Law Library Research Guide: Case Finding

 

Case Reporters | Finding Cases with Digests | Finding Cases with Secondary Sources

1. CASE REPORTERS

A. Generally

There are two types: official and unofficial reporters. The unofficial reporters are usually published faster; often there will not yet be a parallel citation to official reporters for very recent cases.

In many states, the West regional reporter has been designated as the official reporter. In addition, many states’ local rules require that in a document submitted to a state court, all citations to cases decided by the courts of that state (not of other states) should include a citation to the official state reporter and a parallel citation to a regional reporter. In all other documents, such as legal memos and law review articles, the Bluebook requires a citation to the appropriate regional reporter only, if available. For more information, check rule 10.3 and table T1 in the Bluebook, REFERENCE KF245 .D853 2010.

B. Major Reporters

State Court Opinions

State reporters are arranged alphabetically by state in Stacks 210-230 on the second floor. Except for Virginia, state reporters are no longer updated. For recent cases, use the regional reporters. The regional reporters (Atlantic, North Eastern, North Western, Pacific, South Eastern, Southern, and South Western Reporters) are located in Stacks 202-209 on the second floor. Regional reporters contain opinions from each state's highest and appellate courts.

Note that California and New York are treated differently. The Pacific Reporter has California Supreme Court opinions only, and West’s California Reporter (Cal. Rptr.) has California Supreme Court and California intermediate appellate court opinions. The North Eastern Reporter has decisions for the New York Court of Appeals (New York's highest court) only, and West’s New York Supplement (N.Y.S.) has New York Court of Appeals opinions and New York intermediate appellate court opinions.

Federal Court Opinions

U.S. Supreme Court

  • United States Reports (U.S.) is the official reporter for Supreme Court opinions. Cite to this if it is available.
  • Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.) is an unofficial reporter. Cite to this if a citation to the United States Reports is not available.
  • United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition (L. Ed.) is an unofficial reporter. Cite to this if a citation to the United States Reports or Supreme Court Reporter is not available.

United States Reports, Supreme Court Reporter, and Lawyers’ Edition are located in Stack 103 on the first floor.

U.S. Courts of Appeal and U.S. District Courts

  • Federal Cases (F. Cas.) contains Circuit Courts and District Courts opinions (1789-1880).
  • Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, and F.3d) contains opinions of the Courts of Appeals (1880-) and District Courts (1880-1932).
  • Federal Supplement (F. Supp.) contains opinions of the District Courts (1932-).
  • Federal Appendix (F. App'x) contains Courts of Appeals opinions (2001-) not designated for publication in the Federal Reporter.
    • NOTE: Unlike U.S. Supreme Court decisions, not every case from the lower federal courts is represented by a decision published in one of the reporters. Some matters are settled or tried to a jury verdict and don't result in any written opinion. Decisions in some cases are issued as slip opinions but are never published in the reporters. Some of these "unpublished" opinions are available in topical looseleaf services and some can be found online, but others can be obtained only from the clerk of the court.

Federal Reporter, Federal Supplement, and Federal Appendix are located in Stacks 104-105 and 117-118 on the first floor.

Specialized Federal Reporters

  • Federal Rules Decisions (F.R.D.) contains selected opinions of District Courts (1938-), and not published in F. Supp., on matters relating to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. It also contains some textual material, such as speeches and articles.
  • Federal Rules Service (Fed. R. Serv.) contains opinions (1938-) from all levels of the federal court system on matters relating to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
  • Federal Rules of Evidence Service contains opinions (1979-) that construe the Federal Rules of Evidence.

Others

  • Federal Claims Reporter (Fed. Cl.) contains opinions (1992-) of the U.S Court of Federal Claims. This is located in Stack 119 on the first floor.
  • Court of International Trade Reports (Ct. Int’l Trade) contains opinions (1980-) of the U.S. Court of International Trade. This is located in Stack 115 on the first floor.
  • West’s Bankruptcy Reporter (B.R.) contains opinions (1980-) of the Bankruptcy Courts. This is located in Stack 119 on the first floor.
  • United States Tax Court Reports (T.C.) contain opinions (1942-) of the Tax Court. This is located on the third floor, KF6280.A2 T37.
  • West’s Veterans Appeal Reporter (Vet. App.) contains opinions (1990-) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veteran Claims. This is located in Stack 115 on the first floor.
  • West's Military Justice Reporter (M.J.) contains opinions (1978-) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. This is located in Stack 115 on the first floor.
  • West’s Education Law Reporter (Ed. Law Rep.) contains selected federal opinions (1982-). This is located in Stack 120 on the first floor.

    NOTE: If you do not understand an abbreviation included in a citation, you can look to several resources that provide interpretations of abbreviations, such as (1) table T1 in the Bluebook, REFERENCE KF245 .D853 2010; (2) Prince’s Bieber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations, REFERENCE KF 246 .B46 2009; and (3) Cardiff Index to Legal Abbreviations.

    2. FINDING CASES WITH DIGESTS

    A. Digests

    Digests are subject indexes to cases. Digests published by West Publishing Co. are based on the West Key Number System. Each key number has summaries of cases related to that key number’s specific point of law. The West Key Number System may also be accessed on Westlaw.

