Writing a Case Brief Examples : How to Brief a Case & Case Summary Guide
What is a Case Brief?
A case brief is a critical tool used in legal practice to analyze and summarize a legal argument. It is a document that presents the key facts, legal issues, and holdings of a court’s opinion. A case brief enables legal professionals to understand and remember a case, as well as to use it as a legal precedent for future cases. In appellate courts, a party’s brief serves as a persuasive argument to convince the judge to rule in their favor. These documents are an essential part of the legal process and are often accessible to the public, allowing individuals to understand the arguments presented in a court case. In conclusion, a case brief is a crucial document that helps legal professionals to analyze, understand, and argue legal cases effectively.
How to write a Case Brief | Guidelines on How to Brief a Case
When studying a court case, it may present some challenges, such as unfamiliar legal terminology and difficulty in determining what is significant to the decision and what is dicta. Briefing the case is a helpful study tool that assists in separating crucial information from the irrelevant, enabling better understanding of the court’s decision.
What to Include in a Case Brief:
A standard case brief usually contains the following information:
Case Name and Citation: The name and citation of the case being studied.
Court Level: The level of court in which the case is being decided.
Parties: The identity of the plaintiff and defendant in the original case and the appellant and appellee in the appeal.
Dates: The year when the trial was held, when the decision was issued, and when the appeals were heard.
Trial Court Decision: The outcome of the trial court level, i.e., who won the case.
Appellate Court Decision: The outcome of the appeal court level, i.e., who won the appeal.
Complaint: The original complaint that led to the case.
Facts: The facts that led to the complaint.
Statute or Legal Action: The statute or legal action involved.
Legal Question: The legal question or issue that the court is being asked to address.
Rule or Test: The rule or test that the court is using to decide the case.
Decision: The court’s decision, i.e., whether the original decision was affirmed, reversed, or remanded.
Reasoning: The court’s reasoning for reaching the decision.
Concurring and Dissenting Opinions: Whether there were any concurring or dissenting opinions and the reasoning behind them.
Social and Cultural Factors: Any social or cultural factors that influenced or were involved in the case.
Significance: The significance of the case.
How to Answer the Main Questions:
The main questions you should answer when briefing a case are:
What are the FACTS?
What LEGAL QUESTION or ISSUE is the court trying to answer?
What is the DECISION? (also known as the “holding”)
What is the RULE or TEST the court used to reach its decision?
What is the court’s REASONING?
Case Brief Grading Rubric:
Case briefs will be graded on a complete/incomplete basis. Complete briefs will receive full points, while incomplete briefs will receive zero points. The grading criteria include whether all sections of the case brief are completed in a clear, well-written manner.
Case Brief Formatting:
A case brief is a concise summary of a court opinion or decision, usually prepared by law students or lawyers as a study aid or for legal research purposes. It is important to format a case brief properly to ensure that it includes all the necessary information and is organized in a clear and logical manner. In this guide, we will cover the standard format for how to brief a case, summary formatting of a Case Brief:
- Heading The heading should include the name of the case, the court that issued the opinion, the date of the decision, and the docket number. The heading should be centered at the top of the page and should be in all caps.
Example: SMITH V. JONES SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES DECIDED JUNE 1, 2022 DOCKET NO. 21-1234
- Caption The caption should include the names of the parties involved in the case, their status (e.g. plaintiff or defendant), and the name of the court that issued the opinion. The caption should be centered below the heading and should also be in all caps.
Example: PLAINTIFF: JOHN SMITH DEFENDANT: JANE JONES COURT: SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
- Body The body of the case brief should be divided into separate sections, including the facts, procedural history, issues, holding, reasoning, and disposition. These sections should be clearly labeled and presented in the following order:
- Citation The citation of the case should be included at the end of the case brief. The citation should include the name of the case, the volume and page number of the reporter where the case can be found, the name of the court that issued the opinion, the date of the decision, and the docket number.
Example: Smith v. Jones, 123 U.S. 456 (2022).
In this view, a well-formatted case brief should be organized, clear, and concise. By following the standard format described above, you can ensure that your case brief includes all the necessary information and is easy to read and understand.
