Updated October 28, 2020:

Material facts law relates to facts that are essential to helping a reasonable person decide whether or not to get involved in a particular transaction or issue. Material facts are the most important information in a case and relate directly to the conflict at hand.

For example, in an insurance fraud case, a material fact would relate to the insurer's liability, policy, or coverage. If a fact is material, it will likely impact the outcome of the case in court. Any arguments against a material fact are required to be “genuine,” or believable to a jury.

Determining Material Facts

One of the best ways to develop legal thinking and analysis skills is to briefcases. Doing so involves examining a judicial opinion and summarizing the most important details of the case. The biggest challenge comes from being able to separate unimportant details from the facts that really matter. In order to correctly describe and understand the court's decision, you must have a firm understanding of relevant case law and be able to determine which facts in the case are actually material to the dispute.

How to Brief a Case

  • Read the opinion. Start by reading through the entire case to understand the overall issue and how things were resolved. Don't look for specific details, but rather try to understand the big picture of the case.
  • Write a heading. Labeling your brief with a heading helps identify the brief and makes it easier for other attorneys to cite the brief in later research. The details for the heading will always be found near the start of the judicial opinion. The heading should always include the case name, court name, date of the decision, and page numbers where the case is located. Use the correct citation style for your heading by following the Bluebook or ALWD Manual.
  • Detail the procedural history. One of the first sections of your brief discusses how the case made its way through the lower courts and ended up in the court that produced the opinion you are reading. Important details to include are who won in the lower courts and why, any damages that were awarded, who appealed the case, and the reason they did so. The procedural history is typically found towards the beginning of a judicial opinion in the basic facts and issues.
  • Describe the issues of the case. The main issue of a case is often stated plainly in the opinion, but sometimes you may have to dig further to find the right information. In your brief, include what area of law is being disputed in the form of a question.
  • Write the court's holding. The holding is the answer to the issue of the case. It is a statement of law that describes what the case is about. This should also include the vote count of the court if it is in the opinion.
  • Determine the rule of law that guides the holding. Rules are used by the court to determine the holding or outcome of the case. It can be a statute, regulation, or judicial opinion. The rule can be stated clearly in the opinion, but it occasionally will only be implied.
  • Outline the reasoning of the court. The court's reasoning shows how the judge used case law, precedent, and court rules to decide the outcome of the case. This is one of the most important sections of the briefing as it contains the judge's determination of material facts. Being able to determine the court's reasoning will help you uncover the important facts of the case. The court will often explain the facts that led them to make a certain ruling in the case. The facts that were most important to the court are almost always the material facts.

How to Identify Material Facts

Before you can identify a material fact, you must understand the concept. Think of material facts as the details one side uses to prove their case.

Focus on the subject of the case. Although there are often many details in an opinion, you need to focus on the most relevant issue at hand. Cases typically include a number of issues, but you should pay the most attention to the facts regarding your key issue of focus.

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