Proposed Citation System

Report to Board of Bar Governors
Technology Resource Committee
June 22, 1994


Two Main Items of Proposal

The Committee proposes two main items:
State Authoritative Archive of Opinions
Maintenance by the Clerk's Office (and the State law Library) in electronic format of an archive of the final copies of all opinions in their final form. This archive would be available to anyone who wished to copy part or all of the archive, for the cost of copying. It would constitute the authoritative master copy of state court opinions.
Universal Citation System
The adoption of a universal, vendor independent, citation system that can be used by any publisher, and is suitable for any media.

State Electronic Archive

At present most opinions are in electronic format when they leave the courts. With the present exception of Supreme Court opinions they are provided to the publishers in electronic format.[n 4] The Committee proposes that the state continue this practice, but that

  1. The opinions be preserved indefinitely.
  2. The copies of the archived file be available to anyone who wishes to publish or otherwise use the law for the cost of making a copy.
  3. The archive reflect any post issuance editorial changes

The logical place for such an archive is in the Clerk's Office. In addition to the master archive within the Clerk's Office, the committee would suggest that a duplicate archive be maintained in the State Law Library. The reason for this is to provide redundancy in the event of disaster, and because the State Law Library as an institution is better able to respond to requests for dissemination from the public.

The archive would have the ability to provide to anyone a set of Wisconsin case law for the cost of copying. It may be possible, at a future date, to allow dial in access to the archive, or Internet access for obtaining copies of opinions. The archive would replace the current BBS maintained for the use of publishers.

Proposed Citation Form

The committee recommends that there be a single citation format for case law in Wisconsin, usable by printed media, database providers of case law, and providers of case law on CD-Rom or other media. The proposed citation format includes the following four elements:
  1. Year
  2. Authority/Court
  3. Case Number
  4. Paragraph Number

Each element of the citation should be separated by a single space. Paragraph numbers should be separated from the sequential case number by a comma. Thus a cite might be:

1996 Wis App 235, 15

Each element would have the following meaning:

1966 -
the year of the decision
Wis App -
the Court of Appeals
235, -
the 235th opinion
15 -
the 15th paragraph

Footnotes would be handled as they are now in citations.

Details of Citation Elements
The year should be designated by four digits, such as 1996. The four digits will eliminate possible confusion with a volume number in the existing citation system, provide a visual cue that the citation is in the new format, and avoid confusion as to the year meant after the turn of the century.


The Court should be distinguished in this section. In the case of a Supreme Court opinion, the designation would be "Wis". In the case of a Court of Appeals decision, the designation would be "Wis App".[n 5] There should be a space between "Wis" and "App", such as "Wis App". No periods should be attached to the abbreviated designation, as they are superfluous.
Case Number
Opinions from both the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals should be numbered in one unified sequential numbering system. The sequential number is designated by the Clerk of Courts. On January 1 of each year, the sequential numbers begin at one (1).
Paragraph Number
Paragraph numbers should be used to identify pinpoint citations. Each paragraph within the opinion should be sequentially numbered by use of an automatic feature in the word processor (macro).

Page Numbers Rejected

The Committee considered using the page numbers from the slip opinion rather than paragraph numbers. It rejected doing so. The problems with page numbers are discussed elsewhere in this report, and though using court established page numbering would make the result "vendor neutral", other disadvantages remain. Moreover, because based on a technology (paper printing), page numbers are susceptible to technological changes.

Author's intent

Paragraph numbers are not based on the technology, but on the author's intent. A paragraph indicates what the author intended as a complete thought, and is determined by the author, not the technology. Moreover, because paragraphs are logically related to the author's points and concepts, they work better for pinpoint citations.

Long or indented quotations should be part of the paragraph immediately preceding or succeeding it, so that the thought is a continuous one.
Footnotes would not be assigned a separate paragraph number and would be regarded as part of the paragraph in which they appear.
Paragraph number format
The following is an example of the use of paragraph numbers within the text of an opinion:
¶11 Although American Family did not participate in the litigation, it had previously been named as a defendant because prior to litigation it had made no-fault medical payments in the amount of $5895.75 and had refused to waive its rights to subrogation for that amount.

¶12 The relevant facts are these: On April 11, 1986 Voge was injured in an automobile accident with Anderson. Voge brought suit against Anderson and his automobile liability insurer, Illinois Farmers, and a jury trial commenced on May 21, 1990.

¶13 On July 19, 1990, American Family paid $150,000 to Voge on three UIM policies of $50,000 each. American Family's policy contained an express subrogation clause which read:

Our recovery right. If we pay under this policy, we are entitled to all the rights of recovery of the person to whom payment was made against another.

However, American Family then waived any subrogation rights it had to seek reimbursement from Ander and Illinois Farmers.

¶14 Although American Family did not participate in the litigation, it had previously been named as a defendant because prior to litigation it had made no-fault medical payments in the amount of $5895.75 and had refused to waive its rights to subrogation for that amount.

The example uses the paragraph sign, "¶" which is available on most word processing equipment. If it is not available, the abbreviation "par." would be used.[n 6]

Numbering mechanism
A wordprocessor macro will automatically number the paragraphs. Paragraph numbering should begin at the line of the author's name (or per curiam). Neither the caption nor the mandate line should have a paragraph number.
Withdrawn Opinions
In the event that an opinion that is issued a number is withdrawn, that number will not be reused. The number will contain the caption "Opinion Withdrawn." There should be no reference to the case name or the jurisdiction.
Unpublished Opinions
Opinions designated as "Unpublished" are not included in the sequential numbering system. However, there is nothing that precludes unpublished opinions from having the paragraph numbers assigned. [n 7]
Orders of the Court and Special Proceedings
These would receive a sequential number as an opinion would.
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4 The opinions are provided to the publishers thorough an electronic bulletin board, or "BBS". A BBS is a facility that one may call with a computer using a modem. Once a connection is established the user's computer can download computer files, read notices, and leave or receive messages. [Return to text]

5 The Committee considered using postal abbreviation codes, i.e. "WI" rather than "Wis", but decided that the change might be more radical than desirable. "WI" would have the virtue of being a form that could be used by any state system. [Return to text]

6 One of the database publishers, Lexis, advised us that their system would not be able to show paragraph numbers until they had completed a program modernization project that is under way. [Return to text]

7 The Committee's intent after considerable discussion was to not sequentially number unpublished opinions as they cannot be cited in Wisconsin and it is administratively convenient not to number them. However, at a late point, one of the editors of the "Blue Book" pointed out that unpublished Wisconsin opinions can be and are cited in other jurisdictions. The comment suggests that we should reconsider numbering them, identifying them by a "U" or other code after the sequential case number, e.g., "123U". The Committee has not had an opportunity to reconsider the issue yet. [Return to text]