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Bluebook Legal Citation

A guide to legal citation using Bluebook rules.

Case citation example

Below is an example of a case citation.  This page will briefly covers the rules governing case citations.  For more in-depth information about the parts of a case citation, please see "citations explained" in Tarlton's Finding a Case guide. 

Katz v. United States, 369 F.2d 130 (9th Cir. 1966), rev'd, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).

Case name rules

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.2

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary; italics for procedural phrases

In general, rule 10.2 provides guidelines for creating simple and straightforward case names from the list of parties given at the beginning of every case report.

Rule 10.2 applies to both case names in textual sentences and citations and is divided into two sub-rules, designated rules 10.2.1 and 10.2.2Rule 10.2.1 applies to case names in both textual sentences and citations, while rule 10.2.2 applies only to case names contained in citations.  The primary difference, however, is that rule 10.2.2 provides additional guidance for a more extensive abbreviation of words appearing in case names, including all words appearing in table T6 and geographic terms in table T10.

Some of the basic rules are as follow:

    1) Omit parties or actions other than the first listed
        Moe and Curly v. Larry v. Schemp -> Moe v. Larry
    2) Omit words indicating multiple parties, such as "et al.
    3) Omit given names
        Basil Schaban-Maurer v. Anna Maurer-Schaban -> Schaban-Maurer v. Maurer-Schaban
    4) Omit geographic terms such as "State of" or "City of"
        Daniel Rey v. The State of Texas -> Rey v. State

NOTE: Only use "State" as a party name when citing opinions within that state; otherwise use a state's proper name. 

    5) Abbreviate commonly known acronyms and the 8 words listed in rule 10.2.1(c)
        Securities and Exchange Commission v. Kern -> S.E.C. v. Kern
    6) Omit multiple terms designating a party as a business entity
        Acme Inc., Co. v. Wile E. Coyote -> Acme Inc. v. Coyote

NOTE: NEVER abbreviate United States as "U.S." when it is a named party.  Instead always write out "United States."  While "U.S." is often used in case reporter headings, it is not allowed by the Bluebook because "U.S." is the preferred abbreviation for the United States Reports, the official report for United States Supreme Court decisions.  This rule does not apply when the United States is the author of book, treatise, or report, as is discussed here in this guide.

Reporter rules

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.3

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary; italics for procedural phrases

Case decisions are most frequently published in bound reporters.  A proper citation to a decision in a bound reporter will indicate:

  1. the volume of the reporter;
  2. an abbreviation of the reporter; and
  3. the page upon which the case begins, followed by a pincite for a specific page cited if any.

There are many different reporters, both official and unofficial.  In court documents and filings, parallel citations to the same case as it appears in multiple reporters are often required.  As a general rule, however, the Bluebook does not require parallel citations.

Rule 10.3.1 discusses parallel citations.  Bluebook rule 10.3.1(b) states that citations to the appropriate regional reporter are preferred.  Bluebook table T1 provides guidance on how to properly abbreviate reporter names.  For quick reference, you may consult the "Examples of Abbreviations" material in Tarlton's "Finding a Case" guide. 

Rules 3.1 and 3.2 apply to volume and page numbers, respectively.  Note that volume numbers should be cited using Arabic numerals (1,2,3) even if they appear as Roman numerals (XXV) in the original source.  Page numbers, however, may be cited as either Arabic or Roman numerals, depending on how they appear in the original source:

            Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950).

The proper way to cite to a specific page within a case is to place a comma and "pincite" to the specific page after the first-page citation:

            Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629, 632 (1950).

More information about volume numbers, pages, and pincites is available under "general rules" in this guide (link).

Public Domain Format

The only time the bluebook strictly requires a parallel citation is when a decision has also been published in a public domain format.

