Case brief | Finance | California State University, Fullerton

Please read the case attached and make a case brief about it, follow the direction and example below.

How to Brief a Case

Students must use the exact format and headings

To brief a case, you must read the case thoroughly, taking in the main points, then write up a short synopsis of the case. Your brief must contain information from the case organized in the following manner:  (1) case name and year; (2) area of law; (3) facts; (4) legal issue; (5) decision; and (6) three reasons. 

By organizing case information according to the these categories, students can create a short guide to the case that contains all of the relevant information to aid in understanding the case so that you, as a manager, would be able to explain the case to one of your employees.

The following is a description of the REQUIRED FORMAT & HEADINGS to be included in your Case Brief:

  1. Case name and year. This information is used to identify the case.  Under this heading the case name, the court making the decision (Students must select a U.S. Supreme Court case.), and the year the decision was made.
  2. Area of Law. Identify the general area of law (from the syllabus “Course Outline”) and the specific area of law within that.
  3. Facts. The facts section is used to provide the relevant background information from the case to facilitate a full understanding of what lead to the case. The facts section should be labeled and include:

a. Relevant background information

b. Legal arguments made by the plaintiff(s)

c. Legal arguments made by the defendant(s)

d. Decisions made by lower courts

  1. Legal Issue. The issue is the legal question the court has been asked to address in hearing the case. As such, the issue should be phrased as a question that can be answered by a “Yes” or a “No” and should pertain to the legal matter at the heart of the case. There should be no facts and no names in this section of your brief.
  2. Decision. The decision refers to how the U.S. Supreme Court answered the question identified as the issue.  You must answer your legal issue with a “Yes” or “No” followed by a complete sentence to answer the question that states clearly the substantive legal conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court. Do not simply state that the case was remanded to another court for proceedings consistent with the opinion.
  3. Three Reasons. Provide a minimum of three (separately labeled) substantive legal reasons upon which the court made the ruling that it did regarding the issue. This explains why the court ruled the way that it did.

Example Case Brief

Students must use the exact format and headings

Case name and year:   Morse v. Frederick

                                    Supreme Court of the United States, 2007.

Area of Law:  U.S. Constitution—First Amendment—Freedom of Speech


a. Relevant background information: Morse, the principal of a high school in Alaska, allowed the students to stand outside the school to watch as the Olympic torch was carried past the high school in 2002.  At this school-sanctioned and school-supervised event, several students held up a banner containing the phrase, “BONG HITS 4 JESUS.”  Morse, thinking the banner advocated illegal drug use, following school policy against messages that are pro-drug use, told the students to take the banner down.  Frederick, one of the students with the banner, refused, and was subsequently suspended.  The superintendent and the school board both supported the principal’s actions. 

b. Legal arguments made by the plaintiff(s): The student sued the school, arguing that the school violated the student’s First Amendment right to free speech. 

c. Legal arguments made by the defendant(s): The school argued that it was within their power to prevent the promotion of drug use and there was no violation of the First Amendment.

d. Decisions made by lower courts: The District Court ruled in favor of the school, saying no First Amendment violation occurred. The student appealed and the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision. The Ninth Circuit agreed that the activity was school-authorized and that the message was pro-marijuana use. However, the Ninth Circuit argued that the school did not demonstrate that the student’s speech threatened a substantial disruption, and thus his First Amendment right was violated. The school then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Legal Issue:  Did the school official’s actions requiring the student to take down the banner and then suspending the student for his refusal violate the student’s First Amendment right to free speech?

Decision:  No, the student’s First Amendment right to free speech was not violated.  The Ninth Circuit’s opinion was reversed and remanded in favor of the school official.

Three Reasons: 

Reason 1) The Supreme Court reasoned that the student’s speech is properly understood as school speech, as it was at a school-sanctioned event, during school hours, on and immediately off school property. As a school speech case, the school is allowed to limit speech in ways they could not were it not a school event, which limits the student’s speech rights preventing his unfurling of a banner supporting drug use in blatant violation of school policy. 

Reason 2) The pro-drug message was clear and no reasonable interpretation exists for what the banner meant other than to support illegal drug use. The pro-drug message, which was against school policy, was not required by Tinker v. Des Moines, 393 U.S. 503, to involve a substantial disruption, as was argued in Bethel School Dist. No 403 v. Fraser, 478 U.S. 675. 

Reason 3) Furthermore, in accordance with the importance of preventing school aged children from engaging in illegal substance use, the school was well within its power to suspend the student for promoting drug use via his banner. The right to free speech is not lost when children enter school, but the nature of permissible speech, per the ruling in Fraser, changes.

Grading Criteria

I want to help you avoid common mistakes and get FULL credit on your brief. Many students lose points unnecessarily on the case brief by not following the directions. Consequently, it ends up lowering their grade in the class. Make sure that your Case Brief is formatted like the example case brief shown above.

Make sure that you submit your Case Brief on the Canvas discussion board by the due date in the syllabus.

10 points or more will be subtracted from your score for EACH of the following common mistakes:

  • Not using the required brief format from the “Example Case Brief” given on the Canvas module.
  • Not completing all of the required sections of the Case Brief
  • The case is not a U.S. Supreme Court Case.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court did not reach a legal conclusion. If they did not, do not use the case for your case brief assignment. You should choose a different case.
  • The legal topic is not directly related to one of the legal topics of the “Course Outline” from the syllabus.
  • The facts presented are not separately labeled a,b,c&d.
  • The facts presented are confusing or incomplete.
  • The issue presented is confusing or incomplete.
  • The issue is not phrased as a legal question. (Facts and names do NOT belong in the issue section.)
  • The decision does not answer the legal issue with a “Yes” or “No” followed by a complete sentence to answer the question that states clearly the substantive legal conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • The reason section does not identify a minimum of three (separately labeled) substantive legal reasons upon which the U.S. Supreme Court made the ruling that it did regarding the issue.

Double check your work 

  • After you have finished writing your brief, double check this list against your brief.
  • These points can be the difference between an “A” and a “B” in the class. Please follow the directions and avoid these common mistakes.

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