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4.1.3 Doing Legal Research: Shepard's Case Citations


This article is from the Legal Research FAQ, by Mark Eckenwiler with numerous contributions by others.

4.1.3 Doing Legal Research: Shepard's Case Citations

When you read a case, you'll generally see citations to
numerous older cases. But how do you find out if the case you're
looking at has itself been cited in later decisions, or possibly
reversed on appeal? By using Shepard's.

Shepard's is a multivolume, multiseries set of red books
whose sole purpose is to list every source (well, almost every)
that has ever cited any given case. The later sources listed in
Shepard's include federal and state court decisions, law review
articles, and **ALR. For court decisions, Shepard's frequently
indicates whether the later court agreed or disagreed with the
reasoning or conclusion of the first case.

To use Shepard's ("Shepardize a case"), locate the volumes of
Shepard's which cover the reporter in which your original case
appears. For example, if you want to see which courts have cited 797
F. Supp. 186, go to the volumes of Shepard's which cover the range of
F. Supp. that includes volume 797. (Since Shepard's is necessarily
updated all the time, you will probably have to consult 2 or 3 bound
volumes and another 2 or 3 paperback supplements; the cover of the
most recent paper supplement will indicate how many volumes there are
in the series.)

Once you have the volumes, open one to the page which
specifically covers 797 F. Supp. Now scan down the listings
until you locate the subheading "-- 186 --", which indicates the
start of listings for the case beginning on that page (i.e., 797
F. Supp. 186). You'll see a listing like the following. (Note:
this is not the actual Shepard's listing; it's a fictional
listing concocted for purposes of this FAQ.)

 -- 186 --
 800FS 512

The listings are of the general form

<treatment-code> [volume] [reporter] <headnote> [page]

where the <bracketed> fields are optional. The
volume/reporter/page fields indicate the specific page where the
later source cites your case. Note that this is generally NOT
the first page of that case; instead, it almost always occurs in
the middle.

The treatment codes indicate how the later court regarded
the first court's reasoning. Common codes are a (affirmed by
appeals court), q (questioned), o (overruled), and s (later
decision in same case); a full list of the codes appears near the
front of each hardback Shepard's volume. Thus, the first
Shepard's entry above says that a Circuit Court of Appeals
affirmed the lower court decision, and that affirmance appears at
981 F.2d 227. Likewise, the third entry indicates that another
district court opinion questioned some portion of the first
court's reasoning; its skepticism can be found at 793 F. Supp.

The headnote field, often omitted, indicates which specific
passage of the first case is being referred to. Shepard's uses
the West headnote system for this purpose: the number shown
corresponds to headnote N in the original case, which itself
points to a particular passage in that case. (Note that the West
headnote summary in case 1 may have nothing to do with the issue
for which case 1 is cited in case 2, as the West headnotes do not
(and cannot) summarize every issue in a case. Shepard's merely
uses the headnote divisions to make its cross-references to the
first case more specific, by defining more specifically the
section of text to which the second case refers.)

Thus, the second entry above tells us that on page 512 of
800 F. Supp., another district court cited case 1 for a
proposition that is stated (or implied) in the text corresponding
to note "[2]" in 797 F. Supp. 186.

Note that the Shepard's entries are organized according to
jurisdiction, with the highest authority in each listed first. A
full-length listing of a significant case will have entries for F.2d
and F. Supp. in all the Circuit Courts, and will likely be cited by
various state courts as well.

One final note: there is a separate 3-volume subset of
Shepard's that lists Acts of Congress and important court decisions
by their popular names. These volumes serve the same purpose as the
Popular Names Table at the end of the **U.S.C.A. index. The
Shepard's list of cases is not even vaguely comprehensive, unlike
the Table of Cases at the end of **F.P.D., but it has three major

a) it covers a full two centuries in one place (unlike
F.P.D., which is now in its 4th series, with separate Tables for
different time periods),

c) it covers state cases absent from F.P.D., and

b) it allows you to find cases by looking under "Congresional Veto
case" (answer: INS v. Chadha) or "Flag Burning cases" (answer:
Texas v. Johnson and U.S. v. Eichmann).


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