How to Read a Legal Citation

This is a brief introduction designed for beginning first year law students on how to read a legal citation.

How to read a citation to a federal court case

A full case citation includes the names, or parties, of the case (Rule 10.2); the case reporter where it is published (Rule 10.3); a parenthetical that indicates the court and jurisdiction (Rule 10.4); and the date/year of the decision (Rule 10.5).  Remember, not all cases (except Supreme Court cases) are published.

Example of a U.S. Supreme Court case citation:

Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003)

Lawrence v. Texas 539 U.S. 558 (2003)
Party Names Case Reporter Citation Parenthetical


Federal Case Reporter Chart

Case Reporters
Call Number
United States Supreme Court
  Supreme Court Reporter (West) S. Ct. KF 101 W4
  United States Reports (Official) U.S. KF 101
  United State Supreme Court Reports / Lawyer’s Edition (Lexis) U.S.L.Ed. KF 101 L31
Circuit Court of Appeals


  Federal Reporter F. KF 105 W402
  Federal Reporter, Second Series F. 2d KF 105 W403
  Federal Reporter, Third Series F. 3d KF 105 W404

Federal District Trial Courts

  Federal Supplement F. Supp. KF 105 W42
  Federal Supplement, Second Series F. Supp. 2d KF 105 W43


Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.): The West Publishing reporter for the Supreme Court. In addition to the Court's Opinion and the Syllabus, S. Ct. introduces each case with a series of so-called "headnotes" distilling and categorizing major legal conclusions in the opinion.

KF 101 W4  Mabie Stacks


United States Reports (U.S.): The official reporter for decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.  The actual opinion of the Court is preceded by a "syllabus," written by a Court employee, summarizing the issues decided. The Syllabus is not part of the opinion, and should be relied on only for a quick overview of the case. The Supreme Court once rebuked a litigant for carelessly quoting a Syllabus rather than the opinion it inaccurately summarized (200 U.S. 321).

KF 101  Law Stacks


United States Supreme Court Reports / Lawyer's Edition (U.S.L.Ed.): An alternative collection of Supreme Court decisions from the private publisher Lawyers Cooperative (Lexis). L. Ed. 2d is less widely available in the United States than U.S. or S. Ct., although it includes some useful features (such as summaries of the parties' arguments) not found in the more common reporters.

KF 101 L31  Law Stacks


United States Law Week (U.S.L.W.): A looseleaf service published by BNA.  USLW is the most up-to-date hardcopy form of Court decisions, and includes excellent indexes for determining the status of a pending case (or locating a recent opinion) on the basis of party names, subject matter, or docket number.

KF 101.A6 U5  Law Stacks


Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, F.3d): Includes decisions of the federal district and appellate courts through 1925.  There is no equivalent official reporter; this is the only comprehensive printed source for Circuit Court appellate opinions.

  • F.2d (Second Series) Includes appellate court decisions from 1925-1993, and federal claims cases formerly issued in the Federal Supplement.
  • F.3d (Third Series) Includes appellate court decisions from 1993 onward.
  • F. App. Includes federal appellate court decisions from 2001 onward not published in F.3d.

KF 105 W403  Law Stacks


Federal Supplement (F.Supp, F.Supp.2d): Cases argued and determined in the United States District Courts, United States Court of International Trade, Special Court, Regional Rail Reorganization Act and rulings of the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation.  Includes decisions of the federal district courts from 1931-1998.  However, F. Supp. represents only a fraction of the orders issued by federal trial courts.  Other district level cases may appear in Federal Rules Decisions or in West's Bankruptcy Reporter.

  • F. Supp. 2d (Second Series) Includes federal district court decisions from 1998 onward.

KF 105 W42  Law Stacks


Federal Rules Decisions (F.R.D.): Contains cases involving the Federal Rules of Civil or Criminal Procedure.

  • Vol. 1-4 Includes opinions, decisions and rulings involving the Federal rules of civil procedure
  • Vol. 5 onward contains opinions, decisions, and rulings involving the Federal rules of criminal procedure

KF 8830 W4  Law Stacks


West's Bankruptcy Reporter (B.R.): Bankruptcy cases decided in the United States bankruptcy courts, United States district courts, United States courts of appeals, and Supreme Court of the United States

KF 1515.A2 W4  Law Stacks


Tax Court Reporter 

KF 6324.A6 C6  Reserve Collection


Federal Claims Reporter

KF 125.C5 U55  Law Stacks


Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals

KF 853.4 U5  Reserve Collection

Heafey Law Library Research Team