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Environmental Planning Law (PLAN 6200): Legal Citations

For students in the Master of Environmental Planning & Design program

A correct legal citation should:

Identify - identify the document or document part to which the author is referring

Find - provide the reader with sufficient information to find the document or document part in the sources the reader has available (which may or may not be the same sources as those used by the writer)

Relation to argument - furnish important additional information about the referenced material and its connection to the writer's argument so that a reader can decide whether or not to pursue the reference. Parenthetical notes.


Court opinions and articles don’t change. An article or court opinion will never be updated. Court opinions can be effected by later decisions, their authoritative value can be reduced or eliminated but the text of the original opinion will remain the same. So we can take that opinion stick it in a book and just leave it there. But that’s not true for statutes and regulations. Every time a legislature meets some statute is going to change and when statutes change then the regulations change. And because of that dynamic character we don’t just stick statutes and regulations in books and leave them there. So to cite to statutes and regulations we’ve developed differing numbering systems.

33 U.S.C. § 1251 et seq.

  • First number is title number
  • Abbreviation is United States Code (USCA, USCS)
  • Second number is section number
The U.S Code is a codification. That means it is a subject arrangement of all the U.S. statutes. There are 51 subjects which are referred to as Title. A section number is not necessarily unique so the title number is necessary.
There are official and unofficial versions of the U.S. Code. The government publishes the U.S. Code. The other two versions are publications of commercial companies.
United States Code Annotated (USCA)
United States Code Service (USCS)
The reason people buy the commercial or unofficial versions of the code is because of the editorial enhancements. These enhancements, also referred to as annotations, help a researcher understand the meaning or application of a particular statute. If you already have a citation to a pertinent statute you can use it to help you research an issue.
The citation above is to the Clean Water Act (Full title: Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972) (P.L. 92-500).
Ga. Code Ann. §44-10-20 (2004)
  • No separate title number
  • Section number is unique
  • Date of publication
Each state has its own codification of its laws and there are a couple of different numbering schemes. Some use the title and section arrangement like the U.S. Code. Others, like Georgia, use a scheme in which the title is part of the complete section number. The title number is the first number of the chain of numbers. The date is the publication date of the volume itself, not the passage date of the statute. The citation above is to the state historic preservation act.


Legal journals or law reviews have a unique citation system dictated by The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (just referred to as the Bluebook).

2 Ariz. J. Envtl. L. & Pol'y 153 (2012)

  • First number is volume number; volume numbers can correspond to calendar years or academic years
  • Second part is abbreviation of name of publication
  • Second number is page number on which the article begins
  • Number in parentheses is year of publication

Consult Black’s Law Dictionary or the Bluebook for abbreviations. There are lots of Black's on the tables in the law library reading room.

The citation is to an article entitled "Adapting Environmental Justice: In the Age of Climate Change, Environmental Justice Demands a Combined Adaptation-Mitigation Response"


545 U.S. 469; 125 S. Ct. 2655; 162 L. Ed. 2d 439 (2005)

  • First number is volume number
  • Abbreviation U.S. is for United States Reports
  • Second number is the page number where the opinion begins
  • Number in parentheses is year of decision
Both citations are to same case but in different sets of reporters. This is referred to as a parallel citation. Sometimes courts require attorneys to include the parallel cite in documents filed with the court. It depends on what you’re filing, with what body, and the particular rules that body expects you to follow. See list of common abbreviations. The citation is to Kelo v. City of New London.


36 C.F.R. §800.4 (2011)

  • Title number
  • Abbreviation for Code of Federal Regulation
  • Section number
  • Year of specific edition cite
    • Year is important for regulations as the CFR is republished every year.

Administrative agencies are part of the executive branch. Congress delegates the power to issue regulations, known as promulgation, and to adjudicate disputes. Congress delegates this power with the expectation that the regulations will carry out intent of legislature. If the regulations, also called rules, are properly promulgated and fulfill the intent of the statute they have the same legal effect as statutes.The regulation above is for the identification of historic properties under the §106 process.

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