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, consider this case citation:
Ellenburg v. Brockway, Inc., 763 F.2d 1091 (9th Cir., 1985)
The reporter 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 two example citations of these types of reporters:
The full name of these miscellaneous reporters can sometimes be easily figured out, and sometimes not. If you can't figure out a reporter's full name from its abbreviation, try looking it up in Prince's Beiber Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (2009), or ask one of the librarians for assistance.
Cases from the following federal courts can be found in the indicated reporters:
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.).
Citation rules for cases are found in Bluebook Rule 10 and Table 1. The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 20th ed. 2015). You might also want to look over the LibGuide called About Legal Citation.
Cases from courts of all the fifty states can be found in one of the seven 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).
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