Choice of name in short forms for cases

In short forms for cases in citation sentences in practice documents, the Bluebook permits the use of only one party’s name but in that event requires it to be the first party, unless that party is “a geographical unit, a government official, or another type of common litigant.” See rule B10.2. Note that this permits the author to use only one party’s name but does not require it, so using both names is still permissible. Consider this example: You previously cited King v. Bassindale, 220 P. 777, 779 (Wash. 1923), and you wish to cite the case again at page 780, after intervening cites to other authorities. According to the Bluebook, you can use:

  • King v. Bassindale, 220 P. at 779.
  • King, 220 P. at 779. (Unless King proved to be a common litigant.)
  • NOT: Bassindale, 220 P. at 779. (Unless King proved to be a common litigant. Rule 10.9(a)(i) strangely permits this in law-review footnotes, another distinction between practice and scholarly documents I find hard to explain.)

From what I can tell, most contemporary legal writers use (2), probably because (1) costs an extra two words in word counts. I favor the Bluebook’s preference for (1) over (3), because I believe (3) makes it harder to find the previous citation to the case. My thinking goes like this: When the eye scans back over the text looking for the previous citation, the beginning of a span of italic or underlined text is the natural spot to expect to see the name cued in the short citation. Option (3) frustrates that expectation.

Nevertheless, each year, some of my law students lean toward using (2) on a regular basis in their memos and briefs. Some of the opinions they read may do the same. For example:

Thus, in Bassindale we required the claimant to possess a good faith belief that the land possessed was his own, in Hogan we deemed the claimant’s belief irrelevant and in Hubbard we required the claimant to possess the unrighteous intent to deprive the true owner of his land. Shortly after Hubbard we set forth a test for hostility which took much of the emphasis off of the claimant’s subjective intent.

Chaplin v. Sanders, 676 P.2d 431,434 (Wash. 1984), referring to King v. Bassindale, 220 P. 777 (Wash. 1923); Bowden-Gazzam Co. v. Hogan, 154 P.2d 285 (Wash. 1944); Brown v. Hubbard, 259 P.2d 391 (Wash. 1953). Here, the short names are in the text of the court’s opinion (rather than citation clauses or sentences), but Rule 10.9(c) permits the use of one party’s name under these circumstances. In any event, the court has used the second party’s name for each case.

I guess the question whether this is or was the predominant practice is an empirical one, one in which I’m unwilling to invest necessary research. But I’m wondering if anyone knows of a rationale for using the second party’s name in a short cite or single-party case reference, other than the ones expressly identified here.

I welcome your thoughts here or on Twitter (#CaseShortCiteName).


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