A “case” in legal research refers to the reported decision of a court that explains the reasoning behind its ruling. Most state cases published in the United States are from state appellate and supreme courts. At the federal level, reported cases come from Federal District Courts (the trial courts of the federal judiciary), the Federal Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Case “reporters” are the books where cases are published. A case can be located using its full citation. For example: Ellenburg v. Brockway, Inc., 763 F.2d 1091 (9th Cir., 1985).
The Reporter Citation part of this full citation indicates where this particular case can be found: look in the reporter called “Federal Reporter, Second Series”, in volume 763, at page 1091 of that volume.
Nearly all reporter citations follow this same format and have these same three parts:
Most case law is published in general state and federal case law reporters. But, there are many other reporters that also contain cases. Many of these only contain cases related to a specific legal subject, such as federal tax law.
Here are a few example citations of these types of reporters:
The full name of these miscellaneous reporters can sometimes be easily figured out, and sometimes not. To try and find these other reporters, look up their names in the library catalog.
These are only the primary official case reporters for federal courts. For a complete listing, see Bluebook Table 1. It includes information on historical reporters and reporters for special courts (Tax Court, Court of International Trade, Bankruptcy Courts, etc.).
Cases from courts of all the fifty states are arranged in regional reporters.
The library only maintains up-to-date print cases for the reporter covering Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
For a brief history of the West reporter system, see Taryn Marks, John West and the Future of Legal Subscription Databases, 107 Law Libr. J. 377, 398 (2015).