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5.2: Case Reading Strategies

Language Clues for Case Reading

  1. Facts
  2. Procedural History
  3. Issue
  4. Rule
  5. Discussion of prior law
  6. Holding
  7. Reasoning/Analysis/Rationale
  8. Disposition


  • Facts
    • The story of the conflict.
    • Past tense verbs.
    • Things that happened before the case was filed in court.
    • No citations.
    • Usually in the beginning part of the case.
  • Procedural History
    • Usually close to the beginning of the opinion.
    • Describes things that have happened after the lawsuit was filed.
    • Tells the reader what happened in lower courts before reaching the appellate court
    • Main verbs should be past tense.
    • Includes procedural words like
      • trial court
      • appeal
      • motion
      • dismiss
    • Answers the question: How did this case get to this court?
  • Issue
    • Often phrased as a question using the word “whether”
    • Often starts with a phrase like “The issue is….”
    • Sometimes uses a first-person pronoun (e.g.,. “we”)
    • Could use either present or past tense verbs
  • Rule of the case
    • Should always be in present tense
    • Should have a citation at the end of the sentence (or sometimes in the middle)
    • May have phrases like “the test of whether….. is” or “the authorities above cited emphasize”
    • Speaks generally about the topic or issue (not specific to the facts of the case you are reading)
  • Reasoning/Analysis/Rationale
    • Refers to prior cases.
    • Lots of citations to prior cases.
    • Past tense main verbs.
    • Description of facts from previous cases.
    • Statements of support or disagreement with prior cases.
    • Statements of comparison
    • Statements of conclusion (but not the final holding.)
  • Holding
    • Main verb should be present tense (though past tense verbs may appear in clauses within the sentence)
    • Often uses first-person pronouns (e.g., “We” or “Our”)
    • Often uses phrases that express a conclusion or opinion like “we hold that…” or “it is our opinion” or “in our view”….
    • Mentions specific information about the case.
    • Often near the end of the case. (But occasionally in the beginning or middle.)
  • Disposition
    • Always at the very end
    • Three main possibilities:
      • Affirmed
      • Reversed or vacated
      • Reversed and remanded