With time and practice, you'll learn to glance at a citation and instantly tell what court decided the case. Until then, here's a cheat sheet:
1 U.S. 1 (2020)
1 P.3d 1 (Cal. 2020)
|Court of Appeals||
1 F.3d 1 (9th Cir. 2020)
1 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1 (Ct. App. 2020)
1 F. Supp. 3d 1 (C.D. Cal. 2020)
1 Cal. Rptr. 3d 1 (App. Dep’t Super. Ct. 2020)
|Unpublished||2007 WL 4766060
2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96106.
1 Fed. App’x 1 (9th Cir. 2020) or 1 Fed. Appx. 1 (9th Cir. 2020)
It's important to be able to recognize what court decided a case because, generally, only published decisions from higher courts in your jurisdiction are mandatory (binding) cases that must be followed by the court. All other cases are only persuasive- you can cite them but the court does not have to follow them.
Here are the basic rules to remember:
You can view a map of federal circuits here:
Many students get hung up on learning the nitty-gritty details of authority. The reality is that most practicing attorneys do not memorize the nitty-gritty details but instead work from a general sense of what cases are strongest to cite.
In general, the strongest decisions to cite when in federal court (or when applying federal law in state court) are, in order:
In general, the strongest decisions to cite when in California state court (or when applying California law in federal court) are, in order:
It is OK to cite cases from trial courts, cases from other jurisdictions, and (if the court rules allow it) unpublished decisions! However, generally, you should have a specific reason for doing so, such as because it is one of the only cases to have considered a legal issue or because it is especially factually similar to your case.
The following visuals and cheat sheets may make it easier to understand case authority:
The following handout provides more details on case citation and publication:
Many students also find the following short articles helpful for understanding case authority: