Citation in the United States

Citation Definition

(Lat, citare, to call, to summon). In Practice. A writ issued out of a court of competent jurisdiction, commanding a person therein named to appear on a day named, and do something therein mentioned, or show cause why he should not. Proctor, Prac. The act by which a person is so summoned or cited. It is applied particularly to process from probate and ecclesiastical courts, and to notices issued in special proceedings in some states. It is usually the original process in any proceeding, and is in that respect analogous to the writ of capias or summons at law, and the subpoena in chancery. In the ecclesiastical law, the citation is the beginning and foundation of the whole cause, said to have six requisites, namely, the insertion of the name of the judge, of the promovert, of the impugnant, of the cause of suit, of the place, and of the time of appearance; to which may be added the affixing the seal of the court, and the name of the register or his deputy. In Scotch Practice. The calling of a party to an action done by an officer of the court under a proper warrant. The service of a writ or bill of summons. Paterson, Comp. Of Authorities. The production of or reference to the text of acts of legislatures, treatises, or cases of similar nature decided by the courts, in order to support propositions advanced. (this definition of Citation Is based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary).  See also Citation in the Legal Dictionaries.

Citation in Admiralty Proceeding

A written command by the United States Marshal served upon a vessel or party being sued in an admiralty (in U.S. law) action. See more in Citation in Admiralty Proceeding here

Citation in Probate Proceeding

An official order notifying a person to appear before a probate court. See probate (in U.S. law).

Citation to Legal Authorities

See Citation to Legal Authorities here

Accuracy of citations

The importance of accuracy of citations cannot be overemphasized. A judge is annoyed if he or she cannot find a case cited because of a typographical error in the citation. Misspelling of the name of a well-known case marks the lawyer as either careless or ignorant.

How to cite a constitution

Show the number of the article, or amendment, in Roman numerals; the section number in Arabic numerals. Give date if the constitution cited is not in force. U.S. Const, art. IV, §2

  • U.S. Const, amend. VI, §2
  • Ga. Const, art. XI, §3
  • Ga. Const, art II, §1 C18753

How to cite statutes and codes

See citing statutes and codes

How to cite cases in official reports and reporters

Cases in official reports (in U.S. law) (see official reports and how they are cited in Abbreviations) and reporters are cited alike. Directions for citing cases must be considered in the light of applicable court rules. Some courts lay considerable emphasis on how cases should be cited and where citation to the national reporter system (in U.S. law) (see raporters of National Reporter System) should be included. The following directions are the rules of thumb used in many law offices. (Also see Illustrations of Citations, below.)

Names of parties

See citing names of parties here


Show in parentheses the year the decision is handed down by the court (read more)

Jurisdiction and court

When the name of the reporter does not indicate the jurisdiction, show the jurisdiction in parentheses preceding the date. Also show the name of the court deciding the case if it is not the highest court in the state. This is always necessary when only the unofficial reporter is cited.

Parallel citations

Both the official and unofficial reports should be cited if available. Cite the official report first. When the case has not been published in the official reports, but will be in the future, cite the name of the official report, preceded and followed by blanks.

Federal courts

When citing cases decided by the federal courts of appeals, show the circuit in parentheses. The District of Columbia circuit is indicated by D.C. When citing cases decided in the federal district court, show the district, but not the division, in parentheses.

Selective case series

In some law report series, such as American Law Reports and Law Reports Annotated, only
certain cases are published. These series are cited by the year of publication, the letter of the volume (A, B, C, or D), and page. In parallel citations, they follow the National Reporter citation. It is customary to cite selective case series in briefs for state courts but not in those for federal courts.

Named reporters

Old court reports carry the name of the reporter. When citing cases in the U.S. reports before volume 91, always cite by the volume number and name of the reporter, not by the subsequently assigned consecutive U.S. number. To cite these volumes by the U.S. number is considered bad form.

The following are the names of the old court reports and the number of volumes they reported:

  • 4 of Dallas (cited as 1 Dali. 10)
  • 9 of Cranch [cited as 1 Cranch 10) 12 of Wheaton [cited as 1 Wheat. 10) 16 of Peters [cited as 1 Pet. 10)
  • 24 of Howard [cited as 1 How. 10)
  • 2 of Black [cited as 1 Black 10] 23 of Wallace [cited as 1 Wall. 10]

When citing state cases, follow the local practice. For example, in Massachusetts the early reports are invariably cited by the name of the reporter, whereas in North Carolina a rule of court requires that they be cited by the consecutive number. When the named reporter is used, indicate the jurisdiction and date in parentheses.

String citations

When several cases are cited one after the other instead of on separate lines, the citation is referred to as a string citation. Separate the cases with a semicolon.

