In 2013 so far, federal judges have looked to Wikipedia for assistance in defining terms or establishing facts in thirty-one (31) cases, either in footnotes or in the body of the opinions. Of these, the District of New Mexico has cited to Wikipedia the most, referring to the crowdsourcing website in five (5) separate opinions.
The majority of cases citing to Wikipedia use the source for definitional assistance. For example, the Seventh Circuit recently used the Wikipedia definition of the term “telephone directory.” Navarro v. Neal, 716 F.3d 425 FN1 (7th Cir. 2013). However, courts are increasingly looking to Wikipedia to supply background facts. For example, in one New Mexico case, the court used Wikipedia to establish the date a judge reached senior status. Martinez v. Martinez, 2013 WL 3270448 FN15 (D. New Mexico, June 3, 2013). In a Second Circuit case, the court reached to Wikipedia to establish the plot of “The Birdcage” film. Kelley-Brown v. Winfrey, 717 F.3d 295 (2nd Cir. 2013).
I’m suprised to learn the extent to which the federal appeals courts incorporate Wikipedia references into their opinions. In this post from the WSJ’s Law Blog, Joe Palazollo notes that every federal court of appeal except the D.C. Circuit and the Federal Circuit has cited Wikipedia at least once. Here’s an excerpt of Joe’s findings:
The two court of appeals most comfortable with Wikipedia were the Seventh Circuit and the Ninth Circuit, with 36 citations and 17 citations, respectively. The 10th Circuit and Sixth Circuit recorded eight and six citations, respectively. The First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and 11th circuits all had five or fewer Wikipedia citations.