Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

LRAW Research Spring 2023

Citing Federal Cases Generally

For instructions on how to cite a case generally, see Bluebook Rule B10.

The correct citation for federal cases has three basic parts:

  1. The name of the case;
  2. The published source (volume, reporter & page number) where the case may be found; and 
  3. A parenthetical indicating the court and year of the decision.

For example:
                          Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012).

Citations may also include other parenthetical information and the subsequent history of the case, if necessary.

1. Name of the Case

Rule B10.1.1 provides the most important rules for correctly citing the name of a case. Of particular importance are the following abbreviation rules:

  • Abbreviate any word listed in Table 6 in the back of The Bluebook, and abbreviate states, countries, and other geographical units following the instructions in Table 10.
  • But, do not abbreviate United States when it is the entire name of a party.
  • When referring to the name of a case in a textual sentence, as opposed to a citation, you should not abbreviate according to T6; instead, you should only abbreviate widely known acronyms and the words: "&", "Ass'n," "Bros.," "Co.," "Corp.," "Inc.," "Ltd.," and "No."

Read rules B10.1.1 and B10.2 (Short Form Citation) for other rules that must be followed when citing case names.

2. Published Source Where the Case May Be Found

After the case name, the reporter citation includes:

1. the volume number of the reporter in which the case is published;

2. the abbreviated name of the reporter; and

3. the page where the opinion begins.  

To find the correct reporter abbreviation, see Table 1 in The Bluebook.  Rule B10.1.2 explains more on how to cite to the correct reporter.


Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are usually found in one of three reporters:

  • United States Reports, abbreviated U.S.
  • Supreme Court Reporter, abbreviated S. Ct.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition, abbreviated L. Ed. or L. Ed. 2d

Reporter names follow The Bluebook's spacing rules. Pursuant to Rule 6.1(a), there is no space between adjacent single capital letters (e.g., U.S.), while there is a space between a single capital letter and a longer abbreviation (e.g., S. Ct. and L. Ed.).  United States Reports is the official reporter of the Supreme Court, so you must cite to it when possible. Nevertheless, you will often see parallel citations to S. Ct. and L. Ed.


Decisions of the United States Courts of Appeals are usually found in one of two reporters:

  • Federal Reporter, abbreviated F., F.2d, or F.3d
  • Federal Appendix, abbreviated F. App'x (unpublished opinions)

Note that ordinals like 2d and 3d in the examples above are treated by Bluebook rules as single capital letterswhich is why there is no space between F. and 2d in F.2d or F. and 3d in F.3d. Do not superscript ordinals (Rule 6.2(b)).


Decisions of the United States District Courts are usually found in the:

  • Federal Supplement, abbreviated F. Supp., F. Supp. 2d, and F. Supp. 3d

There is a space between the single capital letter F. and the longer abbreviation Supp. (F. Supp.) as well as between the longer abbreviation Supp. and the ordinals 2d and 3d (F. Supp. 2d and F. Supp. 3d).

3. Parenthetical Indicating the Court and Year of the Decision

Federal case citations usually indicate the deciding court and year in a parenthetical following the reporter citation:

U.S. Supreme Court 
Just like with the highest state court in state case law citations, when citing decisions of the United States Supreme Court, you should include only the year the case was decided in the parenthetical.

For example, the Lawson v. FMR LLC case was eventually reversed by the United States Supreme Court. The Court reversed the decision of the First Circuit Court of Appeals by ruling that the whistleblower statute's protection includes employees of a public company's private contractors and subcontractors. 

The proper Bluebook citation for that decision is:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 571 U.S. 429 (2014).


Federal Circuit Courts of Appeals
For U.S. Court of Appeals decisions, you must indicate which circuit decided the case, followed by "Cir.", followed by the year the case was decided.  You abbreviate the First Circuit as 1st Cir., the Second Circuit as 2d Cir., the Third Circuit as 3d Cir., the Fourth Circuit as 4th Cir., and so on.

For example, the Lawson v. FMR LLC Court of Appeals opinion was originally cited as:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012). 

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court reversed the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC. The correct Bluebook citation now reflects its subsequent history:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012), rev'd 571 U.S. 429 (2014).


Federal District Courts
For U.S. District Court decisions, you must indicate which district court decided the case, followed by the year the case was decided.  Some states have more than one district court, so you will indicate in which district court the case was decided. For example, Eastern District is abbreviated by "E.D.", while states with a single district court (like South Carolina) simply put "D."  See Table T7 for Court Name Abbreviations.

After the abbreviation for the district court, you must consult Table T10 for the state abbreviation. As with the reporter names, you determine the spacing based on the letters in the abbreviations. For states that are abbreviated by single adjacent capital letters, like South Carolina, abbreviated as "S.C.", there will be no space between the district court and the state abbreviations (D.S.C.).  For states that are abbreviated with one capital letter and lower case letter(s), such as Virginia, abbreviated "Va.", there will be a space between the district court and state abbreviations (E.D. Va.).

The federal district court opinion in the Lawson v. FMR LLC case is properly cited as:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 724 F. Supp. 2d 167 (D. Mass. 2010).

