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From the front line -- A reminder about legal research "on the web"

7 October A.D. 2014

There´s a difference between (A) "on line" research (in competent databases) and (B) legal research "on the web."

Be VERY, VERY careful when grabbing quotes and cites from the web.

Just had the occasion to confirm some suggested cites found in an interestingly large number of web sites, some of which site managers very definitely should know better, and regarding some others of which there´s no surprise at all that there´s a problem of this nature.

The research "test language" is this concept about "jurisdiction."

"A judge ceases to sit as a judicial officer because the governing principle of administrative law provides that courts are prohibited from substituting their evidence, testimony, record, arguments, and rationale for that of the agency. Additionally, courts are prohibited from substituting their judgment for that of the agency. Courts in administrative issues are prohibited from even listening to or hearing arguments, presentation, or rational." ASIS v. US, 568 F2d 284.

The worst problem is that the quoted language is found nowhere in the opinion at that cite.
Here´s a link to the opinion found at that page in that volume of that Reporter:

Feel free both to read the opinion and to perform electronic searches on it in search of the quoted language.  You´ll find that a search for the term "judge" (without the quotes when entered into the search box) will be sufficient.  Several other searches will prove unsatisfying, but very confirming.  A search on the term "ceases," for example, comes back with no hits.  A search on the term "substituting" also returns no hits.  "No hits" is unsatisfying, but it´s also a 100% confirmation of the problem addressed here.  There simply is no such language in that opinion.

The cite, itself, is incomplete, which is a pretty good clue to check further.  The complete cite would be closer to this:  568 F.2d 284 (3d Cir. 1977).  For a complete listing and discussion of proper citation, see "The Bluebook -- A Uniform System of Citation," which is typically published and distributed by The Harvard Law Review Association.  This is not the only complete citation guide.  Also, each state may have its own particular formatting "suggestions."   For example, the Texas Law Review publishes "Texas Rules of Form."  There´s an impressively extensive set of rules for formatting various sources of authority cited in motions and briefs.

As for the case style, itself, there turns out to be yet another strikingly obvious problem.  The first-named plaintiff is American Iron and Steel Institute, the acronym for which is AISI, not ASIS.

Yet another problem is that "United States" is not a (named) party defendant in that matter.  The EPA is, and where that´s the case style of the opinion, it´s extremely rare (as in "never" done) to substitute "United States," a party nowhere listed in the case style, for the EPA (or any agency, for that matter).

Incomplete citation references are the best excuse for checking further into concepts found "on the web."  A complete cite will have not only the (correct) case style, but also the volume and page number of the Reporter, as well as which court entered the published ruling (here, "3d Cir.") and the year in which the opinion/ruling was entered.  To find the volume and page in the identified Reporter is then also to have found not only the case style information but also the quoted language or referred-to concept, if it´s there, at all.

Why is the quote not found in that opinion?  This author´s guess is that whatever the actual origin of that "quote," the cite was deliberately corrupted so as to serve as the (sick) "joke" that it turns out to be.  It´s one way that agents provocateur "track" the flow and "success" of their mis-information.

If that language really did exist in that opinion, then one possibility is that the language in the case has been altered, somehow, in making it ready for the web.  The only way to know that, for sure, is to find the printed, published opinion in the books in the law library and read it for its content.

Another possibility is that the language exists but that the cite is somehow errant.  There may be an "AISI v. United States" case "out there," and there may also be an "ASIS v. United States" case "out there."  The page number could be mistyped, as could also be a problem with the volume.  As also happens from time to time, the volume and page are correct, but the Reporter is the wrong one.

In a quick search for each case style, if either does exist, this author has yet to find either of such cases electronically available "on the web."  To verify the entirety of the cite, the thing to do is find the origin of the quote.  In a generic search for that quote, this author has yet to find a reference to any case containing it.  Doesn´t mean it´s not there.  Just means that this author hasn´t found that "quote" anywhere, yet.

It happens here that the case style, itself, is a (sick) "joke," and that while there is actually a case at that page in that volume in that Reporter, which sometimes is not the situation, at all, the alleged "quote" just simply isn´t there.

In sum, research "on the web" is a bad idea, generally.  Better is to start at the law library.  A close second is electronic research in an on-line database, but access to those is typically "by subscription fee only."  Even with electronic searches, be careful.  To get a general list from the initial search, and then to drill down into that first set of hits with further, successive searches, can, and has in the past, produced links to cases that say one thing in the link and something totally different when that link is followed all the way through to the opinion, itself.  In other words, there´s no guarantee that the subsets of the search are "reset" between successive sub-searches.  This author ran into that problem once, and it was embarrassing enough that it has never happened, again.  Electronically accessible databases are great, but even then, it´s Ok to check and double check everything about the reference that ends up in the materials filed with the court.

The example here, of there being a case reference/cite that just simply does not say what the quote attributes to that opinion, is "just one more" example of the unfortunately "typical" problem encountered with legal research "on the web."  Incomplete cites are one of the best clues going for finding value in checking out further that which is found "on the web," regardless of whose web site is providing that information.

Harmon L. Taylor
Legal Reality
Dallas, Texas

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