Lesson 11 of 10
In Progress

4.2: Non-Linear Reading Strategies

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  • To become aware of reading strategies to help improve comprehension when reading cases.
  • To use reading order and your knowledge of the parts of a case to help you read cases more effectively and efficiently.
  • To try out and experiment with reading order and other reading strategies.

A better way to read a case

  • 26 of the Best Mystery Books That'll Keep You Guessing Until the Very End

    Normally when we read for enjoyment e.g., a mystery novel) we don’t want to “ruin the ending.” We generally don’t want to know anything about the book before we read it. We want to be surprised. We want to be led on an exciting journey. We don’t want anyone to ruin the ending. So we start on page one and read straight through to the end.

  • However, when we read court opinions (and any other legal or academic texts), it’s the opposite: It’s helpful to know as much as you can before you even start reading. So starting at the beginning and just reading straight through is actually an inefficient way to read a case.
  • Unlike a mystery novel, with a court opinion, you really should ruin the ending, so to speak.
  • Also, if you are a non-native English speaker, the more context you can have the better. By changing the order of how you read a case, you actually can give yourself more context which means it will improve your comprehension of the case.
  • In the previous activity, we talked about how to create purpose and context by looking at the syllabus for your course and/or the table of contents of your case book or textbook.
  • Now we’ll talk about how to improve your reading comprehension by changing the order you read a case and by using your knowledge of the parts of a case. 

Our suggested reading order

  1. Case heading (sometimes called case caption)
  2. Disposition
  3. Holding
  4. Issue
  5. Procedural History
  6. Facts
  7. Rule
  8. Reasoning

Here’s why we suggest it:

  • 1. The case heading and disposition are the two easiest things to find.
  • 2. The disposition, in particular, tells you the result: who won and who lost. That is extremely helpful information to know when you’re reading the opinion and trying to follow a complicated story. It’s also easy to find since it’s almost always at the very end of the case, and you’re looking primarily for two words–either “AFFIRMED” or “REVERSED.”
  • 3. Next, the holding is often a little easier to find becase it’s a) usually close to the end, b) often uses the phrase “we” or “the Court”, and c) often includes a word or phrase that indicates opinion. For example, “We believe that….” or “This court is of the opinion that….” Another clue is that the holding will not have a citation at the end of the sentence. This is because the holding is the court’s opinion and the court’s own words. So it doesn’t need to cite to any outside source.
  • 4. Next (or if it’s not easy to find the holding), look for the issue. The main clue for the issue is the word “whether.” Not every sentence with “whether” is the issue. But the statement of the issue usually has the word “whether” in it. So if you find the word “whether,” it helps narrow down your choices. Note: Sometimes synonyms for “whether” are used, e.g., “if.” Or you might see a phrase like “the question is presented…” or “the challenge…” or “the court must determine…”
  • 5. If you find the issue and the holding, the next step is to see if they match. The holding should answer the question raised by the statement of the issue. And if you understand the question and the answer, then when you start reading the rest of the case, it’s going to make a lot more sense.
  • 6. Note: This strategy doesn’t work every time. But it works most of the time. In the US legal system, there is no fixed format or style that judges must use when they write opinions. Issue statements are frequently closer to the beginning, and holdings are frequently closer to the ending. But that’s not always true. But in the cases where the issue and holding are easy to find, then your work will be much easier if you find them first.

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 Instructions: Practice Finding Each Part of the Lefkowitz Case

  1. Find each part of the Lefkowitz case in the order we suggest.
  2. Start with Step 1 – Find the Case Heading. Review the clues to find the case heading, and then click the “Go To The Case” Button.
  3. Choose which part of the Lefkowtiz case you think is the caption and then move on to Step 2 and find the disposition. Keep finding each part of the case until you finish Step 8 by finding the Reasoning.
  4. If you prefer, at any point you can find a part of the case by clicking the “Just Show Me” button.

