How to cite a court case in APA Style

Legal citations (e.g. court cases, laws) in APA Style look somewhat different from other APA citations. They generally don’t list authors, and abbreviations are used to make them more concise.

Citations for court cases refer to reporters, the publications in which cases are documented. To cite a court case or decision, list the name of the case, the volume and abbreviated name of the reporter, the page number, the name of the court, the year, and optionally the URL.

The case name is italicized in the in-text citation, but not in the reference list. In the reference, specify only a single page number—the page where the coverage of that case begins—instead of a full page range.

Format Name v. Name, Volume number Reporter Page number (Court Year). URL
Reference entry Thorne v. Deas, 4 Johns. 84 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1809). https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/torts/torts-keyed-to-dobbs/contract-and-duty/thorne-v-deas/
In-text citation (Thorne v. Deas, 1809)

Format variations for specific levels of court are explained in the sections below.

Abbreviations in APA legal citations

Most words are abbreviated in legal citations. This means that a very large number of standard abbreviations exist. Consult resources like this page to familiarize yourself with common abbreviations.

Pages where case information is found online also tend to show the correct form of citation for the case in question. You can check these to make sure you use the right abbreviations.

Note that “v.” (for “versus”) is used between the names of the parties in a case title, though APA recommends “vs.” outside the context of legal citations.

Citing federal court cases

Federal court cases are those that take place at the national level in the U.S.—in the U.S. Supreme Court, a circuit court, or a district court.

U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the highest federal court, and its decisions are reported in the United States Reports (abbreviated to “U.S.” in the reference). You don’t need to specify the court in parentheses in this case, since the name of the reporter already makes this clear.

Format Name v. Name, Volume number U.S. Page number (Year). URL
Reference entry Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001). https://www.oyez.org/cases/2000/99-1687
In-text citation (Bartnicki v. Vopper, 2001)

Circuit court

Decisions from the U.S. circuit courts are reported in the Federal Reporter. This reporter has appeared in three series; the first is abbreviated as “F.”, the second as “F.2d”, and the third and current series as “F.3d”.

There are 13 circuit courts, so specify which one you’re citing in the parentheses, e.g. “9th Cir.”

Format Name v. Name, Volume number F. or F.2d or F.3d Page number (Court Year). URL
Reference entry Lawrence v. Heller, 311 F.2d 225 (10th Cir. 1962). https://openjurist.org/311/f2d/225/lawrence-v-heller
In-text citation (Lawrence v. Heller, 1962)

District court

Decisions from the U.S. district courts are reported in the Federal Supplements. Like the Federal Reporter, it has appeared in three series, abbreviated as “F. Supp.”, “F. Supp. 2d”, and “F. Supp. 3d”.

There are many different district courts, so specify which one is being cited in the parentheses, e.g. “N.D. Ohio.”

Format Name v. Name, Volume number F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d or F. Supp. 3d Page number (Court Year). URL
Reference entry Sohappy v. Smith, 302 F. Supp. 899 (D. Or. 1969). https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/302/899/2007176/
In-text citation (Sohappy v. Smith, 1969)

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Citing state court cases

State courts are those that operate in specific states rather than federally. The two kinds of state court that are commonly cited are supreme courts and appellate courts. They are both cited in a similar format.

Format Name v. Name, Volume number Reporter Page number (Court Year). URL
Reference entry Mullins v. Parkview Hosp., Inc., 865 N.E.2d 608 (Ind. 2007). https://www.casebriefs.com/blog/law/torts/torts-keyed-to-dobbs/establishing-a-claim-for-intentional-tort-to-person-or-property/mullins-v-parkview-hospital-inc/
In-text citation (Mullins v. Parkview Hosp., Inc., 2007)

Frequently asked questions about APA Style citations

How do I cite a court case with no page number in APA Style?

In APA Style, when you’re citing a recent court case that has not yet been reported in print and thus doesn’t have a specific page number, include a series of three underscores (___) where the page number would usually appear:

Chicago v. Fulton, 592 U.S. ___ (2021). https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/20pdf/19-357_6k47.pdf
How do I cite a court case reported in multiple publications in APA Style?

With APA legal citations, it’s recommended to cite all the reporters (publications reporting cases) in which a court case appears. To cite multiple reporters, just separate them with commas in your reference entry. This is called parallel citation.

Don’t repeat the name of the case, court, or year; just list the volume, reporter, and page number for each citation. For example:

Brown v. Collins, 541 U.S. 948, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 2215, 124 S. Ct. 1684, 158 L. Ed. 2d 377, 72 U.S.L.W. 3598 (U.S. 2004).

No, including a URL is optional in APA Style reference entries for legal sources (e.g. court cases, laws). It can be useful to do so to aid the reader in retrieving the source, but it’s not required, since the other information included should be enough to locate it.

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Jack Caulfield

Jack is a Brit based in Amsterdam, with an MA in comparative literature. He writes and edits for Scribbr, and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

1 comment

Jack Caulfield
Jack Caulfield (Scribbr Team)
February 4, 2021 at 5:33 PM

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