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Finding a Case

A guide to the various ways to find a case

Using a Digest to Find Cases If You Know the Name of One of the Parties

When looking for a case by party name, one important piece of information is the jurisdiction of the court that heard the case. Knowing whether the case is a state case (and the state that heard it) or a federal case, will help you decide which digest to use in your research.

Digests essentially serve as indices for different reporter sets. Each set of digests has a table that lists cases by party name, called the Case Name Table. Both the plaintiff's and the defendant's names are indexed in the table, so you can search by either party.  If the case is recent, you will want to be sure to check the pocket part for the volume you are using and any cumulative supplements that are available. At Tarlton, all federal and state digests are located in Tarlton's main second floor reading room.

United States Supreme Court Digests

  • Covers all cases heard by the Supreme Court from 1754 to the present.
  • Both West and Lawyer’s Co-op publish a Supreme Court Digest.

Federal Digests

Cover all reported federal cases, from the United States District Courts through the U.S. Supreme Court.‚Äč

General/Decennial Digest

Covers all reported American cases (state and federal) for five- to ten-year periods. If you don’t know the jurisdiction in which your case was heard, this source is probably the best place to start. Decennial digests are updated by General Digests that are published twelve times annually. Each General Digest contains a Table of Cases for that volume. Every tenth volume has a cumulative list for the preceding 10 volumes.

Online Research

Online case law databases typically allow users to search the full text of cases using keywords, including party names. In addition, most databases, including free resources like Google Scholar, will allow you to focus your search in various ways. For example, Google Scholar's case law search allows users to narrow their search by state court, federal court, and by specific courts within those categories. Commercial databases like Westlaw and Lexis provide advanced search options, including searching different fields like party name or judges, as well as offering various options to refine your search terms.   

The more information you have about a case in addition to a party's name, such as court and date, the more likely it is you will be able to find the case without a specific citation.  

Individual courts also sometimes provide access to case law. The level of access and the options for searching vary by court. Some courts provide extensive free online access to court opinions and other court documents. Other courts provide limited online access or no access at all. Additionally, some courts have more advanced search interfaces than others.

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