Lesson 22 of 21
In Progress

6.1: Case Signals

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Goals:

  • Learn the meaning of introductory case signals in cases.
  • Understand how case signals help readers understand the citations in cases.

Instructions:

  • Read the description and example sentences.
  • Take the quiz to assess your understanding of case signals.

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 Introductory Case Signals

You have learned that US lawyers and judges think in terms of cases. And as you have seen, judges are careful to cite to earlier cases when they write their decisions.

Judges usually include case citations in their decisions. For example, as you have seen, the judge in Lefkowitz wrote, “There are numerous authorities which hold that a particular advertisement in a newspaper or circular letter relating to a sale of articles may be construed by the court as constituting an offer, acceptance of which would complete a contract. J.E. Pinkham Lumber Co. v. C.W. Griffin & Co., 102 So. 689 (Ala. 1925); Seymour v. Armstrong & Kassebaum, 64 P. 612 (Kan. 1901); Payne v. Lautz Bros. & Co., 166 N.Y.S. 844 (N.Y. City Ct. 1916), aff’d, 168 N.Y.S. 369 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.), aff’d, 171 N.Y.S. 1094 (N.Y. App. Div. 1918).” Notice how the judge includes citations to PinkhamSeymour, and Payne to support the assertion in the sentence that comes before the cases.

What are Introductory Case Signals?

Introductory case signals are words that attorneys, judges, and law students sometimes include before case citations.

Look at this sentence: Schools have to balance the need to tolerate free speech with their educational mission. See Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District, 393 U.S. 503, 513 (1969).

In that sentence the citation is to a case called Tinker.

But you probably noticed the word “See” before the citation to Tinker. That “See” is an introductory case signal.

Judges and attorneys often use introductory case signals before citing to a case. Introductory signals tell the reader how a case citation relates to the sentence that came before the case.

Why are introductory case signals important?

To understand a case, the reader should recognize how judges and attorneys use case law in their legal writing. Introductory case signals help the reader understand how closely a case supports an assertion of the law. You will better understand the legal reasoning in cases by understanding introductory case signals.

Judges use case signals to demonstrate how the cases they relied on helped them reach their decisions. Attorneys use introductory case signals to show judges how closely the cases they are citing support their legal position. When you recognize how the writers use these case signals, you will be able to read cases more effectively.

The introductory case signals we will review include:

  • No signal
  • See
  • See, e.g.,
  • See also
  • Cf.
  • Compare…with…
  • But see

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No Signal

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If there is no signal before the case, this is actually the strongest possible signal. The writer is asserting that the proposition in the prior sentence finds direct support from the case. You will not see a signal when the writer is quoting from the case in the prior sentence.

Example: The ordinance is not overbroad as unduly interfering with First Amendment rights since expressive activity is prohibited only if it ‘materially disrupts classwork.’ Tinker v. Des Moines School District, 393 U.S. 503, 513 (1969).

Why no signal? The judge writing the opinion does not put a signal before Tinker because the judge is quoting Tinker. Tinker is a direct source of the words in the prior sentence.

 

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See + Case

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See is almost as strong as no signal at all. Attorneys and judges use see when the case strongly supports the prior sentence. See is a useful citation if the reader does not need to analogize between the proposition in the prior sentence and the case cited. 

Example: In evaluating the commercial, the Court must not consider defendant’s subjective intent in making the commercial, or plaintiff’s subjective view of what the commercial offered, but what an objective, reasonable person would have understood the commercial to convey. See Kay-R Elec. Corp. v. Stone & Webster Constr. Co., 23 F.3d 55, 57 (2d Cir.1994) (“[W]e are not concerned with what was going through the heads of the parties at the time [of the alleged contract”]

Why See? The judge writing the opinion cites Kay-R for the proposition that we objectively consider facts and circumstances to determine whether the parties intended to form a contract. The Kay-R case says judges should not determine whether a contract was formed based on the subjective intention of the parties.  Because ‘objective‘ is the same as ‘not subjective‘, Kay-R supports the proposition in the prior sentence, but not with the same precise words. The judge quotes Kay-R after the citation to make it clear that Kay-R does, in fact, support the proposition in the prior sentence.

 

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See, e.g., + Case(s)

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This has the same meaning as ‘see’ , but the writer is asserting that the case(s) cited are just examples  – – so there should be additional cases supporting the proposition that the writer is not including.

