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Structure of a Legal Opinion
Example: NRDC v. Evans, 254 F.Supp.2d 434 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).
Resolution of case
Often crucial to the outcome of the case!
The more deferential the standard of review, the more likely the defendant will prevail.
Issue, Rule, Analysis, Conclusion
1. Identification of the Case
3. Procedural History
4. Issue(s) and Holding(s)
1. Name of case
2. Full citation
3. Optional: vote, author of opinion, legal topic classification, etc.
Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954).
Author: Warren, C.J.
Legal Topics: Const. Law; Civil Rights
1. Principal parties to the dispute
2. Relationships among those parties
3. Events that led to the dispute
Which party/parties initiated legal action against which others?
2. The legal claims and relief sought (but keep this short!)
3. The disposition(s) of lower courts, if any
4. The authoring court’s disposition
A material question of fact or law that arises from the claims, defenses, and arguments of the parties
Hint: Try to state the issue as narrowly as possible, tailoring it to the crucial facts and legal rules of the case
EXAMPLE ISSUE STATEMENTS
BAD: “Did the trial court correctly grant summary judgment for the defendant?”
BETTER: “Is an employer liable in tort for discharging an at-will employee for a reason that violates public policy?”
BEST: “Is the employer liable in tort for discharging an at-will employee because of her refusal to participate in a public ‘mooning’, a discharge that contravened the public policy against indecent exposure reflected in a criminal statute?”
Simple answer: Yes or No
Detailed answer: Transform issue into a holding in the form of a statement
“Yes. By discharging the employee because she refused to participate in a public ‘mooning,’ the employer violated public policy reflected in a criminal statute prohibiting indecent exposure.”
1. Rule and Rationale
2. Distinguishing Dicta
Dicta: Statements in the opinion that help explain the court’s reasoning but address questions not squarely presented in the dispute before the court
1. Was the reasoning convincing?
2. Did the court apply the proper standard of review?
3. Did the court properly analyze the statute or constitutional provision?
4. Did the court put the proper amount of emphasis on equitable considerations?
Martin v. City of Seattle, 105 Wn.App. 1041 (2001)
Martin and other named plaintiffs appeal the trial court's dismissal on summary judgment of their class action lawsuit against the City of Seattle. The purported class consists of all persons who received parking tickets as a result of short-changing meters during a six-year period. Each parking ticket incurred a $20 fine.
We do not reach the merits of the claim because we conclude that this court lacks jurisdiction to hear the case. Under RCW 2.06.030, the appellate jurisdiction of this court does not extend to civil actions at law for the recovery of money or personal property when the original amount in controversy does not exceed the sum of $200. Appellants may not aggregate their claims against the City in order to reach the $200 limit so as to confer jurisdiction. [FN1] Therefore, we must dismiss the case.