Sample Case Brief I
JUST/LEGL 443 Spring 2022
Case Brief #9: United States v. Leon 468 U.S. 897, (1984)
Acting from information revealed by a confidential informant, officers of the Burbank PD, in California embarked on a drug-trafficking investigation and arrest. A search warrant was given to search Leon’s residence. Here a huge quantity of illegal drugs was discovered. The affidavit which allowed for the search warrant to be issued was later discovered to be insufficient. Leon, the respondent’s lawyer filed for a motion to suppress all evidence seized using the warrant This led to all the drug and evidence sourced within the arrest to be deemed insufficient at trial, and effectively thrown out of the case.
2. Legal Question/ Issue
Establish parameters wherein the exclusionary rule can be enacted and as such establish whether the evidence obtained under a search warrant issued by a judge, but later discovered to be unsupported by probable cause shall be excluded
The court found that exclusionary rule does not apply in this case as the officers acted in good faith. The evidence obtained through the warrant could only be suppressed in the case that the officers are identified to have been working recklessly or in outright false to obtain the warrant. The exclusionary rule as expressed under the forth amendment of the US constitution, only works to deter the state and its instruments of power from misconduct and is not meant to punish the judge, and magistrate for their errors in dispensing justice where there is a clear wrongful action.
4. Reasoning of Majority
(J. Byron White). The judges are not attached to police departments and work as neutral officers in the criminal justice system. They have no significant stake in the outcome of the case or any other criminal prosecution. There is no evidence that, as such, should lead the defendant to think that the judges are likely to ignore the 4th amendment rights as proferred in the US constitution. Additionally, suppression of evidence should be based on case-by-case basis, and in such cases distinct circumstances will work to promote exclusionary rule, one being evidence to show that the police officers did not act in good faith and lawfully. The officers reliance on the affidavit by the informant was objectively reasonable and in good faith of the law, and they did not in any manner mean to mislead the magistrate through reckless disregard of the truth. Leon’s motion to suppress the evidence was denied.
5. Reasoning of Concurrence
(J. Harry Blackmun). In the case that it emerges, negative what was discovered that the police were not acting in good faith relative to the exclusionary rule plea result, it would be effected that they were non-compliant to the Fouth Amendment, as such the courts will have the right to reconsider the confirmation in the case that was in favor of the US government.
6. Reasoning of Dissent
(J William Brennan, J Thurgood Marshall). The 4th amendment in the US constitution must be enforced equally across all incidences and not relative to the case at hand (case-to-case basis). The amendment is aimed to prevent any form of encroachment to individual privacy by the government whether it was errored or intentional. The major use of the rule is to promote police force compliance with the fourth amendment rights rather than find a way to circumvent its application. The good faith exception is a loop hole that may be used by the PDs to encourage bare minimum in respect to sourcing warrants from courts.
Sample Case Brief II
Case brief of “Roe v. Wade”
Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)
Roe v. Wade is a landmark Supreme Court case that established the constitutional right to abortion in the United States.
In 1970, a woman named Norma McCorvey (who used the pseudonym “Jane Roe” in court documents) filed a lawsuit against Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas County, Texas, challenging the state’s criminalization of abortion except in cases where the mother’s life was at risk. McCorvey, who was pregnant and seeking an abortion, argued that the Texas law violated her constitutional right to privacy.
III. Procedural history
The case was first heard in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, which ruled in favor of Wade. McCorvey then appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which also ruled in favor of Wade. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.
The issue before the Supreme Court was whether the Texas law criminalizing abortion except in cases where the mother’s life was at risk violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which protects the right to privacy.
The Supreme Court held that the Texas law was unconstitutional and violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Court recognized that the right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion, and that this right is fundamental. The Court held that the state’s interest in protecting prenatal life becomes compelling only after viability, and that prior to viability, the decision to have an abortion must be left to the woman and her doctor.
The Roe v. Wade decision has had a significant impact on American society and politics. It has been the subject of ongoing debate and controversy, and has influenced the national conversation around reproductive rights and women’s health. The decision has been both praised and criticized, with some arguing that it has protected women’s rights and health, while others argue that it has led to the legalization of immoral and unethical practices.
Roe v. Wade remains a landmark decision in American law and is considered one of the most important Supreme Court cases in U.S. history. Its impact on reproductive rights and the ongoing political debate surrounding those rights continues to be felt today.