Example: An obvious joke, of course, would not give rise to a contract. See, e.g., Graves v. Northern N.Y. Pub. Co., 260 A.D. 900, 22 N.Y.S.2d 537 (1940) (dismissing claim to offer of $1000, which appeared in the “joke column” of the newspaper, to any person who could provide a commonly available phone number).

Why See, e.g.,? The judge writing the opinion cites Graves as just one example of the principle that when a statement is obviously a joke, it is not an offer to form a contract. The judge summarizes Graves in parentheses to show that the case involved an offer that was obviously intended to be funny. Graves, therefore, is just one example of cases where if an objectively reasonable person would believe that an offer was a joke, the offer cannot be accepted to form a contract.

 

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See also + Case(s)

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See also comes after other case signals. You should see one case signal –  – or a case with no case signal  – – before see also.

Cases after see also typically do not support the proposition in the prior sentence as strongly as cases that come after see.

Example: First, the signed writing relied upon must by itself establish `a contractual relationship between the parties.’ Crabtree, 305 N.Y. at 56; see also O’Keeffe v. Bry, 456 F. Supp. 822, 829 (S.D.N.Y.1978) (“To the extent that Crabtree permits the use of a `confluence of memoranda,’ the minimum condition for such use is the existence of one [signed] document establishing the basic, underlying contractual commitment.”).

Why see also? The judge writing the opinion already quoted one case (Crabtree) to support the proposition in the prior sentence. To show that there is further support for the proposition, the judge includes the O’Keeffe case preceded by see also.

 

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Cf. + Case 

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Cf. introduces a case that by analogy supports the proposition in a prior sentence. This is considered a weaker citation. The case which is cited typically supports a different proposition, but the writer is arguing that by analogy, the case indirectly supports the proposition in the prior sentence.

Example: Noisy demonstrations that disrupt or are incompatible with normal school activities are obviously within the ordinance’s reach. Such expressive conduct may be constitutionally protected at other places or other times, cf. Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963); Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 536 (1965)). 

Why cf? The sentences preceding the citations to Edwards and Cox discuss why demonstrations near a school might not be protected by the Constitution, but that they might be protected at other times and places. Edwards and Cox are not cases about schools. However, Edwards and Cox do discuss why the government may be able to restrict the time and place of demonstrations near courthouses. We should analogize between demonstrations near a courthouse and demonstrations near a school.

 

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Compare [case] with [case] 

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Compare … with … introduces a comparison. Judges and attorneys use this citation to support a preceding sentence that discusses two different cases, or groups of cases. This citation is often used to support the assertion that different courts came to different conclusions about different issues.

Example: The statue does not prescribe a limitations period for unjust enrichment, and there appears to be a split between New York courts as to whether a six-year or a three-year limitations period should be applied (compare Deutsche Bank, AG v. Vik, 142 AD3d 829, 829 [1st Dept 2016], with Lambert, 30 AD3d at 566.

Why compare … with? The judge is demonstrating that there is support for his assertion that courts in New York are divided as to whether a six-year or three-year statute of limitations applies to a lawsuit based on unjust enrichment. The Court asks the reader to compare two different cases (Deutsche Bank & Lambert). In the first case a New York court applied a six-year limitations period, and in the second case a New York court applied a three-year limitations period.

 

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But see [+ case]

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But see tells the reader that the case or cases that follow contradict the assertion in the prior sentence. The contradiction might be indirect, however, there is no dispute that the assertion in these cases do not support the proposition of the prior sentence. This tells the reader that there is contrary authority to the proposition asserted.

Example: The Securities Act contains express civil remedies and, from the inclusion of these remedies in specific sections, it can be logically inferred that if Congress had intended that there also should be a private cause of action under section 17(a), it would have said so (see, Passenger Corp. v. Passengers Assn., 414 U.S. 453, 458, 94 S.Ct. 690, 693, 38 L.Ed.2d 646; but seeHowing Co. v. Nationwide Corp., 826 F.2d 1470 [6th Cir.]

.

Why but see? The judge asserts that there is no private right of action (private individuals may not sue) to enforce a section of a statute. The judge relies on the Passenger Corp case to support this conclusion. However, the judge recognizes that the Howing case reached a decision that contradicts the proposition that there is no private right of action. Howing is contrary authority.

 

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Now try the quiz and assess your understanding of case introduction signals.

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