A reader asked about capitalization in legal documents. It sounds like it should be simple but research shows lots of people have their own ideas about what should be capitalized. The Gregg Reference Manual says there is no uniform style for capitalization in legal documents, but common practice is to capitalize key terms such as the parties and the type of document you are working on. Since we’re talking about legal documents, I checked The Bluebook (19th ed.). Here is a quick breakdown of capitalization “rules” according to both sources:
Court – The word “court” is capitalized in these instances:
- Always when referring to the United States Supreme Court
- Always when the name of the court is spelled out, i.e., the United States District Court.
- When your document is talking about the specific court that will rule, i.e., “We ask the Court to rule in favor of the Plaintiff”
- Do not capitalize the word “court” when talking about a ruling in another case, i.e., “The court in Roe ruled . . .”
Parties – When referring to the parties in your particular document, capitalize their designation:
- “The Plaintiff files this Reply in Support of Motion to Dismiss.”
- However, “The defendant in Smith v. Jones used the unclean hands defense.”
State – Capitalize the word “state” in these instances:
- When it is part of the full name of the state, i.e., the State of California
- When the word it modifies is capitalized, i.e., the State Education Director
- When referring to the state as a party to the litigation or as a governmental actor, i.e., “The State filed its Answer on January 14, 2014.”
Titles of Documents – When referring to a document that has been filed in the same matter in which you are filing your document:
- In the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff alleges . . .
- Under the Court’s February 10, 2014, Order . . .
As for other defined terms in legal documents, I personally think it is much clearer if a term is defined and then capitalized throughout:
- ABC Corporation (“Corporation”) hereby agrees . . .
- The doctors employed by St. Joseph’s Hospital (“Doctors”) . . .
This can be tricky when a defined term is used in describing another case. Only capitalize the defined term in YOUR case. If you can substitute the full name of the defined term, you can capitalize it. For instance, using our definition of “Corporation” above:
- “At all times relevant hereto, Corporation was engaged in business in the state of Arizona.” Here, “. . . ABC Corporation was engaged in business . . .” is correct since you are talking about the defined Corporation.
- HOWEVER–“In Smith, the corporation was engaged in the business of providing license plate holders through Internet sales.” Note that in this example, the corporation you are referring to is a corporation in the Smith case, not ABC Corporation.
The same basic rule applies to defined documents:
- In its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Motion”), Plaintiff is attempting . . .. The Motion is untimely.
One thing I did learn is that in legal documents using Bluebook style, words in headings are capitalized except for articles, conjunctions, or prepositions of four or fewer letters unless they begin the heading. This is different than the Gregg style for regular writing. See Things Are Coming to a Head[ing]!
What rules do you have for capitalization in legal documents? Please share them in the comments.