Sample Case Brief III
Case Brief of “Texas v. Johnson”
Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)
Texas v. Johnson is a landmark Supreme Court case that dealt with the question of whether desecration of the American flag is protected under the First Amendment as a form of symbolic speech.
During the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, Texas, Gregory Johnson participated in a demonstration protesting the policies of the Reagan administration. During the protest, Johnson burned an American flag and was subsequently arrested by Dallas police. Johnson was convicted at trial of violating a Texas statute that criminalized the desecration of the American flag. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Johnson’s conviction and the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to hear the case.
III. Legal Question/Issue
The legal issue before the Supreme Court was whether the act of burning the American flag is protected under the First Amendment as a form of symbolic speech.
The Supreme Court held that the act of burning the American flag is political expression protected by the First Amendment. The state’s interest in preserving the flag as a symbol of nationhood and national unity does not justify criminal conviction for such conduct.
V. Reasoning of Majority
Justice Brennan, writing for the majority, reasoned that Johnson’s conduct constituted expressive conduct, allowing him to raise a First Amendment claim. While governments have more latitude in regulating conduct compared to pure speech, they must still demonstrate a sufficiently important governmental interest in regulating the activity in question. Texas’s stated interests – preventing breaches of the peace and preserving the flag as a symbol of national unity – were insufficient to prohibit Johnson’s expressive conduct. The government cannot prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds that idea offensive or disagreeable.
VI. Reasoning of Concurrence
Justice Kennedy, in a separate concurrence, acknowledged that while the flag holds a special place in American society, the Constitution mandates the outcome expressed by the majority. Sometimes justices have to make decisions they don’t like, but they do so because they are right.
VII. Reasoning of Dissent
Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justices White and O’Connor, dissented, arguing that freedom of expression is not absolute, and conduct may be prohibited in light of legitimate governmental interests. Here, those interests outweighed Johnson’s expression, as his conduct had the tendency to incite a breach of the peace. The American flag is a visible symbol embodying the nation, not representing a political idea or philosophy.
Justice Stevens also dissented, arguing that the question of flag desecration is unique, and cases involving other forms of symbolic expression are not dispositive of it. The nation’s flag symbolizes the values worth fighting for, such as liberty and equality, and as such, it cannot be true that the flag is not itself worthy of protection from unnecessary desecration.
The Texas v. Johnson decision has had a significant impact on the national conversation around free speech and the First Amendment. The decision has been both praised and criticized, with some arguing that it has upheld the core principles of the First Amendment, while others argue that it has undermined the importance of the American flag as a national symbol.
Texas v. Johnson remains a landmark decision in American law and is considered one of the most important Supreme Court cases in U.S. history. Its impact on the national conversation around free speech and the First Amendment continues to be felt today.
Salomon v Salomon  AC 22 (HL)
Salomon v Salomon is a leading case in the field of corporate law, decided by the House of Lords in 1897. The case established the principle of corporate personality and the concept of limited liability, which has since become the foundation of company law in many countries.
Facts: Mr. Salomon was a leather merchant who decided to incorporate his business as a limited liability company. He owned most of the shares in the company, and his family members owned the rest. The company later went into liquidation, and the liquidator sought to make Mr. Salomon personally liable for the company’s debts.
Issue: The primary issue before the court was whether the company was a separate legal entity or merely an agent or nominee of Mr. Salomon.
Decision: The House of Lords held that the company was indeed a separate legal entity, and Mr. Salomon was not liable for its debts beyond the value of his shares. The court also held that the company’s assets should be used to pay its creditors before any payment was made to Mr. Salomon.
Reasoning: The court based its decision on the principle of corporate personality, which recognizes that a company is a legal person distinct from its members. The court found that the company was properly incorporated under the Companies Act and had a separate legal identity from its members. Therefore, Mr. Salomon was entitled to the limited liability protection provided by the law.
Impact: The decision in Salomon v Salomon has had a significant impact on the development of company law. The case established the concept of limited liability, which has allowed businesses to incorporate as separate legal entities and protect shareholders from personal liability for the company’s debts. However, the decision has also been criticized for facilitating fraudulent activities and allowing individuals to abuse the corporate form.
Salomon v Salomon is a seminal case in the history of company law that established the principle of corporate personality and limited liability. The decision has had a significant impact on the development of company law and remains a significant legal precedent to this day.
