Case 6 | Criminal homework help

CRM 123 – How to Brief a Case

A case brief is a dissection of a judicial opinion. It contains a written summary of the basic

components of that decision. Briefing a case helps you acquire the skills of case analysis and

legal reasoning. It also helps you understand it. Briefs help you remember cases for class

discussions and assignments. Learning law is a process of problem solving through legal

reasoning; case briefs, therefore, should not be memorized. Below are examples and

explanations of the components of a case brief.

1. Case Title and Citation

■ Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health

and Human Services

(Plaintiff Nursing Home) v. (Defendant State Entity) 532 U.S. 598 (2001)

Case titles generally take on the names of the parties involved in the case. For example, in this

case Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Department of Health and

Human Resources, Buckhannon Board is the party asking the Court to reverse a lower court’s

holding; West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources wants the Court to affirm

that holding.

A citation acts as the case’s “address.” There is a standard format for cases contained in the

United States Reports (abbreviated U.S. in case citations). Therefore, in this case, the citation is

532 U.S. 598. This means that this case is found on page 598 of the 532nd volume of the

United States Reports.

2. Procedural History

■ Procedural History

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court’s dismissal of the case and denial of

attorney’s fees. The Supreme Court affirmed. The procedural history (or posture) states how the

case got to the court that wrote the opinion that you are reading.

3. Facts

■ Facts

Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. (“Buckhannon”), which operates care homes

that provide assisted living to its residents, failed an inspection by the West Virginia Office of the

State Fire Marshall because some of the residents were incapable of “self-preservation” as

defined under state law. On October 28, 1997, after receiving cease and desist orders requiring

the closure of its residential care facilities within 30 days, Plaintiff, on behalf of itself and other

similarly situated homes and residents brought suit in federal district court against the state of

West Virginia, two of its agencies, and 18 individuals. Plaintiff agreed to stay enforcement of the

cease-and-desist orders pending resolution of the case and the parties began discovery. The

district court granted West Virginia’s motion to dismiss, finding that the 1998 legislation had

eliminated the allegedly offensive provisions and that there was no indication that the

Legislature would repeal the amendments. Buckhannon then moved for attorney’s fees as the

prevailing party.

This section includes a brief overview of the relevant facts of the case that (a) describe the

dispute at hand and (b) have brought the case to this point. Basically, you should answer the

questions of who did what to whom and why. The facts of the case are often presented at the

outset of an opinion of the Court, although sometimes they may describe through the opinion. It

is also important here to note the holdings of the lower court(s) (i.e., the legal history of the

case) so that you understand the decision of the Supreme Court when it “reverses” or “affirms.”

4. Issue

■ Issue

Is a prevailing party is entitled to attorney’s fees in Federal court when the prevailing

party did not receive a judgment on the merits, but only prevailed because the lawsuit brought

about a voluntary change in the defendant’s conduct.

In this section, you identify the legal issue(s) addressed by the court. The legal issues should

refer specifically to the facts of the case, but you should not phrase the issues as purely factual

questions. Issues may involve substantive law or procedural law.

5. Ruling and Reasoning

■ Ruling and Reasoning

(Rehnquist, J.) No. The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the appeals court’s

ruling denying the motion for attorney’s fees. Although attorney’s fees may be granted to a

prevailing party following a judgment on the merits, in addition to settlement agreements

enforced through a consent decree, attorney’s fees are not warranted where there has not been

a judicial determination altering the legal position of the parties.

In the United States, parties are ordinarily required to bear their own attorney’s fees so

that the prevailing party is not entitled to collect from the loser. However, Congress has passed

laws permitting the shifting of attorney’s fees in numerous instances. In refusing to award

attorney’s fees in this instance, though, the court stressed that its decision was consistent with

prior decisions refusing to award attorney’s fees where the court issued a directed verdict

against one party.

The ruling and reasoning section includes what this court ruled, or, how the court answered the

question (theoretically, the court’s application of the law to the fact of this specific case).

6. Dissenting or Concurring Opinion

■ Dissent

Justice Ginsberg dissented, in which he was joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and

Breyer. His dissent stressed that fee shifting should depend on the outcome of the case, i.e.

whether the prevailing party received their desired outcome, regardless of whether or not a

judicial decision existed to memorialize the outcome. Essentially, the dissent defined the term

“prevailing party” in a practical sense, such clear that a party may be considered to have

prevailed even when the legal action stops short of final judgment due to intervening mootness.

■ Concurrence

Justice Scalia concurred, in which he was joined by Justice Thomas. His concurrence

focuses on the fact that a prevailing party cannot be one who left the courthouse empty-handed,

i.e. one must have received a judicial determination to be considered a revailing party.

On occasion, a case report will include a dissenting opinion that disagrees with the majority’s

ruling and reasoning. There may also be a concurring opinion that agrees with the majority’s

result but not its reasoning. If so, briefly sate the main points of the disagreement.

(Case example obtained from, retrieved April 18, 2012).

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