Introducing: Citation Checking on Clerk

A couple of months ago, we discussed how frequent and problematic misattributed and misquoted cases are in briefs. Today, we’re excited to share that in addition to checking the accuracy of quoted text, Clerk now has the ability to check the accuracy of the citations in a brief.

Is a case name misspelled? Is there a typo in the reporter? Or, did the wrong reporter get listed? These aren’t uncommon problems. In fact, despite the existence of copy-with-citation technology in most major research tools, over 80% of briefs still make errors in spelling or citing their cases.

What goes into a correct citation?

One of the first lessons taught in law school is how to format a correct case citation. The most common citation format is Bluebook, while state courts in California adhere to the California Style Manual.

A case citation, consisting of the name, year of publication, official reporter cite, and parallel cites.

A proper case citation is comprised of the case’s name, year of publication, reporter number, reporter name, and the page number where the case appears in the reporter. Sometimes, citations will contain parallel reporter cites or pin cites to the exact page number the brief or case is referencing.

The most common citation errors

In the course of developing and refining Clerk’s citation checking feature, we identified the most commonly occurring categories of errors. While we came across most of these errors in briefs, citation mistakes are also found frequently in case law. Across briefs and case law, the most frequent types of errors consist of the following:

Case name typos:

One commonly occurring type of error is misspellings or typos in case names.

These case name errors include misspellings that don’t change the pronunciation of the name. For example:

The brief’s citation is on the left, and the correct citation is on the right. The brief misspelled “Oldcastle” as “Oldecastle” in their citation.
The incorrect citation adds an extra “e” to “Fremont”
The incorrect citation leaves a “t” off the end of “Pettitt”

Some misspellings do change the pronunciation of the name. For example:

The incorrect citation transposes “e” and “l” in “Flatley”
The incorrect citation changes “Miklosy” into “Miklosky”
The incorrect citation changes “Goodman” into “Goldman”

The remaining types of citation mistakes have to do with errors in citing the correct reporter.

There are four main types of errors in this category:

1. Cal App v. Cal: “Cal. App.” is the reporter used to report appellate decisions in California, while “Cal.” is for California Supreme Court decisions. It is very common for briefs to leave out (or add on) the “App.,” thus confusing which court issued the opinion.

Tomaselli v. Transamerica is actually from Cal.App.4th, not Cal.4th

2. Wrong number, correct reporter: Other times, briefs will mis-cite or leave out the correct number in the reporter abbreviation.

Yeng Sue Chow v. Levi Strauss & Co. is from Cal.App.3d not 2d.
Martinez v. Joe’s Crab Shack Holdings is from Cal.Rptr.3d not Cal.Rptr.

3. Volume number and page number errors: Briefs also miscite the volume number of the reporter or the page number.

Principal Life Ins. Co. is found in 156 Cal.App.4th, not 56 Cal.App.4th.
This page number error is found in a heavily cited California supreme court case, Gantt v. Sentry Insurance. Foley v. Interactive Data Corp.’s correct citation is actually 47 Cal.3d 654, not 47 Cal.3d at page 1.

4. Finally, cases and briefs often combine reporters from different cases.

In the image below, Navellier v. Sletten cites to City of Cotati v. Cashman. This citation to Cotati contains a parallel citation (124 Cal.Rptr.2d 507) which actually points to Equilon Enterprises, LLC v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53, 124 Cal.Rptr.2d 507. In this case, the California Supreme Court is distinguishing Cotati and following Equilon. This isn’t a small unpublished case making a mistake — Navellier is a California Supreme Court case that’s been cited to over 1100 times.

The California Supreme Court miscited Cotati as “124 Cal.Rptr.2d 507,” which is the reporter citation for another case, Equilon Enterprises, LLC v. Consumer Cause, Inc.

Courts make these errors too.

As evidenced by the Navellier v. Sletten citation error above, It is important to recognize that these citation errors aren’t unique to briefs. While briefs may make errors more frequently than case law, the negative consequences of a keyboard slip up in a court opinion can be much more damaging. When case names are misspelled and reporters mistyped or miscited, it becomes difficult to link the citing and cited case together. This means that it becomes easy to miss possibly important citator treatments, including distinguishes, disapprovals, or even overrulings.

Because the implications of missing a citation due to a mistake can be heavy, Judicata’s technology is resilient to these sorts of errors. We have layers of cross-checks and comparisons to make sure we know which case is being referenced.

Clerk to the rescue!

Unlike some of the quotation errors we explored in our previous blog post, these citation errors are unintentional. Rather, when citing dozens of cases in a brief, it’s a daunting manual task to check the accuracy of each individual citation. And while copy-with-citation technology has made lawyers’ jobs a bit easier, properly supporting non-quoted text and maintaining accuracy during the drafting and editing process is incredibly difficult. With Clerk’s newest functionality, those days are over.

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