How to Brief a Case
Business Law and Legal Environment is not simply rules and regulations passed by federal and state organizations and legislatures. Business law also includes case law created when courts rule on various legal issues. Accordingly, being able to read and understand judicial opinions is critical to obtaining a robust understanding of business law. One method for understanding court cases and saving time is known as “briefing.” To brief a case, one must read the case thoroughly, taking in the main points, then write up a short synopsis of the case. A standard brief contains information from the case organized in the following manner: (1) case name and citation; (2) facts; (3) issue; (4) ruling; and (5) reasons. By organizing case information according to the five categories just listed, one can create a short guide to any case that contains all of the relevant information to aid in understanding the case, as well as create a tool for later references to the case without having to reread the case every time.
The following is a quick description of what information is typically included in each of the five areas of a standard brief. Professional Custom Writing Services from the Experts!
1. Case name and citation. This information is used to identify the case. Under this heading the case name, the court making the decision, the year the decision was made, and the citations for the case should all be included.
2. Facts. The facts section is used to provide the relevant background information from the case to facilitate a full understanding of what lead to the case, as well as what happened in lower court cases for cases that are heard on appeal. The facts section should include: (a) relevant background information; (b) the arguments made by the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s); (c) any decisions made by lower courts.
3. Issue. The issue, or issues, is the question, or questions, the court has been asked to address in hearing the case. As such, the issue should be phrased as a question and should pertain to the legal matter at the heart of the case.
4. Ruling. The ruling refers to how the court answered the question identified as the issue. Typically, but not always, as simple yes or no will suffice to answer the issue question. If yes or no is not enough to answer the question clearly, some more information can be provided. But, as will be seen next, the following section contains more information regarding the ruling. In addition, for cases heard on appeal, it is frequently advisable to include the effect of the briefed opinion on the lower courts’ rulings, such as affirmed, reversed, or remanded.
5. Analysis/Reasons. The reasons section elaborates upon why the court made the ruling that it did regarding the issue. To be helpful, the ruling section should be kept brief and should contain what are the substantive legal reasons given for why the court ruled the way that it did. If there were any concurring or dissenting opinions, the reasons given in these other opinions should also be addressed in this section.
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6. Conclusion. The end result as stated by the Court and or Jury. Who won? Who lost? What were the damages (civil)? What was the sentence (criminal)? The following is an example of a case brief to demonstrate what is typically included in a brief.
Morse v. Frederick Supreme Court of the United States, 2007. 127 S.Ct. 2618, 168 L.Ed.2d. 290.
Facts: Morse, the principal of a high school in Alaska, allowed the students to stand outside the school to watch as the Olympic torch was carried past the high school in 2002. At this school-sanctioned and school-supervised event, several students held up a banner containing the phrase, “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS.” Morse, thinking the banner advocated illegal drug use, following school policy against messages that are pro-drug use, told the students to take the banner down. Frederick, one of the students with the banner, refused, and was subsequently suspended. The superintendent and the school board both supported the principal’s actions. Frederick sued Morse, arguing Morse violated Frederick’s First Amendment right to free speech. The District Court ruled in favor of Morse, saying no First Amendment violation occurred. Frederick appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the activity was school-authorized and that the message was pro-marijuana use. However, the Ninth Circuit argued that the school did not demonstrate that Frederick’s speech threatened a substantial disruption, and thus his First Amendment right was violated. Morse then appealed to the Supreme Court.
Issue: Did Morse’s actions requiring Frederick to take down the banner and then suspending Frederick for his refusal violate Frederick’s First Amendment right to free speech?
Ruling: No, Frederick’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated. The Ninth Circuit’s opinion was reversed and remanded in favor of Morse.
Analysis/Reasons: The Supreme Court reasoned that Frederick’s speech is properly understood as school speech, as it was at a school-sanctioned event, during school hours, on and immediately off school property. As a school speech case, the school is allowed to limit speech in ways they could not were it not a school event, which limits Frederick’s speech rights preventing his unfurling of a banner supporting drug use in blatant violation of school policy. The pro-drug message was clear, and no reasonable interpretation exists for what the banner meant other than support illegal drug use. The pro-drug message, which was against school policy was not required by Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503, to involve a substantial disruption, as was argued in Bethel School Dist. No 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675. Furthermore, in accordance with the importance of preventing school aged children from engaging in illegal substance use, the school was well within its power to suspend Frederick for promoting drug use via his banner. The right to free
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speech is not lost when children enter school, but the nature of permissible speech, per the ruling in Fraser, changes.
Justice Thomas concurred with Alito joining, and Breyer joining in part. Justice Thomas argues that the decision in Tinker that offered students protection for some speech in school has been chipped away, and even worse, lacks constitutional grounding. As such, Thomas claims Tinker should be overturned and that there is no constitutional basis for free speech for students in public schools.
Justice Alito concurred, with Justice Kennedy joining. Alito states he agrees with the majority opinion, so long as the opinion is understood to be limited to preventing student speech advocating drug use. In addition, Alito wants the majority opinion to be understood as not impinging upon students’ right to comment on political or social issues, including arguments about the wisdom of the war on drugs or the criminalization of certain drugs. Alito argues his opinion is consistent with pre-existing case law, including Tinker. Students have a right to political speech and social commentary, but they do not have a right to advocate drug use in public schools.
Justice Stevens dissented, with Justices Souter and Ginsburg, and with Justice Breyer joining in part. Stevens argues the Court erred in deciding to rule based on First Amendment issues. Instead, Stevens claims Frederick’s suit should have been dismissed due to qualified immunity, and the First Amendment issue should have remained unaddressed in this case. Stevens feels the danger of a misinterpretation of the Court’s ruling is very real, and the case did not lend itself to clear analysis and ruling based on First Amendment principles. For Stevens, the Court should have been more careful in ruling, as it is not hard to see other courts’ using the present ruling to limit student speech well beyond what the Court intended. At no point do the dissenting justices question the Court’s ultimate ruling, just the legal reasons for the ruling. Stevens, along with Souter and Ginsburg, argue the banner was nonsensical simply meant to get on television, making the tv cameras and not the other students, the recipients of the message. Accordingly, it is wrong to make a First Amendment issue out of what was not a meaningful message at all, but simply a ploy for attention. Qualified immunity case law presents more than enough basis for finding Frederick’s case is groundless and would have prevented the Court from setting a potentially dangerous and erroneous precedent.
Conclusion: reversed and remanded. “The judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
See also: http://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/facts-andcase-summary-morse-v-frederick; http://www.uscourts.gov/educationalresources/educational-activities/facts-and-case-summary-morse-v-frederick
Note: You must find the case in its entirety not just the summary. See https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/06pdf/06-278.pdf – slip opinion
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