Court and year parentheticals

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.4 (Court & Jurisdiction) & 10.5 (Year)

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary

After the reporter citation and pincite, if any, information related to the court and year of decision is placed in a parenthetical.  Rule 10.4 describes what information must be included in this parenthetical.  The information required by the bluebook can and will vary depending upon:

  1. whether a case was decided by a state or federal court;
  2. the level of the court within the court hierarchy, and, in some cases;
  3. which reporter is being cited.

Federal Cases

In general, cases decided by the United States Supreme Court do not require any case information within the parenthetical, just the year of decision:

Sweatt v. Painter, 339 U.S. 629 (1950).

When citing either a case decided by a federal district court or federal court of appeals, however, you should include both court information and year of decision.

Edgewater Foundation v. Thompson, 350 F.3d 694 (7th Cir. 2003).

Adams v. United States, 350 F.3d 1216 (Fed. Cir. 2003).

 Warren Publ'g Co. v. Spurlock, 645 F.Supp.2d 402 (E.D. Pa. 2009).

NOTE: in citations, numeric ordinals ending in "2nd" or "3rd" are written as "2d" or "3d":

 Wilson v. Aschcroft, 350 F.3d 377 (3d Cir. 2003). 

State Cases

State case citations will typically be to one of the regional reporters.

Valadez v. Avitia, 238 S.W.3d 843 (Tex. App. El Paso 2007).

Mills Realty, Inc. v. Wolff, 910 S.W.2d 320 (Mo. App. E.D. 1995).

There are a few special rules for state case citations.  First, you do not need to indicate the deciding court if it is the highest court, just the state:

Seeco, Inc. v. Hales, 22 S.W.3d 157 (Ark. 2000).

Another is that you do not need to indicate the state if the reporter cited unambiguously indicates which state issued it:

DiLucia v. Madelker, 493 N.Y.S.2d 769 (App. Div. 1985).

Both rules would apply when citing a decision of the highest court appearing in an official state reporter:

Bates v. Tappan, 99 Mass. 376 (1868).

Parenthetical rules

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.6

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary

Additional parenthetical information follows the court and year parenthetical.  There are three main types of parenthetical information that may be given and which should be always be listed in the following order (rule 10.6.4):

  1. weight of authority;
  2. quoting or citing parentheticals; and
  3. explanatory parentheticals.

Weight of Authority Parentheticals

This parenthetical will indicate the weight of a decision or the portion of the decision being cited (rule 10.6.1).

Quoting or Citing Parentheticals

This parenthetical is used when the case being cited is itself citing or quoting another case. After noting whether a case was cited or quoted include the full case citation following the same rules and typeface conventions as any other case citation (see rule 10.6.3). 

Explanatory Parentheticals

Explanatory parentheticals provide additional information about the proposition for which a case has been cited and are strongly encouraged when there is an inferential step between an author's statement in the text and the cited source. Note that explanatory parentheticals and phrases are encouraged for other citations as well, including secondary sources, especially when an inferential step is indicated by the signal.

Often, although not always, explanatory parentheticals begin with a present participle verb (holding, arguing, noting, etc.) and then briefly indicate why the case was cited.

Case history

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.7

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary

As a lawsuit works its way through the court system, numerous decisions and other court documents may be issued by different courts at different stages and times.  Depending on which decision or document is being cited, the other decisions will be referred to as either prior or subsequent history. 

In many circumstances, citations to prior or subsequent documents must be appended to the specific opinion being cited. A partial list of the explanatory phrases indicating a case's prior or subsequent history (rev'd, aff'g, overruled, abrogated, etc.) can be found in table T8.

Short form citations

Bluebook Rule (21st): 10.9

Law Review Typeface: Ordinary

In limited circumstances, case decisions may be cited in an abbreviated citation known as a "short form."  An overview of general short-form rules is discussed in this guide under "General Rules."

What are those limited circumstances?

  1. The case is already cited in the same footnote, or
  2. The case is cited in one of the preceding five footnotes.

In all other circumstances, the full citation is required.