How to Brief a Case: Tutorial

The "statement of facts" portion of the case "brief" is one of the most difficult (and important) elements of any brief. While there is no absolute formula for determining precisely which facts must be included in a case brief, there are certain guidelines that are generally helpful in producing a good "fact" statement.

Keep it simple. Obviously, more details make the case more interesting to read (and to study), but from an analytical viewpoint the "brief" simply MUST reduce the facts to their absolute minimum essentials and must include nothing more. Adding superfluous details will only produce legal conclusions which are unnecessarily (and inappropriately) overbroad or perhaps even inaccurate.

Avoid the use of proper nouns, irrelevant dates & unnecessary details. In stating the facts in Garratt v. Dailey, for example, it is totally unnecessary to know that the Plaintiff's name was "Ruth Garratt", or that the Defendant was "Brian Dailey," or that the incident took place on "July 16." Instead, such unnecessary details should be excluded from the brief altogether as they merely tend to confuse the reader. Use of simple terms such as "the Plaintiff" and "the Defendant" to describe the parties conveys all of the relevant information while reducing the risk of unnecessary confusion. For example, terms such as "Appellant" and "Appellee," or "Petitioner" and "Respondent," although perhaps more technically accurate, can lead to much unnecessary confusion in the "brief," especially when the relative position of the parties changes throughout the appellate process. Likewise, in Garratt, the student should ask what difference does it really make whether the lawn chair was made of wood, canvas or plastic, or whether the incident occurred in the front or back yard of the Plaintiff's home?

Include only LEGALLY RELEVANT facts. Relevance, of course, depends upon the individual circumstances of each case, but the object of the case "brief" is to include only those facts which have relevance to the court in its analysis of the case. Again, in Garratt v. Dailey, most students want to include the additional fact that the Defendant (Brian Dailey) was only five years and nine months old at the time of this incident. In many tort cases this fact would indeed be relevant, but in Garratt the Washington Supreme Court did not consider Brian's youthfulness to be at all relevant to the question of his legal intent, the issue which was actually addressed by the court. Instead, in Garratt the age of the Defendant was only relevant insofar as it had any bearing on the Defendant's knowledge, the legal test adopted and utilized by the court to define what has subsequently become known in tort law as the doctrine of "implied intent."

Use disputed facts ONLY as they have been RESOLVED by the court, the pleadings, or the jury. Judicial opinions frequently include differing (even conflicting) versions of facts. While the "brief" certainly can indicate the existence of factual disputes (where otherwise relevant to the court's analysis), it should state as fact ONLY those facts which the court (or where appropriate, the jury) has actually resolved (either from the evidence or the pleadings) to be true. This principle is nicely illustrated in the Garratt v. Dailey opinion which actually includes two different (and conflicting) versions of the disputed facts surrounding the injury-causing incident. The plaintiff contended that the Defendant had deliberately pulled the chair out from beneath her as she was about to sit in it, whereas the Defendant claimed that as he pulled the chair out and started to sit in it himself, he then noticed that the Plaintiff was about to sit where the chair had been, and he unsuccessfully attempted to push it back underneath her. The Garratt court, by adopting the Defendant's version of the incident settled any dispute as to the facts of this incident. Regardless of whether the student personally believes the version of the facts accepted by the court, the "brief" need only contain this one version. For purposes of the appeal and the court's analysis in the appellate decision, the Defendant's version facts represents the only facts in the case.

Include all "key words" used in the court's analysis. Any "key" words or phrases that are material to the court's legal analysis should also be incorporated into the "statement of facts" portion of the case "brief" wherever appropriate. Inclusion of these legal terms in the statement of the facts will very often aid the student in identifying the "contentions of the parties" and the "issue(s)," since typically these parts of the case "brief" will contain similar terms. Thus, in Garratt v. Dailey, the question of the Defendant's knowledge (to a "substantial certainty") as to whether the Plaintiff would attempt to sit where the chair had been before he moved it remained unresolved in the original case. This accounts for why the court remanded the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. Therefore, the statement of facts in Garratt should certainly include this critical term (i.e., "knowledge").

The Facts of the Case

Edward C. Martin

To view descriptions of each element of a case "brief,"  CLICK on the appropriate link below.

Caption

Type of Action

Facts

Procedural History

Contentions of Parties

Issue(s)

Holding

Rule(s)

Rationale

Result

2001