Like many states, Washington has its own citation rules. The Washington Style Sheet tells Washington judges and lawyers to use The Bluebookwith a few exceptions. So, for example, instead of citing statutes with “Wash. Rev. Code” we can just use “RCW.” And we don’t need to provide the publication date or publisher for citations to statutes. Huzzah! And instead of using just P.2d or P.3d to cite Washington cases, we also use Wn. App. and Wn.2d (no space!) as additional parallel citations.

Here’s what some citations to Washington Supreme Court cases look like, per a recent Washington Supreme Court opinion:

You can see the parallel citation format, which means the date parenthetical does not include any court-related information. The only opinions included in Wn.2d are opinions from the Washington Supreme Court, so that reporter information alone tells the reader what court issued the opinion. No need to write “Wash.” in the date parenthetical, which you would need to do if you only cited to P.2d or P.3d, since those reporters include cases from a variety of states and courts. [You’re not going to say anything about the wrongly italicized comma?–ed  I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.]

And here’s an example from Division 1 of our Court of Appeals, which includes citations to cases from the Washington Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals:

Again, the court uses Wn.2d and P.2d or P.3d reporters to cite a Washington Supreme Court opinion. And you can also see how opinions from the Court of Appeals are cited using Wn. App. and P.3d or P.2d reporters as parallel citations.

Notice that, like the Washington Supreme Court citation format, the date parenthetical for a Court of Appeals opinion does not contain any court-related information. Similar to the relationship between the Wn.2d reporter and the Supreme Court, the Wn. App. reporter only includes opinions from the Court of Appeals, so there’s no need to include “Wash. Ct. App.” or any additional information in the date parenthetical.

Or is there?

The Washington Court of Appeals is a single “court” divided into three distinct geographic Divisions. As you may know, the Washington Supreme Court recently… held? explained? opined? that a Division of the Court of Appeals should not follow the decisions of the other Divisions. Therefore, when a judge or a lawyer sees a reference to an opinion from the Court of Appeals, it’s not enough to know that the opinion comes from the Court of Appeals. We need to know which Division issued the opinion. And just knowing that the opinion can be found in Wn. App. or Wn. App. 2d doesn’t provide us with that knowledge.

Which finally brings us to my suggestion: The Washington Style Sheet should require additional Division-specific information in the date parenthetical. Citations need to provide information about the weight of a cited authority. That’s why citations to opinions from the federal courts of appeals don’t look like Ziff v. Kaplan, 123 F.3d 456 (2005). You need that extra circuit information in the parenthetical—(8th Cir. 2005)—to know that the opinion was issued by the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. A judge in the Eighth Circuit would treat that citation very differently than a judge in the Second Circuit.

As I’ve explained elsewhere:

[T]he weight of authority matters in the law, which means legal citations must include specific source-related details that other fields can simplify away. A citation to (Cardozo 1928) just doesn’t do the job for a lawyer. The audience needs to know whether Judge Cardozo was writing a book or an opinion. If an opinion, we need to know whether he wrote for the New York Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court, and whether he was concurring, dissenting, or writing for the majority. And is (Taft 1911) a Supreme Court opinion or an executive order? Of course, the reader could find this information by locating the relevant source. But legal readers need to evaluate the weight of authority on the fly without flipping to a bibliography or taking a trip to the library.

As Professor Alexa Chew recently explained more eloquently, one critical purpose for a citation is “to communicate information to the reader about the weight of the cited authority.”

When [expert legal readers] see a legal citation in a judicial opinion, they can instantly assess whether the court is citing a recent case from the highest court in that jurisdiction or a statute or a trial court opinion from a different jurisdiction. Similarly, expert legal writers understand that the legal citations they write are intended to communicate valuable information to their readers about the precedent they’ve used to build their arguments.

So there you have it. The Washington Supreme Court says that the precedential weight of an opinion depends on the Division of the Court of Appeals that issued the opinion. The citation format should therefore provide that Division-related information. I suggest something like this:

Ziff v. Kaplan, 123 Wn. App. 2d 45, 789 P.3d 10 (Div. 3 2018).

Comments and improvements welcome!