disputed issue
involves how the court applied some element of the pertinent
rule to the facts of the specific case. Resolving the issue will
determine the court’s disposition of the case.
b. Procedural issue: What is the appealing party claiming the lower
court did wrong (e.g., ruling on evidence, jury instructions, granting
of summary judgment, etc.)?
6. Judgment: This is the court’s final decision as to the rights of the parties,
the court’s response to a party’s request for relief. Generally, the
appellate court will either affirm, reverse, or reverse with instructions. The
judgment is usually found at the end of the opinion.
7. Holding: This is a statement of law that is the court’s answer to the issue.
If you have written the issue statement(s) correctly, the holding is often
the positive or negative statement of the issue statement.
8. Rule of Law or Legal Principle Applied: This is the rule of law that the court
applies to determine the substantive rights of the parties. The rule of law
could derive from a statute, case rule, regulation, or may be a synthesis of
prior holdings in similar cases (common law). The rule or legal principle
may be expressly stated in the opinion or it may be implied.
9. Reasoning: This is the court’s analysis of the issues and the heart of the
case brief. Reasoning is the way in which the court applied the rules/
legal principles to the particular facts in the case to reach its decision.
This includes syllogistic application of rules as well as policy arguments
the court used to justify its holding (why the decision was socially
10. Concurring/Dissenting Opinions: A judge who hears a case may not agree
with the majority’s decision and will write a separate dissenting opinion.
Another judge may agree with the decision but not with the majority’s
reasoning and will write a separate concurring opinion. Note the
concurring/dissenting judge(s)’ reasons for refusing to join in the majority
11. Additional Comments/Personal Impressions: What are your reactions to
and critique of the opinion? Anything you like? Dislike? How does this
case fall in line with the other cases you have read? Do not accept the
court’s opinion blindly. Assess the reasoning in each case. Is it sound?
Is it contradictory? What are the political, economic or social impacts of
this decision?
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