How do you update a Court opinion?
Use a Citator.
When a court decides a legal issue, it sets a "precedent" for that jurisdiction which guides the court in future decision making. Until such time as that precedent is reversed, or modified in some manner, it remains as "good law". This policy of building upon our judicial body of law based upon past decision making is referred to as stare decisis. It is this concept of adhering, to the extent reasonable under current circumstances, to previously decided points of law that makes citators a useful method for tracking changes in the law.
Citators are books containing lists of references (citations) to subsequent court opinions that refer to (cite) a particular earlier opinion. There are citators for every state and federal jurisdiction as well as citators for particular subject areas of the law, such as tax, labor and the Uniform Commercial Code. Additionally, citators for constitutions, court rules, jury instructions, etc., can be used to find citing court opinions.
Print citators are kept current with regularly issued updates in the form of softbound pamphlets (advance sheets). Citators are primarily published by Shepard's Publishing Company and instructions on how to use the Citator are contained in the introduction to each volume. Checking for subsequent citations to an earlier court opinion (case) is often referred to as "Shepardizing."
Law students have online access to citators using KeyCite on Westlaw and Shepard's on Lexis.
By way of example, in 1993 the Oregon Supreme Court in Dolan v. City of Tigard, 317 Or 110, upheld the City's conditions imposed on the development of Dolan's commercial property. Using the Oregon Citator you will discover that in 1994 the United States Supreme Court in 512 U.S. 374, reversed the decision of the Oregon Supreme Court.
Always remember to "Shepardize" the Court opinions upon which you are relying as a statement of current law.
- Note: The abbreviations used in the Citators are unique to Shepard's. For an introductory explanation of citations and abbreviations used in legal writing, consult "Citations".
- Note: Due to the delay in publication of print updates, it is advisable to "Shepardize" online.