Looking at the citation of a US case can be a little confusing. For example, you might see a citation to a case, written as:
Apple v. Microsoft, 670 F. Supp.2d 568 (E.D. Tex. 2009)
What does this mean?
Most trial level cases will be cited in a format something like this:
Plaintiff v. Defendant, Volume Number/ Reporter/ First Page Number/ (Name of Court Year of Decision)
Let’s look back at our example:
Apple v. Microsoft, 670 F. Supp. 2d 568 (E.D. Tex. 2009)
This means that our parties are Apple and Microsoft. In this case, Apple is the plaintiff and Microsoft is the defendant.
Next we have the number 670.
670 is the volume number of a Reporter. The Reporter is a book in which cases are printed. In this case the name of the Reporter is F. Supp. 2d which stands for Federal Supplement 2d. And the case starts on page number 568 of volume 670 of this Reporter.
There are many Reporters in which cases are printed, organized by jurisdiction. Today, almost any case should also be available electronically online.
Next we have the name of the court which is abbreviated as E.D. Tex. To understand this you have to be a bit familiar with the names of courts and their abbreviations. E.D. Tex. means that the trial level court here is a federal court called the Eastern District of Texas. And finally we have 2009, which is the year the court decided this case.
Citations to appellate level cases are a little different. The parties will usually be identified as appellant v. appellee (or respondent) instead of plaintiff v. defendant
You can usually recognize Supreme Court cases because they are printed in a reporter called “U.S.” which stands for U.S. Reporter. Look at this citation: Talbot v. Janson, 3 U.S. 1 (1795). This tells us that the case involved parties named Talbot and Janson and we can find the case in volume 3, page 1 of the U.S. Reporter.
There are some cases which get slightly different names. For example, you might see a case called In re Smith. This just means concerning the matter of Smith. Bankruptcy cases are usually written this way.
Also, you might see cases that have unusual citations such as 2009 WL 2252194. This just means that the case was not printed in an official reporter, but was instead published by a private company, such as Westlaw, in its own reporter. Unpublished cases are cases that are not published in official Reporters. In some jurisdictions, unpublished cases have less value as precedent than published cases.