The Case Brief
A case brief is a short and concise summary of a judicial decision.
A case brief is usually done for the purposes of class discussion, but it also can act as a useful reference when conducting research for a legal memorandum or appellate brief.
A case brief usually consists of:
Title and citation
Procedure and facts
Reasons for decision
Concurring and/or dissenting opinions
Significance of decision
Title and Citation
The title of the case shows which parties oppose which parties. The person who initiated the litigation or appeal will appear first (Brown in the below example). The citation provides the location in a case reporter. The first number in the citation is the volume, the second set of numbers and/or letters is the abbreviated name of the reporter, and the final number is the page in the reporter on which the case begins.
Example:Brown v. Board of Education, 344 U.S. 1 (1952)
Procedure and Facts
The procedure section provides a statement of how the case made it to the court (lower court decisions and appeals). The facts section provides a brief summary of the legal and factual issues that gave rise to the litigation.
Note: Do not simply copy the facts as dictated by the judge in her decision. Judges often include extraneous and unnecessary facts. The goal of the facts section is to reduce the facts into a few short, concise sentences.
The legal issues should be one or two sentences that summarize the issue before the court. A well-written decision will state the issue clearly at the outset.
Example: Whether a contract may be formed by silent assent.
The holding section should be, like the issues section, one or two sentences that summarize the courts decision.
Example: Yes, a contract may be formed by silent assent so long as the assent is mutual.
Reasons for Decision
The reasons for decision section should be one or two paragraphs that outline the basis for the decision of the court. This section often is the most lengthy in the case brief. It should provide an analysis of the underlying legal and factual issues that formed the court’s opinion.
Concurring and/or Dissenting Opinions
If the case contains concurring and/or dissenting opinions, the brief should discuss these points as well. Note major points of disagreement and the reasons for disagreement. Note which judges signed on to each opinion.
Significance of Decision
This section should answer the question “Why am I reading this case?” If the case was from a textbook or casebook, it was placed there for a reason (usually because the case is current law or it explains the historical development of the current law). A case is not fully briefed until this question can be answered.