Basic Tools and Concepts

Elements of a Case Brief

Background Information

Identify the opinion you are briefing. Include: name of case; identity of parties (plaintiff, defendant, appellee, appellant, respondent, etc); court; date; where you can find the case (cite or page in casebook).

Procedural History

The legal events that led to the decision you are reading. Include what the lower court(s) decided.

Facts

All the facts the court used to make its decision. Include other facts only as necessary for your description to make sense.

Issue

Defines the dispute before the court. Frame the issue in the form of a question. Refer to the governing rule and specify the element that is in controversy. Allude to enough determinative facts to make the issue concrete.

Holding

What the court decided in this particular case; the narrow answer to the issue. Can often be stated as "yes" or "no" response to issue.

Rule of the case

The holding stated as a more general declarative statement that can be used to govern future cases involving similar legal issues and facts.

Reasoning

The steps the court took in arriving at its decision. How did the court apply legal rules to the particular facts of the case to arrive at the holding? If the opinion summarizes them, include the essential points made by each side in their arguments. Include policy reasons: why the court thought the decision it reached was socially desirable.

Judgment or order

What the court did as a result of its holding (e.g. affirm, reverse, remand, etc.)

Concurring/Dissenting Opinions

Summarize essential points.

Evaluation

Critique opinion: did the court convince you? Why or why not? How does this opinion fit in with other cases in your assignment? Did the court write any instructive dicta?