    State and Federal Court Opinions

    The Decennial Digest, which is located in Stack 201 on the second floor, covers all reported federal and state court opinions and is updated by the General Digest.

    State Court Opinions

    There are state digests for every state except Delaware, Nevada, and Utah. Note that our library maintains current state digests for the following states only: District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia & West Virginia. There are also digests for the regional reporters. However, only four of the six (Atlantic, North Western, Pacific, and South Eastern) are still being published. Regional digests are located in Stacks 202-209 on the second floor, but our library no longer updates regional digests and most are updated only through 2005.

    Federal Court Opinions

    The United States Supreme Court Digest and Digest of the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition are located in Stack 104 on the first floor. The current digest for federal court cases is West's Federal Practice Digest 4th and 5th, which are located in Stack 101 on the first floor.

    There are also specialized digests, like Federal Rules Digest (Stack 120), United States Federal Claims Digest (Stack 119), West's Bankruptcy Digest (Stack 120), West’s Education Law Digest (Stack 120), Public Utilities Reports Digest (Stack 114), and more. 

    B. Using the Digests

    Identify the topic and key number relevant to your research:

    1. From the headnotes of a particular case known to be on point, or

    2. Descriptive Word Index (the index to the digest).

    C. Updating Digests

    1. Pocket parts.

    2. Pamphlets.

    3. Mini-digests in reporter volumes and advance sheets.

    4. Westlaw.

    3. FINDING CASES WITH SECONDARY SOURCES

    A. Annotations

    Each volume of the American Law Reports (ALR) contains selected cases, each accompanied by an extensive annotation analyzing decisions on the issue raised in the case. Most annotations begin with a table of contents, a subject index, and a table of jurisdictions represented. This is followed by sections describing the scope of the annotation and listing related annotations. The rest of the annotation summarizes cases on point from throughout the country.

    There may not always be an annotation relevant to every legal problem, but an annotation directly on point can save considerable time.

    Annotations are updated, so even older annotations continue to provide references to recent case law.

    There are several different series of ALR with various ways of updating and indexing. The ALR series are located in Stack 108 on the first floor.

    ALR (1919-1948) 
    Covers state and federal cases.
    Update with ALR Blue Book.

    ALR 2d (1948-1965)
    Covers state and federal cases.
    Update with Later Case Service.

    ALR 3d (1965-1980)
    Covers state and federal cases.
    Update with pocket parts.

    ALR 4th (1980-1991)
    Covers state cases only.
    Update with pocket parts.

    ALR 5th (1992-2005)
    Covers state cases only.
    Update with pocket parts.

    ALR 6th (2005-)
    Covers state cases only.
    Update with pocket parts.
    NOTE: Our library no longer updates ALR 6th, and it is updated through 2009 only.

    ALR Federal (1969-2005)
    Covers federal cases only.
    Update with pocket parts.

    ALR Federal 2d (2005-)
    Covers federal cases only.
    Update with pocket parts.

    The basic tool for subject access to ALR is the multi-volume Index to Annotations, which covers the second, third, fourth, fifth, and federal series. There are also quick indexes: ALR First Series Quick Index covers the first series of ALR; ALR Quick Index covers the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth series of ALR; and ALR Federal Quick Index covers the first and second federal series of ALR. 

    B. LEGAL ENCYCLOPEDIAS

    National and state-specific legal encyclopedias contain numerous footnotes with references to cases.

    Corpus Juris Secundum (CJS) and American Jurisprudence 2d (Am Jur 2d) are the two national legal encyclopedias. Am Jur 2d has fewer case citations than CJS, but it provides references to ALR annotations. CJS and Am Jur 2d are located in Stacks 107-108 on the first floor. They are also available on Westlaw. Am Jur 2d is additionally available on Lexis.

    There are some state-specific legal encyclopedias such as Michie's Jurisprudence of Virginia and West Virginia, which is located in Stack 101 on the first floor as well as in the Virginia section (Stacks 228-229) on the second floor. It is also available on Lexis. States with legal encyclopedias are: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia/West Virginia. Some state encyclopedias are available online.

    C. TREATISES

    Treatises provide scholarly analysis on a single subject area of the law. They contain extensive references to cases in footnotes. Search the library catalog to find treatises relevant to your subject area. Many treatises are also available on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law. 

    D. WORDS AND PHRASES

    Words and Phrases is a multi-volume encyclopedic collection of abstracts of cases that have interpreted or defined legally significant words and phrases. It covers both federal and state cases, and it is arranged alphabetically by word or phrase judicially defined. Words and Phrases is located in the Reference section on the first floor.

    NOTE: West publishes "Words and Phrases" tables as part of each of its federal and state digests.

    E. ANNOTATED STATUTES

    Annotated codes provide citations to and abstracts of cases applying, interpreting, or construing the statutory provisions.

    There are two annotated codes for federal statutes: United States Code Annotated (USCA) and United States Code Service (USCS). USCA and USCS are located in Stack 101 on the first floor. Also, USCA is on Westlaw and USCS is on Lexis. On the state level, there is at least one annotated code for every state. Depending on who publishes the annotated code, you can sometimes also get references to relevant key numbers, ALR annotations, or citations to CJS or Am Jur 2d.