I have seen this loads of times as I read through court decisions and case law.

I am reading a Decision issued by an appeals court, and the judges cite a case that in turn cites a case. Here is the passage:

Our first task “is to determine whether the language at issue has a plain and unambiguous meaning with regard to the particular dispute in the case.” Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co., Inc., 534 U.S. 438, 450 (2002) (citing Robinson v. Shell Oil Co., 519 U.S. 337, 340 (1997)).

My question is, why bother citing Barnhart v. Sigmon Coal Co at all, if ultimately, the thing we are interested in is really Robinson v. Shell Oil Co.?


1 Answer 1


Lots of reasons

  1. The citing case may be in a higher court than the cited case but might not actually add anything. You always go for the highest authority on record.
  2. From time to time, a case makes a big review and consolidation of all the case law on a particular point. It is then easier to cite that case rather than half a dozen cases that it summarised.
  3. More recent cases are worth more, all else being equal. A case from 2002 shows the law hasn’t changed since the decision in 1997.
  4. Repeated precedents are worth more, all else being equal. By using the citing case you get the weight of two judges (or more for multi-judge appeals) for the price of one.
  5. Some judges write better than others. Citing their cases may better clarify the point.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .