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Finding a Case

A guide to the various ways to find a case

Case Law Citations Explained

Citations to reported cases from state and federal jurisdictions in the United States follow a set pattern. This uniform system of citation allows the reader of a legal document to identify quickly the source in which the case is reported, where the case is located within the source, and the precedential value of the case. The elements of a case citation are:

  1. Name of the case
  2. Volume
  3. Reporter
  4. Page
  5. Court
  6. Date
  7. Subsequent action on that case (petition and/or subsequent history)

For example, in the case:

Smith v. Jones, 635 F. Supp. 143 (S.D. Tex. 1994), rev'd, 25 F.3d 245 (5th Cir. 1995).

  1. "Smith v. Jones" is the name of the case. These are the parties involved in the suit. The person, or party, who is bringing the suit is generally referred to as the plaintiff and will be listed first. The person, or party, who is being sued is the defendant and will be listed second. At the appellate level, the party listed first will be the appellant (or petitioner), who appealed the earlier decision. The second party listed will be the appellee (or respondent). So, if the defendant from the trial level appeals the decision of the trial court, the defendant may be listed first in the appellate case.
  2. "635" is the volume number of the reporter in which the case is printed.
  3. "F. Supp." is the abbreviation of the reporter in which the full text of the court's opinion is printed.
  4. "143" is the first page of the opinion.
  5. "S.D. Tex." is the court that heard the case, in this instance, the federal court for the southern district of Texas.
  6. "1994" indicates the year in which the case was decided.
  7. "rev’d, 25 F.3d 245 (5th Cir. 1995)" is the subsequent history of the case, or what happened to the case on appeal. Here, the Fifth Circuit, which is the court that hears appeals from federal district courts in Texas, reversed the Southern District's holding. The text of the opinion by the Fifth Circuit can be found in volume 25 of the Federal Reporter, third series on page 245 and was decided in 1995.

Examples of Abbreviations

Most citations make extensive use of abbreviations. The following are some common examples. All reporters are located in Tarlton's second floor reading room.

Federal Cases

Texas Cases

Other States' Cases

State cases from other states can be found in regional and state reporters. Tarlton's collection includes:

Online Research

You can use case law citations to find cases both in print and online. The citation is a unique identifier for that case. To pull up a reported case on an online database, such as Google Scholar, all you need is the volume, reporter abbreviation, and first page of the opinion, e.g., 635 F. Supp. 143.

For more information about online resources, see this guide's Free Online Resources page.