Written court opinions are the way in which the judicial branch of government communicates to legislators, lawyers, social policy makers, and the public. When reading each case, try to focus on the broad principles the court is addressing. For example, let's look carefully at the very first case in the book, Bottoms v. Bottoms.
1. The two parties who are involved in the lawsuit are a mother and her daughter. The daughter is appealing a lower court decision to grant custody of her son to her mother. The daughter is the appellant (1a), and her mother is the appellee (1b).
2. This case can be found in volume number 444 of a series of books called "Southeastern 2d" on page 276. The first number always tells you the volume number (2a); the page number where the case begins is noted (2b), and the date the case was decided (2c).
3. Enough facts are given so that you understand the context and background of the case.
4. The key issue facing the court is identified. Notice that the issue is not particular only to this case. Rather, it is an issue that could come up again in future, similar cases.
5. The decision of the court is noted, followed by a very brief explanation of the court's thinking.
6. A more in-depth explanation of the court's reasoning is offered.
7. The implications for social work practice and policy making are suggested. Especially noted are recent social work perspectives found in the recent professional literature (7a). Finally, a full reference citation is given (7b).
As you read each case, be aware that the court is focusing only on the narrow issue before it. Tangential issues and implications are left for another time.