By now, you have had the chance to review the textbook and you can see that it contains LOTS of cases.

| September 11, 2016

Cases To be briefed

Goldberg v. Kelly

Mathews v. Eldridge

Munn v. Illinois


Prof D’s Case Reading & Briefing Tips

Hi Class:)

By now, you have had the chance to review the textbook and you can see that it contains LOTS of cases. Since I’ve not had any of you in previous classes I have no idea of where you all stand in terms of your skills in understanding how to read (and then understand) a court opinion and then prepare a “brief” of the case you just read. These two tasks are related and both are important to your completion of the case briefing assignments.

Every case that you read will be composed of five components.

They are:

· Facts;

· Procedural history;

· Issue;

· Holding;

· Rationale.

A “brief” of the case is nothing more than a summary of each of those five components.

In law school, I was taught a technique called “technicoloring” a case. My civil procedure professor had been teaching that technique for the 60 years (yes …60 years) he had been teaching law. I still use it today whenever I read a case.

Remember that every case you read has 5 components or parts. When you Technicolor, you assign a different color of highlighter or pen (those multi-color pens work great) to each different component of the case as you read it.

I usedgreen to highlight the facts, andred for the procedural history;blue for the issue; black for the holding andblue again for the rationale. (Our pens only had four colors, so we had to improvise) Color coding the components allow you to find them quickly when writing your brief or discussing the case with your attorney.

Cases are not written for entertainment, and therefore, reading a case is different from reading a novel or magazine article. When reading a case you are concerned with how, if at all, that case applies to the facts of your case. To reach that conclusion entails analysis of each of those five components, so that is where your focus should be when reading the case. Find each of them, read each section carefully, then underline the important language and then refer back to those sections of the case when called upon to write your brief. Note that the same 5 components of the case make up the five topics discussed in your brief.


The facts are a synopsis of the essential facts of the case, i.e., those facts bearing upon or leading up to the issue, in a logical sequence. This should tell the reader what happened between the parties that led to the lawsuit. While some cases conveniently state the facts at the beginning of the decision, in other instances the salient facts will have to be culled from their hiding places throughout the text and even from the concurring and dissenting opinions you will find clues about the facts!

As I said, the facts entry should be a short statement of the events and transactions that led one party to initiate legal proceedings against another in the first place. Some of the “facts” will be in dispute and this should be so noted. Hard facts (undisputed) must be included. Both kinds of facts, however, must be relevant in order to be listed in the facts entry. Do not judge which facts are relevant until you have read over the entire case, as the ultimate determination of the rights and liabilities of the parties may turn on
something buried deep in the opinion.

Procedural History:

The procedural history of the case tells the reader what happened in the lawsuit since it was filed. It describes any significant rulings by the court or the jury, any appeals and the outcomes of those appeals. Most of the cases you will be reading are opinions from the appellate courts where the court is asked to review the actions of administrators or of the lower courts. Decisions of state supreme courts or the United States Supreme Court generally involve the review of decisions from the appellate courts.

[Prof D’s Practice Pointer #1]

In reading the facts and procedural history portions of the case make sure you properly identify the role played by a party in a given context, again, where relevant. For
example, in many of the cases you will need to know what governmental entity (federal or state agency, etc.) is involved. It is always helpful, and a good general practice, to avoid using the parties’ proper names and identify them as the “ plaintiff” and the “defendant” or the “appellant” and the “appellee”� . Bear in mind that the party appealing a decision my not always be the plaintiff, if the defendant appeals the decision, they are the appellant and the plaintiff would be the appellee.

When cases reach the state supreme court or the U.S. Supreme Court, the names of the parties change again. The person who seeks to appeal a case to the Supreme Court must “ petition” the court for a “writ of certiorari”. If the petitioner’s writ is granted, the case is heard; if it is denied, the ruling of the lower appellate court stands.

[Prof D’s Practice Pointer #2]

Confusing or misaligning the parties in the procedural history of the case can ruin your analysis and understanding of a court’s opinion. When drafting the procedural history section of your brief, be sure to include how the court (whose opinion you are briefing) ultimately ruled. Make sure you mention whether they affirmed or reversed the actions of the lower court(s) or administrators in their decision as part of your PH.


A statement of the general legal question answered by or illustrated in the case. For clarity, the issue is best put in the form of a question capable of a “yes” or “ no” answer. In reality, the issue is simply the rule of law put in the form of a question. Though the complexity of issues will vary, a concise, single-sentence question will sum up the issue. If a case presents more than one issue, you should express each issue separately in a single-sentence question.