Examples of Federal Case Law Citations

                U.S. Supreme Court Cases 
You must cite to the official United States Reports (U.S.), if available. Until it is available, the preferred unofficial reporter is the Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.) (T1.1). 

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 571 U.S. 429 (2014).

Digital Realty Tr., Inc. v. Somers, 138 S. Ct. 767 (2018).

   Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Cases
The “th” in 4th should NOT be superscript (R6.2(b)).
There is no space between F. and 3d because the Bluebook treats ordinals like single capital letters (R6.1(a)).

Jones v. Southpeak Interactive Corp. of Delaware, 777 F.3d 658 (4th Cir. 2015).

              Federal District Court Cases
State names abbreviated with two single, adjacent capital letters (like N.Y. or S.C.) should not have a space between them and the district court. For all other state abbreviations, there should be a space between the geographical abbreviation and the district court.
(R6.1(a)).  T10 = Geographic Abbreviations.

Mozingo v. S. Fin. Grp., Inc., 520 F. Supp. 2d 733 (D.S.C. 2007).

 

Pincites

When the idea you are providing a citation for appears on a specific page of a case, you should point your reader to that page by including a pinpoint citation. Pincites are placed after the page on which the case begins, separated by a comma and one space.  For example, in the citation Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 115 (1973), the pincite is 115.

Pincites can consist of more than one page, in which case you should provide a page range. You should indicate the first and last page of the range separated by a single dash. There should be no spaces between the page numbers and the dash, for example, 83-84. If the page numbers consist of three or more digits, you must drop any repetitive digits other than the last two digits, for example, 1195-96. To cite multiple pages that are not consecutive, list the pages you want to cite, separated by a comma and one space, for example, 119, 124, 126.

See examples of pincites for unreported opinions below.

Unpublished (Unreported) Opinions

Federal rules provide that federal courts must allow parties to cite unpublished (or unreported) opinions issued on or after January 1, 2007. Exceptions for unpublished/unreported opinions issued prior to 2007 include to establish the law of the case and if no published opinion would serve as well. 

Bluebook Rule B10.1.4 and Rule 10.8.1 provide instructions and examples for citing "unreported" opinions in Westlaw Edge and Lexis Advance. The correct citation for unpublished federal court opinions includes:

1. the case name;
2. the case docket number; 
3. the database identifier and electronic report number; 
4. the star page number; and
4. the court and full date parenthetical.

For example, if the Lawson opinion on the federal district court or court of appeals level had been unreported, it might look like this:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 08-10466-DPW, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76461, at *8 (D. Mass. July 28, 2010). 
Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 10-2240, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 2083, at *20 (1st Cir. Feb. 3, 2012). 

Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 08-10466-DPW, 2010 WL 45678, at *8 (D. Mass. July 28, 2010). 
Lawson v. FMR LLC, No. 10-2240, 2012 WL 23679, at *20 (1st Cir.  Feb. 3, 2012). 

As with published/reported cases, you use Table 6 (case names), Table 7 (court names), and Table 10 (geographical terms) for abbreviations. 

Prior & Subsequent History

Bluebook Rule B10.1.6 and Rule 10.7 require the subsequent history of a case when it is cited in full, except for denials of certiorari and similar discretionary appeals, with exceptions (see Rule 10.7).

For example, In 2014, the United States Supreme Court reversed the First Circuit Court of Appeals decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC. The correct Bluebook citation reflects its subsequent history:

Lawson v. FMR LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012), rev'd, 571 U.S. 429 (2014).

Table 7 provides a list of explanatory phrases for prior and subsequent history. The list includes abbreviations and indicates which phrases should be followed by a comma.

Omit the history of a case on remand and the prior history of a caseunless it is significant to the point for which you are citing the case (see Rule 10.7).

Short Form Citations

You need only cite a case in full the first time it is cited in a legal memo or brief.  Subsequent citation forms should use a short form of the citation. Rule B10.2 in The Bluebook covers basic short form for cases.

If you are citing to the case that was cited in the immediately preceding citation, you must use an id. short form. If you are citing to the same exact page as the immediately preceding citation, simply cite "Id." If you are citing to a different page of the immediately preceding citation, cite "Id. at ___" (insert page number(s)). Remember that you cannot use "id." if there is more than one authority cited in the immediately preceding citation.

If you are citing to an authority that was not cited in the immediately preceding citation or you are citing to a case that was cited in the immediately preceding citation with another source, you will use a different short form. You will cite:

  • the name of the first party italicized or underlined, unless that party is a geographical or governmental entity, in which case you would use the name of the second party listed (for example, "Roe v. Wade" would become "Roe") 
  • the volume and name of the reporter (ex., 410 U.S.)
  • at the page number on which the material you citing to is located (at 115).

The long form of Roe v. Wade: Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).
The short form of Roe v. Wade if Roe v. Wade was cited in the immediately preceding citation: Id. at 115.

T
he short form of Roe v. Wade if there's an intervening citation to another source: Roe, 410 U.S. at 115.
 

Never use a short form citation that would be ambiguous.