How to brief a case
There are several ways to brief cases, and many different formats that can be used. Some lawyers want it a certain way, and paralegal societies also have their own standard.The primary idea is to provide short and to the point ideas about a case, its facts and outcomes to the reader as soon as possible.The format I suggest is shown in the example below, but you may do any format that communicates the ideas noted here.
Here are steps you can follow:
- Read the summary opinion of the case.
- If you are unclear about any part of the case, read the actual decision. Consider what the important parts of the opinion are, and try to provide little emphasis on those facts or issues that are not the primary part of the case.
Now, provide this information:
- Give the name and citiation of the case.
- Provide a concise summary and statement of the important facts in the case. Keep in mind that sometimes the “facts” are actually the procedures used to get the case to the Supreme Court, and those will be what are discussed.
- Do a brief summary of the procedures that were used in the case. Where was a case initially filed, and what appeals have ooccurred?List these out.
- Note the primary issue in the case.Sometimes the opinion will have that, or sometimes you may have it.
- If there is an existing rule in the area of law surrounding the case, note that.
- Show the decision and show the vote of the judges.This is highly useful information.
- Provide a summary of the decision, along with a note about any concurring or dissenting opinions.
Sample brief – ENCINO MOTORCARS, LLC v. NAVARRO
Citation______________,579U.S.___ (2016) (No. 15-215 – 6/20/2016)
Brief Fact Summary.The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that employers pay overtime to non-exempt employees.“Service advisers” at Encino Motorcars who sold service contracts and service on autos were treated as exempt employees, and not paid overtime for time over 40 hours which they claim they routinely worked.Those employees sued Encino, claiming they should be non-exempt, relying on the FLSA as well as a US Department of Labor (DOL)rule change in 2011.The DOL changed their interpretation of an FLSA exemption for auto salesmen, and claimed that service advisers were not salesmen, and therefor, should be non-exempt.The DOL gave little explanation for its decision and rule change.
Procedural Steps:The 6 employees brought an action in the Central District of California federal court against their employer. The District Court dismissed the action, holding that the statutory exemption applied to service advisers.The employees appealed to the Ninth Circuit,which held that the DOL rule change was entitled to great deference and understanding since it was the DOL, and that based primarily on that rule change, the employees should be non-exempt and eligible for overtime pay. Encino appealed to the Supreme Court.
Primary Issue.Is an interpretation by the US DOL about labor matters entitled to great deference when the DOL gives very little explanation or reason for its change, and based on that, are service advisers considered “sales” people non entitled to overtime?
Synopsis of Rule of Law Prior to the Case.In general, rules made by administrative agencies in the area they oversee are entitled to great deference and consideration.This is called the Chevron doctrine, based on a prior case. In this case, the DOL had not given compelling reasons for its rule change.
Decision: 6-2 Opinion by Justice Kennedy, with a dissent by Justices Thomas and Alito.
Summary of Decision: The Supreme Court ruled that when an administrative agency like the DOL changes a long-held rule, it must provide a well-reasoned explanation for its decision in order to be given “Chevron” deference.Since the Court found the DOL had not provided that explanation, it refused to give that deference, and it sent the case back to the Ninth Circuit to decide how it would rule if it did not give that deference to the rule change.
In a short dissent, Justices Thomas and Alito found that it was clear enough that these employees were qualified as exempt, because they were service advisers, engaged in selling automobiles, and that they would not be eligible for overtime.