William J. Woska,
How to Brief
a case is a short summary of a court opinion. The brief provides
clarity and understanding to situations that are sometimes complicated.
The following information should be present in a brief:
I. Basic Information:
1. Name of
3. Court which issued the opinion.
happened? Questions to be resolved, holding, reason(s) for court's
6. Question(s) [issues for court to decide].
7. Holding (court's response to the issues).
8. Reason(s) for the court's decision.
10. Concurring opinion(s).
11. Dissenting opinion(s)
of the case.
The following case decided by the United States Supreme Court provides
an example of a brief consistent with the format set forth herein.
of a Completed Brief
(1) Skinner v. Railway Labor Executives' Ass'n
(2) 489 U.S.
102, 109 S.Ct. 1402, 103 L.Ed.2d 639
(3) United States
In 1970, Congress passed and the President signed into law the Federal
Railroad Safety Act (FRSA). The FRSA authorizes the Secretary of
Transportation to " . . . prescribe, as necessary, appropriate
rules, regulations, orders, and standards for all areas of railroad
safety." The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) concluded
that safety is endangered by alcohol and drug abuse by railroad
employees. As a result, the FRA issued regulations that " .
. . mandate blood and urine tests of railroad employees who are
involved in certain train accidents." In addition, the FRA
issued regulations " . . . that do not require, but do authorize,
railroads to administer breath and urine testes to employees who
violate certain safety rules." Subsections C and D of the regulations
issued by the FRA pertaining to breath, blood, and urine tests were
challenged in court. Plaintiff's argued that the testing mandated
under the FRA's regulations violated the Fourth Amendment of the
United States Constitution. The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government
from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court of
Appeals ruled that subsections C and D of the regulations issued
by the FRA violated the Fourth Amendment. In their ruling, the Court
of Appeals held that the testing requirements were not reasonable
in relation to the government's objectives that support them, as
required under the Fourth Amendment.
(6) Issue: Are
the alcohol and drug testing requirements mandated under subsections
C and D of the regulations issued by the FRA reasonable under the
for the Court's decision In most cases a warrant and probable-cause
are necessary in order for the government to conduct a search and
seizure. However, the Court held that the FRA's interest in regulating
the conduct of railroad employees to ensure safety " . . .
presents special needs' beyond normal law enforcement that may justify
departures from the usual warrant and probable-cause requirements."
to the testing of railroad employees, the Court stated that the
need to obtain a warrant may be ignored because "both the circumstances
justifying toxicological testing and the permissible limits of such
intrusions are defined narrowly and specifically in the regulations
that authorize them, and doubtless are well known to covered employees."
The Court believes that the standardized and regulated nature of
the testing will prevent abuse from occurring. Also, the Court held
that the need for a warrant may be ignored when "the burden
of obtaining a warrant is likely to frustrate the governmental purpose
behind the search." Here, the Court believes, the government's
need to ensure safety supersedes the requirement of having to obtain
The Court also
held that in certain circumstances the need to have probable cause
can be ignored as well. The majority stated that "In limited
circumstances, where the
privacy interests implicated by the search are minimal, and where
governmental interest furthered by the intrusion would be placed
in jeopardy by a
requirement of individualized suspicion, a search may be reasonable
despite the absence
of such suspicion." In the Court's opinion, privacy intrusions
suffered by the railroad
employees are minimal under the testing requirement under the regulations
issued by the
FRA. Also, the need for the government to ensure safety supersede
the need to have
probable cause in order to test the railroad employees.
The Court makes
an important point in noting that the testing requirements of
subsection C and D have a strong deterrent effect upon railroad
employees who may be
considering drinking and using drugs while on the job. In their
ruling, the Court stated:
ensuring that employees in safety-sensitive positions knew they
will be tested upon the occurrence of a triggering event, the
timing of which no employee can predict with certainty, the regulations
significantly increase the deterrent effect of the administrative
penalties associated with the prohibited conduct, concomitantly
increasing the likelihood that
employees will forgo using drugs or alcohol while subject to being
The Court concluded that the need for the government to ensure safety
on the railroads would be greatly hindered if they were required
to obtain a warrant and
to have probable cause in order to test an employee. The testing
mandated under sub-
sections C and D is not an undue infringement upon the privacy of
The government's interest in ensuring safety supersedes the privacy
rights of railroad
Employees. The testing is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment
of the United
opinion: Justice Stevens.
(11) Dissenting opinion(s): Justices Marshall and Brennan. ".
. . the majority ignores the text and doctrinal history of the Fourth
Amendment, which require that highly intrusive searches of this
type be based on probable cause, not on the evanescent cost-benefit
calculations of agencies or judges." It is wrong to test all
employees following an accident even though there is no evidence
of substance use.
of the Case:
A warrant and
probable cause are not required under the Fourth Amendment to conduct
searches (drug and alcohol) following a triggering event (railroad