Appendix C | Elements Of The Brief

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Name Of Case

Plaintiff (Abbreviated as Π) v. Defendant (Abbreviated as Δ)

You must be very careful to read the facts of the case attentively in order to differentiate between the plaintiff and the defendant at the trial level and the appellant and the appellee at the appellate level. In the case name as it appears in a text, the names of the parties may have been reversed
if the plaintiff was successful at the trial level and the defendant has now filed an appeal. In the appellate case, the defendant’s name may be listed first because he or she has now become the appellant, as the party bringing the appeal. Thus, a case originally brought under the name of Smith v. Jones at the trial level may now be cited as Jones v. Smith because Jones, the original defendant and party who lost at the trial level, is now the appellant. As such, Jones’ name will be listed first. Since most of the cases you will read will be appellate cases, you must be especially mindful of this point. When in doubt, consult the original text of the case to ascertain the position of the parties.

Facts

A very brief, short hand statement of why the parties are in court should be recited. The facts should at a minimum include the key elements of the dispute, the theory of the plaintiff’s case, and the defense raised by the defendant, if any. At the conclusion of the fact section, always state who was the prevailing or winning party at the trial level and which party filed the appeal.

Issue Or Question

This is the key to the case! What is the very specific issue or question the court was called upon to decide? Formulating the issue is a very important task. It will take practice to state the issue precisely and not in too general terms. Sometimes the court may help you by using the words “issue” or “question.” Sometimes the task is much more difficult. Remember, just as in Jeopardy, the issue or question should always be stated in the form of a question! The issue should be stated in one clear and concise sentence.

Decision And Remedy

The decision, of course, will state which party won the case, i.e., the party for whom the judgment was rendered. Was the decision of the trial court upheld, reversed, modified, overruled, etc? What was the final ruling of the court? Be sure you are careful in stating the decision of the court. State precisely what remedy the court ordered, what the court decided, or what it ordered the parties to do. Sometimes a court will use the word “holding” in stating its decision.

Reason Or Rule

This is perhaps the most important part of a case. It is the statement of the legal principle or rule which not only helped to decide this case, but which will be helpful in deciding all future cases which involve similar facts. In many cases, this may be considered the precedent or rule of the case. Note that if the case cites, refers to, or relies on other cases, a Restatement of one of the various areas of the law (contracts, torts, agency, etc.), a special text (Wigmore, Corbin, Williston, etc.), or a statute, you should cite these under an “authority for the rule.” Finally, if a rule has several elements, you should state these elements clearly and distinctly.

Reaction

A personal comment might be in order for some cases. Do you agree that the case was decided in a proper way? Did the “right person” win? Is the decision legally correct? Is the decision “ethically” correct? This is generally not a required part of the brief, but it is, of course, an important part of the process of legal reasoning and of “thinking like a lawyer.” In some cases, however, you will be required to write a brief, one paragraph reaction to the result reached in the case. These “reaction paragraphs” (usually dealing with an issue involving ethics or public policy) will be specially noted in the course outline and will answer some specific questions raised in the cases.

Once you have “briefed” a case, the important part of the case—what you will need to remember and recall—will generally be the legal rule or precedent established in the case. It might be well to keep a special portion of your notebook reserved for recording these important legal rules. These precedents or legal rules will help you in deciding future cases, solving problems, etc., since, as you are aware, law is deductive in nature; that is, we use general rules or principles to solve important problems and to resolve specific questions. In some cases, a rule becomes so identified with a particular case that you will remember the rule as the “Rule of X Case”, or the “X Principle” or the “Rule of X v. Y.” An example might be the Rule of Lucy v. Zehmer, concerning the objective test used to determine if an offer has been made, the Rule of Wenger v. Rosinsky, concerning undue influence, or the Rule of Adams v. Lindsell, the “mailbox rule.”

All of this will become second nature to you by the time you complete your first course in law.

 

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