HOW TO BRIEF A CASE
To fully understand the law with respect to business, you need to be able to read and understand court decisions. To make this task easier, you can use a method of case analysis that is called briefing. There is a fairly standard process that you can follow when you “brief” any court case. You must first read the case opinion carefully. When you feel you understand the case, you can prepare a brief of it. Although the format of the brief may vary, typically it will present the essentials of the case under headings such as those listed below.
Citation: Give the full citation for the case, including the name of the case, the date it was decided, and the court that decided it.
Facts: Briefly indicate (a) the reasons for the lawsuit; (b) the identity and arguments of the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s), respectively; and (c) the lower court’s decision – if appropriate.
Issue: Concisely phrase, in the form of a question, the essential issue before the court. (If more than one issue is involved, you may have two – or even more – questions here.)
Decision: Indicate here the court’s answer to the question (or questions) in the Issue section above.
Reason: Summarize as briefly as possible the reasons given by the court for its decision (or decisions) and the case or statutory law relied on by the court in arriving at its decision.
When you prepare your brief, be sure that you include all of the important facts. The basic format is illustrated below in the briefed version to indicate the kind of information that is contained in each section.
Briefed Sample Court Case
Robinson v. Shell Oil Company
United States Supreme Court
___ U.S.___, 117 S.Ct. 843, 136 L.Ed.2d 808, 1997
Facts: Shell Oil Company fired Charles T. Robinson, Sr., in 1991. Shortly thereafter, Robinson filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging that Shell had fired him because of his race. While that charge was pending, Robinson applied for a job with another company. That company contacted Shell, Robinson’s former employer, for an employment reference. Robinson claims that Shell gave him a negative reference in retaliation for his having filed the EEOC charge. Subsequently, Robinson sued Shell, alleging retaliatory discharge in violation of Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The U.S. District Court dismissed the case, holding that Section 704(a) does not apply to former employees. Robinson appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to dismiss the case. Robinson then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.
Issue: May former employees bring suit under Section 704(a) for retaliation occurring after their employment has been terminated?
Decision: Yes. The Supreme Court reversed the appellate court’s decision.
Reason: The Supreme Court, finding that the term “employees” in Section 704(a) was ambiguous, looked at the broader context provided by other sections of the statute. The Court pointed out that Section 704() “expressly protects employees from retaliation for filing a ‘charge’ under Title VII.” The Court concluded that because a charge for unlawful discharge could only be brought by a former employee, it was “consistent with the broader context of Title VII” and with the purpose of Section 704(a) to hold that former employees are included within the employees protected by Section 704(a).
Review of Sample Court Case
Citation: The name of the case is Robinson v. Shell Oil Company. The petitioner/appellant (the one bringing the appeal) is Charles T. Robinson, and the respondent/appellee (the one against whom the appeal is taken) is Shell Oil Company. The case was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1997. The first citation is to the United States Reports. The volume and page numbers of the reporter are left blank because the opinion has not yet been published in the reporter. The first parallel citation is to the Supreme Court Reporter and indicates that the case can be found in volume 117 of that reporter on page 843. The second parallel citation is to volume 136, page 808 of the Lawyers’ Edition of the Supreme Court Reports.
Facts: The Facts section identifies the parties to the lawsuit – the petitioner and the respondent – and describes the events leading up to the lawsuit and its appeal. Because this is an appeal to the United States Supreme Court, the district court and the appellate court decisions are included as part of the history of the case. The petitioner’s contention on appeal is included in this section as well.
Issue: The Issue section presents the central issue (or issues) to be decided by the court. In this case, the issue before the Supreme Court was whether the term “employees,” as used in Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, should include former employees as well as current employees.
Decision: The Decision section, as the term indicates, contains the court’s decision on the issue or issues before it. The decision reflects the opinion of the majority of the judges or justices hearing the case. Decisions by appellate courts are frequently phrased in reference to the lower court’s decision. That is, the appellate court may “affirm” the lower court’s ruling or “reverse” it. In this particular case, the Supreme Court reversed the decision of the lower court (the Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit).
Reason: The Reason section indicates what relevant laws and judicial principles were applied in forming the particular conclusion arrived at in the case at bar (“below the court”). In this case, the relevant law was Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the task before the Court was how that section should be interpreted. The Court concluded that it was consistent with the broader context of Title VII to conclude that the term “employees” in Section 704(a) included former employees.
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