How to cite an unpublished case

When citing a case that has not been reported, cite by name, court, the full date, and the docket number if known.

How to cite slip decisions

Each opinion of the United States Supreme Court is published separately as soon as it is handed down. This form of publication is called a slip decision. Slip decisions were printed by the U.S. Government Printing Office and also by two unofficial publishers, Commerce Clearing House (CCH) and U.S. Law Week (in 2013 a product of BloombergBNA). They are, among others, widely circulated and are frequently cited in briefs. Cite by number, court, date of decision, and source if unofficial.

How to cite treatises

Cite by volume number (if more than one volume), author, title of the publication, page or section number, and the edition in parentheses. If the editor is well known, his name follows the edition. Underscore or italicize the title of the publication. In a few well-known works, the paging of the original edition is indicated by stars in differently paginated editions. (Cite by the star page.

How to cite law reviews

Cite the volume and page number and the year. Underscore or italicize the title of the review. If an article is referred to, place it in quotation marks. Abbreviate Law (L.), Review (Rev.), and Journal (J.).

How to cite legal newspapers

When citing a case that has not been published in either the official or unofficial reports but has been published in a legal newspaper, give the name of the newspaper, the volume and page number, the column, the court, and the exact date of the decision.

Underscoring and italicizing

Underscoring and italicizing vary, but the following directions, some of which are arbitrary, are based upon the practices followed by many lawyers:

  • Underscore the names of the parties.
  • In a printed brief, the underscoring of v. or vs. is optional.
  • When a previously cited case is referred to in the text of the brief by part of the title used as an adjective, italicize it. “Under the authority of the Daoud case the Court held . . .”. When the reference is repeated under the same point of the brief, do not italicize it.
  • Italicize case or cases only when it is part of the usual name of the case.
  • It is preferable not to underscore words and expressions between citations of the same case that relate to its history, such as affirmed, certiorari denied, and the like.

Spacing of abbreviations

In briefs the parts of an abbreviation are separated by a space, thus N.E. 2d. In other legal writings, the general practice is to close up the citation, thus N.E.2d. Placement of citations. Unless a citation is part of a quotation, it is indented and placed on the line following the quotation. If it runs over one line, the carryover line is indented. When several citations are given in support of a point, list them one under the other.

Illustrations of citations

Parts appearing in italics would be underscored on the typewriter. Apparent inconsistencies in the italics and in the placement of the dates in the examples demonstrate the variations in accepted practices. However, the secretary should be consistent throughout a brief. (Revised by Ann De Vries)

Legal Materials

The bible for general citation form is The Chicago Manual of Style. The Manual is available in many libraries, and subscribers can use the Chicago Manual of Style Online.

Legal Citations

The bible for legal citation form is The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, published by the Harvard Law Review Association. The Bluebook is also included inPrince’s Bieber Dictionary of Legal Citations, discussed below.

The Bluebook can be confusing, but it is made somewhat clearer by Alan Dworsky’sUser’s Guide to A Uniform System of Citation: The Cure for the Bluebook Blues. Other resources for understanding the Blue Book include Peter W. Martin’s Introduction to Basic Legal Citation and Linda J. Barris’ Understanding and Mastering The Bluebook: A Guide for Students and Practitioners (Carolina Academic Press). Caveat: If you are using a secondary source that is not based on the current edition of The Bluebook, check the current edition to make sure the rule in question has not changed.

Bieber’s Dictionary of Legal Citations (William S. Hein & Co.) is another good source for accepted citation forms. Bieber’s features a reverse dictionary that lets you look up the full names of materials in abbreviated citation format.


      If you can’t figure out an appropriate citation format, search for citations to the material in question in a relevant law review database on Lexis, Westlaw or HeinOnline. Whatever works there should work for you too.

Alternatives to the Bluebook: Several alternatives to the Bluebook have been published in recent decades. In 1986, the University of Chicago Manual of Citation(“The Maroon Book”) was published but not widely adopted. In 1999, the American Association of Law Libraries came out with the Universal Citation Guide, with a second edition in 2005, and a third edition in 2014. In 2000, the Association of Legal Writing Directors produced the ALWD Citation Manual (Aspen Publishers).

For a critical comparison of the Bluebook and the ALWD Manual, see Has theBluebook Met Its Match? The ALWD Citation Manual, 92(3) Law Library Journal 337 (2000).

Historical Case Reporters: To find out the name of the relevant reporter for a given court at a given time in the past, check out the Bluebook and/or the Bibliographical Index to the State Reports Prior to the National Reporter System.

State Citation Manuals: Some states have their own legal citation manuals, such asTexas Rules of Form, the Ohio Manual of Citations, and the New York Law Reports Style Manual, Official Edition (the “Tan Book”). Many of these are listed in The Bluebook (Bluepages Table 2, “Jurisdiction-Specific Citation Rules and Style Guides”). Otherwise, call a relevant state library, bar association library or law school library to find out if such a book exists for a particular state.

Universal Citations: In the 1990s a movement developed to avoid citations dependent on a particular publisher’s version of cases and other primary legal materials (“vendor-neutral citations”). The Universal Citation Guide was designed specifically for this purpose. The Bluebook and the ALWD Citation Manual permit the use of Universal citations. A handful of states have adopted vendor-neutral citation; for the story up to 2007, see Neutral Citation, Court Web Sites, and Access to Authoritative Case Law, 99Law Library Journal 329 (Spring 2007), by Peter W. Martin. Arkansas adopted neutral citation in 2009 (see Arkansas Rule 5-2, “Opinions”), and Illinois followed in 2011 (Illinois Supreme Court Rule 6, “Citations”). See also “Universal Citation and the American Association of Law Libraries,” 103(3) Law Library Journal 331 (Summer 2011).

Citation in Foreign Legal Encyclopedias

For starting research in the law of a foreign country:

Link Description
Citation Citation in the World Legal Encyclopedia.
Citation Citation in the European Legal Encyclopedia.
Citation Citation in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia.
Citation Citation in the UK Legal Encyclopedia.
Citation Citation in the Australian Legal Encyclopedia.

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Meaning of Citation

In plain or simple terms, Citation means: An order of the court requiring the appearance of a defendant on a particular day to answer to a particular charge.


See Also

Abbreviations & Acronyms
Case Pulls
State Cases

Further Reading (Articles)

Citations Issued to City Landlords, Sunday News Lancaster, PA; July 28, 2013; Smedley, Chip

Citation Analysis of Dissertations of Law Submitted to University of Delhi, Delhi, Library Philosophy and Practice; March 1, 2011; Burman, Joginder Singh

Citation’s Haunt: Specters of Derrida, Mosaic (Winnipeg); March 1, 2002; Wolfreys, Julian

Citations and Aberrations, Searcher; July 1, 2007; Tomaiuolo, Nicholas

Citation form: keeping up with the times., Florida Bar Journal; January 1, 2007; Fox, Susan W. Loquasto, Wendy S.

Landlord Citations, Intelligencer Journal/New Era; February 13, 2013

Citation Patterns in the Finance Literature, Financial Management; September 22, 2001; Chung, Kee H. Cox, Raymond A. K. Mitchell, John B.

Customizable Citations, Law & Order; October 1, 2003

Wisconsin OSHA Citations September 18, 2001, Daily Reporter (Milwaukee, WI); September 18, 2001; Daily Reporter Staff

E-CITATIONS: HOW TO GET STARTED!, Policefleet Manager; March 1, 2012; Dees, Tim

Citations in Psychology PhD Theses: An Obsolescence Study, Library Philosophy and Practice; July 1, 2010; Zafrunnisha, N. Reddy, Pulla

Citation Pattern of the Nigerian Journal of Horticultural Science from 1990-2005, Library Philosophy and Practice; April 1, 2012; Oluyemisi Fagbola, Bolanle

Citation form: getting it right., Florida Bar Journal; March 1, 2000; Fox, Susan W.

Citation Analysis of Doctoral Works Submitted to the Department of Animal Science, University of Ibadan, Nigeria, Library Philosophy and Practice; November 1, 2009; Olatokun, Wole Michael

Wisconsin OSHA Citations October 1, 2001, Daily Reporter (Milwaukee, WI); October 1, 2001; Daily Reporter Staff

Wisconsin OSHA Citations October 15, 2001, Daily Reporter (Milwaukee, WI); October 15, 2001; Daily Reporter Staff

Ruining Citation: Two Bay Area wins added to legend but proved colt’s undoing, Oakland Tribune; June 12, 2003; Carl Steward – STAFF WRITER

Jones: Citation Still Stands Alone, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL); July 13, 1996; Sassone, Tim

Student Citation Behaviour in Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria, Library Philosophy and Practice; July 1, 2011; Obuh, Alex Ozoemelem Babatope, Ihuoma Sandra

Citation in the Context of Law Research

The Thurgood Marshall School of Law Library defined briefly Citation as: The reference to authority necessary to substantiate the validity of one’s argument or position. Citation to authority and supporting references is both important and extensive in any form of legal writing. Citation form is also given emphasis in legal writing.Legal research resources, including Citation, help to identify the law that governs an activity and to find materials that explain that law.

Citation: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Citation. This part provides references, in relation to Citation, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Citation by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Citation and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Citation or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Citation and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Citation. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Citation should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Citation when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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