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Court decisions rarely comment on the legal citations used in court filings that paralegals spend so much time getting right. Sometimes however, the way in which cases and statutes are cited can become important issues in a case.
In Smith v. Sutherland Bldg. Material Ctrs., No. 1:16-CV-00811, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 34831 (W.D. La. Jan. 27, 2017), Magistrate Judge Joseph H.L. Perez-Montes ruled on a motion to remand to state court, which turned on whether or not the Defendants had properly removed to federal court on the basis of the inclusion of a federal claim in an amended petition. The amended petition referred to the violation of Smith's civil rights "to privacy, Due Process of Law, and rights of the accused provided under the Louisiana Constitution", Id. at *4 (citing ECF No. 1-1). The Defendants contended the capitalized reference to the 'Due Process of Law', should have been read as a reference to the Constitution of the United States of America, rather than the Constitution of the State of Louisiana. The Plaintiff had specifically cited the U.S. Constitution in their original petition.
The Defendants cited Bluebook Rule 8 which specifies rules for capitalization in legal briefs. Indeed, the Bluebook does direct its readers to, ". . . capitalize nouns that identify specific parts of the U.S. Constitution when referring to them in textual sentences, but not in citations.", and gives this example: "Students in this class have studied the full faith and credit clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. The students agree that the clause in that constitution is substantially similar to the Full Faith and Credit Clause in the U.S. Constitution." The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation R. 8 at 85 (19th ed. 2010).
Luckily for the Plaintiff (and the paralegal working for his attorney) Judge Perez-Montes did not accept the Defendants' rather clever argument. "The Blue Book is a widely used style guide for legal citation, but it is not uniformly followed. For instance, many states, including the State of Louisiana, do not follow Blue Book format for state case law. In addition, there are other legal citation style guides. Therefore, citation style does not dictate whether a federal or state claim is presented in a complaint. Instead, the well-pleaded complaint rule governs whether federal jurisdiction exists." Id. at *9, (citing Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S. Ct. 2425, 96 L. Ed. 2d 318 (1987), Gully v. First Nat. Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 57 S. Ct. 96, 97-98 (1936)).
In general, the well-pleaded complaint rule is the principle that a complaint must refer to a specific federal issue, and not anticipate a defense that will arise under federal law. Here, the Court invoked the well-pleaded complaint rule to support the position that a federal question must appear on the face of the complaint.
The Court granted the motion to remand the case to Louisiana state court.
Lexis notes in this guide, that in Louisiana state courts, the Louisiana Law Review Streamlined
Citation Manual (SCM), The Bluebook, and the ALWD Guide to Legal Citation are all used as citation authorities, and in practice citation formats can vary between the various local courts.