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LRAW Research Spring 2025

Anatomy of a Federal Case

A federal court opinion published in a West reporter, like the Lawson v. FMR LLC case below, looks basically the same as a state court opinion, with the following components:

  • The case name (Lawson v. FMR LLC) and citation (670 F3d 61). There are no parallel citations for federal district (trial) and circuit court of appeals opinions. Check the Bluebook rules for proper citation (see Citing Federal Cases).
  • The court responsible for the opinion (United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit).
  • The decided date (Feb. 3, 2012).
  • A synopsis that includes both the procedural history or background of the case, as well as the holding of the court. 
  • The West headnotes with a number assigned to each headnote that corresponds to the location in the opinion where the court addresses that legal issue. Each headnote is also assigned at least one West Topic and Key Number, which can be used to locate more cases on that issue. For example, headnote number 1 in the Lawson opinion is assigned the topic Securities Regulation, key number 35.14.
  • The names of the attorneys who argued the case.
  • The names of the judges who heard the case.
  • The name of the judge who wrote the opinion (LYNCH), which signals the beginning of the official opinion.

First page of the Lawson v. FMR LLC opinion. See below for a link to the text of the opinion.


Second page of the Lawson v. FMR LLC opinion where the official opinion begins. See below for a link to the text of the opinion.