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Step One

Find the Case Heading (Caption)

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Clues

  • Finding the case caption or case heading is usually fairly simple.
  • You can find this at the top of the case and will tell you the names of the parties and the case.
  • The caption will tell you whether the case is in a federal or state court and whether it is a trial or appellate level case.

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Step 1

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Find the Case Heading (Caption)

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The caption includes party names and the name of the court.

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Step Two

Find the Disposition

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Clues

  • You can find the disposition at the end or near the end of the case.
  • An appellate level court will either affirm or reverse/vacate a lower court’s decision.
  • A trial court disposition will typically show the court granting or denying a motion.

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Step 2

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Find the Disposition

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The disposition tells you the result of the case.

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Step Three

Find the Holding

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Clues

  • You can find the holding usually towards the end of the case.
  • Look for words like “We” or “Our” or “this Court.”
  • Look for verbs like “find”, “hold”, “believe”, “decide”, “determine”, “answer”.
  • Look for a present tense main verb. Verbs in the past tense usually mean that you are not reading the holding.

 

 

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Step 3

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Find the Holding

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The holding answers the question in the legal issue.

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Step Four

Find the Issue

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Clues

  • You can find the issue towards the first half or middle of the case.
  • It frequently will include a word like “issue”, “whether”, or “question”.
  • Look for phrases like “We must decide whether” or “We granted certiorari on the issue of whether…”
  • If you think you found the issue check whether the holding answers the question in the issue. If it doesn’t you probably missed the issue.

 

 

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Step 4

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Find the Issue

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The issue is the legal question the court answers.

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Step Five

Find the Procedural History

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 Clues

  • The procedural history usually comes towards the beginning of the case
  • If you are reading an appellate level case the court will refer to decisions or outcomes in a lower court or trial court
  • Look for words referring to what happened after the case came to court, as opposed to things that happened before the case began (facts)
  • Procedural history will be be in the past tense because it refers to what happened earlier in the case.
  • If there are citations, the citations will refer to the same case and parties but in a lower court.

 

 

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Step 5

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Find the Procedural History

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The procedural history are the events in the case after the litigation began.

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Step Six

Find the Facts

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 Clues

  • Facts will be in the past tense and describe events that occurred before the case started
  • Facts will not include a citation to a case because facts occur outside of the court. 
  • You may see the court refer to facts that it “assumes are true” – – this is a clue that these facts have not been proven yet but for purposes of the decision the judge is accepting certain facts as true.

 

 

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Step 6

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Find the Facts

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Facts are the events that occurred before the case began

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Step Seven

Find the Rule

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 Clues

  • The main verb of the Rule is usually in the present tense because a Rule is something that is generally or always true
  • Rules are usually followed by a citation to a case, statute or treatise
  • The Rule will usually not be in the first person, such as “We” or “I”. The Rule comes from another court or statute. 
  • When the court creates a new law that will usually be part of the holding.

 

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Step 7

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Find the Rule

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Rule refers to law before the case started that the court applies

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Step Eight

Find the Reasoning (Rationale, Analysis)

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 Clues

  • Reasoning is where the Court evaluates the arguments of each party and applies law to facts
  • This section will include citations to other cases and statutes
  • You may see present tense as the Court refers to Rules
  • The Court might refer to each party’s argument – – e.g., “Appellant argues that…”, “Defendant contends that…”
  •  There may be first-person words such as, “We believe that….”; “While we recognize that…”; “We agree/disagree that…”

 

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Step 8

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Find the Reasoning (Rationale/Analysis)

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Reasoning is where the Court explains its holding

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Below is the Lefkowitz case. Try to find the (1) case caption, disposition, (2) holding, (3) issue, (4) procedural history, (5) facts, (6) rule and & (7) reasoning, in that order

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This is the Caption or Case Heading

“]

 

Lefkowitz v. Great Minneapolis Surplus Store, Inc.

251 Minn. 188, 188-92, 86 N.W.2d 689, 689-92 (1957)

MURPHY, Justice.

 

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What part of the case is this section?

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Yes. Good work! We suggest finding this first.

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No. The disposition tells us the result of the case.

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No, the holding is how the Court resolved the issue presented in the case.

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No, the issue is the legal question the Court must answer.

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No, the procedural history is the story of the case after litigation begins.

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No, facts are the events that occurred before the case began.

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No, the Rule is the law the Court relies on to reach its decision.

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No, the reasoning is the Court’s logic to reach its decision.

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(1) This is an appeal from an order of the Municipal Court of Minneapolis denying the motion of the defendant for amended findings of fact, or, in the alternative, for a new trial. (2)The order for judgment awarded the plaintiff the sum of $138.50 as damages for breach of contract.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the caption tells us the name of the case and the court.

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No. The disposition tells us the result of the case.

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No, the holding is how the Court resolved the issue presented in the case.

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No, the issue is the legal question the Court must answer.

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Yes! This is the procedural history because it tells us what happened before the case came to this appellate court.

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No, facts are the events that occurred before the case began.

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No, the Rule is the law the Court relies on to reach its decision.

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No, the reasoning is the Court’s logic to reach its decision.

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(3) This case grows out of the alleged refusal of the defendant to sell to the plaintiff a certain fur piece which it had offered for sale in a newspaper advertisement. (4)It appears from the record that on April 6, 1956, the defendant published the following advertisement in a Minneapolis newspaper:

Saturday 9 A.M. Sharp 3 Brand New Fur Coats Worth to $100.00

First Come First Served $1 Each

(5)On April 13, the defendant again published an advertisement in the same

newspaper as follows: 

Saturday 9 A.M. 2 Brand New Pastel Mink 3-Skin Scarfs Selling for $89.50

Out they go Saturday. Each … $1.00

1 Black Lapin Stole Beautiful, worth $139.50 … $1.00

First Come First Served

(6)The record supports the findings of the court that on each of the Saturdays following the publication of the above-described ads the plaintiff was the first to present himself at the appropriate counter in the defendant’s store and on each occasion demanded the coat and the stole so advertised and indicated his readiness to pay the sale price of $1. (7)On both occasions, the defendant refused to sell the merchandise to the plaintiff, stating on the first occasion that by a ‘house rule’ the offer was intended for women only and sales would not be made to men, and on the second visit that plaintiff knew defendant’s house rules.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No. The case caption is where we find the names of the parties and the names of the court.

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No, the disposition is the result where the Court briefly states whether it agrees or disagrees with the decision of the trial court.

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No, the holding is where the Court answers the legal issue presented in the case.

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No, the issue is where we read the legal question presented in the case.

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No, the procedural history is the story of the case after litigation begins.

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Yes! These are the facts of the case because they describe the events that occurred before the case began and which led to the litigation.

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No, the Rule is the law that the Court applies to the facts.

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No, the reasoning is the rationale of the Court in reaching its holding.

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(8)The trial court properly disallowed plaintiff’s claim for the value of the fur coats since the value of these articles was speculative and uncertain. (9)The only evidence of value was the advertisement itself to the effect that the coats were ‘Worth to $100.00,‘ how much less being speculative especially in view of the price for which they were offered for sale. (10)With reference to the offer of the defendant on April 13, 1956, to sell the ‘1 Black Lapin Stole * * * worth $139.50 * * *‘ the trial court held that the value of this article was established and granted judgment in favor of the plaintiff for that amount less the $1 quoted purchase price.

(11)The defendant contends that a newspaper advertisement offering items of merchandise for sale at a named price is a ‘unilateral offer’ which may be withdrawn without notice. (12)He relies upon authorities which hold that, where an advertiser publishes in a newspaper that he has a certain quantity or quality of goods which he wants to dispose of at certain prices and on certain terms, such advertisements are not offers which become contracts as soon as any person to whose notice they may come signifies his acceptance by notifying the other that he will take a certain quantity of them. (13)Such advertisements have been construed as an invitation for an offer of sale on the terms stated, which offer, when received, may be accepted or rejected and which therefore does not become a contract of sale until accepted by the seller; and until a contract has been so made, the seller **691 may modify or revoke such prices or terms. Montgomery Ward & Co. v. Johnson, 209 Mass. 89, 95 N.E. 290; Nickel v. Theresa Farmers Co-op. Ass’n, 247 Wis. 412, 20 N.W.2d 117; Lovett v. Frederick Loeser & Co. Inc., 124 Misc. 81, 207 N.Y.S. 753; *191 Schenectady Stove Co. v. Holbrook, 101 N.Y. 45, 4 N.E. 4; Georgian Co. v. Bloom, 27 Ga.App. 468, 108 S.E. 813; Craft v. Elder & Johnson Co., 38 N.E.2d 416, 34 Ohio L.A. 603; Annotation, 157 A.L.R. 746.

(14)The defendant relies principally on Craft v. Elder & Johnston Co. supra. (15)In that case, the court discussed the legal effect of an advertisement offering for sale, as a one-day special, an electric sewing machine at a named price. (16)The view was expressed that the advertisement was (38 N.E.2d 417, 34 Ohio L.A. 605) ‘not an offer made to any specific person but was made to the public generally. (17)Thereby it would be properly designated as a unilateral offer and not being supported by any consideration could be withdrawn at will and without notice.’ (18)It is true that such an offer may be withdrawn before acceptance. (19)Since all offers are by their nature unilateral because they are necessarily made by one party or on one side in the negotiation of a contract, the distinction made in that decision between a unilateral offer and a unilateral contract is not clear.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No. The case caption is where we find the names of the parties and the names of the court.

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Yes. Good work! You should have found this first.

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Close, but not exactly. The holding tells us the answer to the legal question in the case. In sentence [26] we have a holding  because the Court states why it agrees with the trial court’s decision as to the value of the clothing being offered for sale.  But that’s not the main issue in this case so we would not consider it “The” holding.

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No, the issue is where we read the legal question presented in the case.

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No, the procedural history is the story of the case after litigation begins.

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Yes. Good work! You should have found this first.

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Yes. Good work! You should have found this first.

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Yes. Good work! You should have found this first.

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(20) On the facts before us we are concerned with whether the advertisement constituted an offer, and, if so, whether the plaintiff’s conduct constituted an acceptance.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the captions shows the case name, parties, and year the case was decided. That’s at the beginning of the case.

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No, the disposition shows the result of the case – – whether this Court agreed with the trial court. Check the end of the case.

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Yes. Good work! You should have found this first.

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Yes. Good work! We recommend finding this after finding the holding (which answers the question presented here).

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No. The procedural history is the story of this case after the litigation began in the trial court.

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c

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No, the Rule is the law the Court cites when analyzing the facts.

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No, the Reasoning is the logic the Court applies to reach its decision.

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(21)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., 212 Ala. 341, 102 So. 689; Seymour v. Armstrong & Kassebaum, 62 Kan. 720, 64 P. 612; Payne v. Lautz Bros. & Co., City Ct., 166 N.Y.S. 844, affirmed, 168 N.Y.S. 369, affirmed, 185 App.Div. 904, 171 N.Y.S. 1094; Arnold v. Phillips, 1 Ohio Dec. Reprint 195, 3 West.Law J. 448; Oliver v. Henley, Tex.Civ.App., 21 S.W.2d 576; Annotation, 157 A.L.R. 744, 746.

(22)The test of whether a binding obligation may originate in advertisements addressed to the general public is ‘whether the facts show that some performance was promised in positive terms in return for something requested.’ 1 Williston, Contracts (Rev. ed.) s 27.

(23)The authorities above cited emphasize that, where the offer is clear, definite, and explicit, and leaves nothing open for negotiation, it constitutes an offer, acceptance of which will complete the contract. (24)The most recent case on the subject is *192 Johnson v. Capital City Ford Co., La.App., 85 So.2d 75, in which the court pointed out that a newspaper advertisement relating to the purchase and sale of automobiles may constitute an offer, acceptance of which will consummate a contract and create an obligation in the offeror to perform according to the terms of the published offer.

(25)Whether in any individual instance a newspaper advertisement is an offer rather than an invitation to make an offer depends on the legal intention of the parties and the surrounding circumstances. Annotation, 157 A.L.R. 744, 751; 77 C.J.S., Sales, s 25b; 17 C.J.S., Contracts, s 389.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the caption of the case tells us the name of parties and the name of the Court.

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No, the disposition shows the result of the case – – whether this Court agreed with the trial court. Check the end of the case.

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No, the holding is where the Court answers the legal issue presented in the case.

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No, the issue is the legal question presented in the case.

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No, the procedural history is the story of the case after litigation begins.

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No, the facts are the events that happened before the case began.rst.

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Yes! This is the Rule because the Court applies this law to the facts of the case.

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No, the Reasoning is the logic the Court applies to reach its decision.

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(26)We are of the view on the facts before us that the offer by the defendant of the sale of the Lapin fur was clear, definite, and explicit, and left nothing open for negotiation. (27)The plaintiff having successfully managed to be the first one to appear at the seller’s place of business to be served, as requested by the advertisement, and having offered the stated purchase price of the article, he was entitled to performance on the part of the defendant. (28)We think the trial court was correct in holding that there was in the conduct of the parties a sufficient mutuality of obligation to constitute a contract of sale.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the caption is where we find the case name and court name.

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No, the disposition is where we read the result of the case – who prevails on appeal and whether the Court affirms or reverses the trial court.

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Yes. Good work! We suggest finding this part of the case third, after the caption and disposition.

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No, the issue is where we read the legal question the Court must answer.

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No, the procedural history provides the events that occurred in the case after the case came to court – – such as what the trial court decided.

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No, facts are the events that took place before the case began.

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No, the Rule is the law the Court relies on to reach its holding.

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Good because these sentences include the Court’s logic but this also includes the Court’s holding because the Court decides that the advertisement was an offer accepted by the plaintiff.

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(29)The defendant contends that the offer was modified by a ‘house rule’ to the effect that only women were qualified to receive the bargains advertised. (30)The advertisement contained no such restriction. (31)This objection may be disposed of briefly by stating that, while an advertiser has the right at any time before acceptance to modify his offer, he does not have the right, after acceptance, to impose new or arbitrary conditions not contained in the published offer. Payne v. Lautz Bros. & Co., City Ct., 166 N.Y.S. 844, 848; Mooney v. Daily News Co., 116 Minn. 212, 133 N.W. 573, 37 L.R.A.,N.S., 183.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the caption shows the parties and court name.

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No. The disposition tells us the result of the case.

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Good – but this is not considered the most important holding in the case. In sentence 31 rejects one of defendant’s arguments and in sentences 29-30 the Court explains why, so Reasoning is also a good answer.

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No, the issue is the legal question the Court must answer.

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No, the procedural history is the story of what happened in the case after the case began.

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No, the facts are the events that occurred before the case began.

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No, the Rule is law the Court cites to reach its decision.

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Good –  because in sentences 29-30 the Court explains why it rejects one of defendant’s arguments. But in a prior section of this case is the Court’s reasoning as to a more important issue in the case so there is a better answer.

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(32)Affirmed.

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What part of the case is this section?

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No, the caption shows the parties and court name.

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Yes. Good work!

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No, the holding is where the Court answers the legal issue.

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No, the issue is the legal question the Court must answer.

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No, the procedural history is the story of what happened in the case after the case began.

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No, the facts are the events that occurred before the case began.

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No, the Rule is law the Court cites to reach its decision.

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No, the Reasoning is the Court’s logic in reaching its decision.

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