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Introduction to Law

This guide provides a practical overview to the legal resources at the Highline library and available over the web.

Case Law: Definition

Case Law is the decisions, interpretations made by judges while deciding on the legal issues before them which are considered as the common law or as an aid for interpretation of a law in subsequent cases with similar conditions. Case laws are used by advocates to support their views to favor their clients and also it influence the decision of the judges.

Reading Case Citations

Opinions of legal cases at the appellate level are found in reporters. This is true for each state as well as the federal court system.  Reporters are a set of books arranged by the court issuing the opinion, and the year the opinion was issued. Case citations, which include the reporter, the volume number, and page number where the case starts, are used to find the case.

Washington Reports: First and Second Series   
Opinions of the Washington State Supreme Court are found in the Washington Reports. The Reports began in 1889 when Washington became a state and cover the years 1889 to 1938 (volumes 1-200). As an example, below is the legal citation for a 1928 case in the Washington Reports.


 In 1939, instead of continuing with Volume 201, the Washington Reports Second Series was created with the volume number starting with 1.  Citations use the abbreviation of “Wash. 2nd” or “Wn.2d” to indicate it is the second series.   Below is the legal citation to a 2013 case in the Washington Reports Second Series.

Washington Appellate Reports
In 1969, the Washington Appellate Reports was started to report on the opinions of the Washington State Court of Appeals, which is one level below the Washington State Supreme Court.  The abbreviation used in legal citations to indicate this is “Wash.App”  Below is the legal citation to a 2010 case in the Washington Appellate Reports.

Federal Court Reporters

The Federal court system has its own reporters for the different levels, just as Washington State does.  As an example, United States Supreme Court opinions appear in the U.S. Supreme Court Reports  (example citation: U.S. v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974)).  Below the U.S. Supreme Court are the U.S. Court of Appeals (divided into 12 regional districts), and below the Court of Appeals is the U.S. District Courts (divided into 94 districts). The federal system also has the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and Courts of Special Jurisdiction, such as the U.S. Tax Court and the U.S. Court of International Trade.

Parallel Citations

Often for cases you will see more than one citation given to it. This means the case can be found in different reporters. The name for this is "parallel citations."

An example is the Washington State case: State v. Hinton 169 Wash.App. 28,  280 P.3d 476. 

From the citations this case can be found in vol. 169 of the Washington Appellate Reports. It can also be found in vol. 280 of the Pacific Reports 3rd series. The Pacific Reports, covering appellate court opinions in Washington State and 14 other states such as Oregon, California, Alaska, Kansas, and Hawaii, Wyoming, and others, are one of seven regional reporters in the U.S. The others are: Atlantic; North Eastern; North Western, Southern; South Eastern; and South Western.