[Prof D’s Practice Pointer #3]

In most appellate cases the legal questions involve reviewing the action of the lower court to determine if a legal error committed by the lower court deprived one of the parties of a fair trial. For example: If the issue on appeal concerned the admission of character evidence at the trial that the defendant argues was prejudicial to their right to a fair trial, the issue in your brief would look something like “[D]id the trial court err in admitting evidence of the defendant’s bad character?


The “holding” of the case, answers the legal question posed by the issue; and is stated simply as either a “yes” or “no”.

In our example above, if the appellate court felt the admission of the character evidence was prejudicial and that the defendant was denied a fair trial as a result, the holding would be “yes”. However, if the court did not view the character evidence as prejudicial, the answer would be “no”. Remember that the holding or ruling of the court only answers the question posed by the issue. In your briefs, limit the “holding” to just that yes or no response. No more.

The explanation for the holding is discussed the rationale or reasoning portion of the brief that immediately follows the holding portion of your brief. Certain “buzzwords” will tip you off to the holding in a case. Look for words or phrases like “we hold”, “ we conclude”.


This is the most important section of the case and your brief. Here you want to focus several important aspects o f the court’s rationale. Be sure to identify the rule(s) of law the Court is clarifying or interpreting. Note the reasons why the Court is adopting one particular interpretation over other potential interpretations of the law. When preparing the rationale section of your case briefs you should include the general principle of law which the case illustrates.��Be careful in selecting the rule of law from the case. Cases typically cite more than one legal ruling. Not every case cited is relied upon by the court in reaching its ultimate conclusion on whether an error occurred.

[Prof D’s Practice Pointer #4]

If prior court cases are raised by the parties be sure to understand how the Court reconciles their decision with prior case law (precedent). Pay particular attention to any case law that the Court relies on and incorporate that case law into your brief to show how the Court is either applying or distinguishing that rule of law in that particular case. Remember that your central focus when reading and briefing cases is on what interpretation of the law does the Court use to resolve the legal issue before it and why?

Sample Brief

Griswold v. Connecticut

381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Procedural History:

Appellants, the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and its medical director, a licensed physician, were convicted as accessories for giving married couples information and medical advice on how to prevent conception and, following examination, prescribing a contraceptive device or material for the wife’s use. A Connecticut statute makes it a crime for any person to use any drug or article to prevent conception. Appellants claimed that the accessory statute as applied violated the Fourteenth Amendment. An intermediate appellate court and the State’s highest court affirmed the judgment. The U.S. Supreme Court granted petitioner Griswold’s writ of certiorari and reversed the decisions of the Connecticut state courts.


Griswold, an Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and a medical doctor were convicted under a state statute that made counseling of married persons who sought to take contraceptives a criminal offense. The state fined each defendant $100 as accessory to the 1879 state statute prohibiting the dissemination of birth control to married persons. The defendants argue that the state law interfered with a right to privacy.

The Court had previously heard a challenge to this same statute in Poe v. Ullman 367 U.S. 497, (1961) but had refused to hear the case on grounds of ripeness.


Did the lower court err in determining that the Connecticut statute was not an unconstitutional violation of a married couple’s right to privacy despite the absence of specific Constitutional language to guarantee that right?

Holding: YES


The Bill of Rights contains certain “penumbras”/ / that flow from explicit Constitutional guarantees. These penumbras give “life and substance” to the Amendments, and they guarantee “zones of privacy” for individuals.

Prior Supreme Court precedent in Meyer v. Nebraska 262 U.S. 390, (1923) recognized that there are rights to marry, raise children, and attain information that is necessary for protecting liberty rights guaranteed through the Due Process Clause. The Court extended liberty rights to parents in Pierce v. Society of Sisters 268 U.S. 510, (1925) which invalidated a state law that required students attend public schools. The Court struck down the law specifically because it interfered with parental rights to control the scope children’s education.

Applying those principles here, married couples should be able to access information regarding birth control. Even though the right to privacy is not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, it should be extended to married couples just as it was to students in the Meyer and Pierce cases.

In summary, the right of marital privacy, although not explicitly stated in the Bill of Rights is implicit in light of other explicit Constitutional guarantees. As such, the Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy is protected against state regulations that interfere with this right. Therefore, the decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court was reversed.

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