People v. Hall is a famous California case, also known as “The People of the State of California v. George W. Hall”. It is a landmark case in California law that was decided by the California Supreme Court in 1854. The citation for the case is 4 Cal. 399 (1854).
Sample Case Brief:
Case Name: The People of the State of California v. George W. Hall (People v. Hall)
Citation: 4 Cal. 399 (1854)
Parties: The People of the State of California (plaintiff) and George W. Hall (defendant)
Facts: In 1854, a Chinese man named Ling Sing was killed by a group of men, including the defendant George W. Hall, while they were attempting to forcibly remove him from a mining camp in California. Hall and the other men were charged with murder, but they argued that they were not guilty because they believed that Chinese people were not allowed to testify in court, and therefore, they believed they had the right to kill Ling Sing without fear of legal consequences.
Issues: The primary issue in this case was whether Chinese people were legally permitted to testify in court, and whether the defendant and his accomplices were justified in killing Ling Sing based on their belief that he was not entitled to legal protection.
Ruling: The California Supreme Court ruled that Chinese people were, in fact, permitted to testify in court, and that the defendant and his accomplices had no legal justification for killing Ling Sing. The court held that the right to life and protection of the law applied to all individuals, regardless of their race or ethnicity, and that the belief that Chinese people were not permitted to testify in court was not based on any valid legal authority.
Analysis: The People v. Hall is a landmark case in California law, and it helped to establish the legal rights of Chinese immigrants in California during a time of significant racial prejudice and discrimination. The case highlights the importance of protecting the rights of all individuals, regardless of their race or ethnicity, and serves as a reminder that no one is above the law. The decision in People v. Hall also helped to pave the way for future legal challenges to discriminatory laws and practices, and it continues to be cited as an important precedent in modern legal cases.
The ruling in People v. Hall was a significant victory for the legal rights of Chinese immigrants in California, and it remains an important landmark case in American legal history. The case helped to establish the principle that all individuals are entitled to the protection of the law, regardless of their race or ethnicity, and it has had a lasting impact on the development of American law and legal culture.
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Some of the other Brief Cases we have assisted law students on include:
- Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was a landmark case that addressed the question of whether corporations and labor unions have a First Amendment right to engage in political spending. The case reached the United States Supreme Court, which held that such spending was protected under the First Amendment. This decision opened the door for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns. The case continues to be a source of controversy and debate in the political sphere.
- Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov (2019): This case was based on a challenge to the standard of review applied by Canadian courts when reviewing decisions made by administrative tribunals. The Supreme Court of Canada held that the traditional “reasonableness” standard should be used in most cases, but that the standard could be displaced if the decision at issue involved a question of law of central importance to the legal system or if the tribunal’s decision was not within its jurisdiction. The decision was seen as a significant development in Canadian administrative law, as it clarified the standard of review framework and provided guidance to courts and tribunals on how to approach judicial review.
- Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was a case that centered around the issue of whether a for-profit corporation could claim a religious exemption from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception coverage to their employees. The case was ultimately decided by the Supreme Court, which held that closely held corporations with religious objections could claim such an exemption. This decision was seen as a significant victory for religious freedom advocates and was criticized by those who saw it as an erosion of reproductive rights.
- Uber BV and others v Aslam and others (2021): This case involved the question of whether Uber drivers should be classified as workers or self-employed individuals. The UK Supreme Court held that Uber drivers were workers and therefore entitled to certain employment rights, such as the minimum wage and paid leave. The decision was seen as a significant victory for gig economy workers and could have major implications for other companies in the gig economy.
- Wayfair v. South Dakota (2018) Wayfair v. South Dakota was a case that dealt with the question of whether states can require out-of-state retailers to collect and remit sales tax on sales to customers within the state. The case reached the Supreme Court, which held that states can impose such requirements, even if the retailer does not have a physical presence in the state. This decision was seen as a significant shift in the tax landscape and had major implications for online retailers. Many experts predict that the decision will lead to a significant increase in state tax revenues in the years to come.
- Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) v Westpac Banking Corporation (2020): It involved allegations that Westpac had breached Australia’s anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws. The Federal Court held that Westpac had breached the laws in question on over 23 million occasions, and imposed a record-breaking fine of $1.3 billion AUD. The decision was seen as a significant victory for regulators seeking to crack down on financial crime, and underscored the importance of complying with anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulations.