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Finding Texas Law in the Tarlton Law Library

Overview of Court System

Trial courts - In the United States, the trial court initially hears a dispute between litigants. The trier of fact, either the judge or jury, determines which facts presented are true and which are not. The law is then applied to those facts. After the trial court's decision, the issues of fact cannot be appealed absent irregularity of procedure or bias in the fact-finding process – only issues of law can be submitted to the appellate courts.

Intermediate appellate courts - After a ruling by a trial court, an intermediate appellate court will hear any issues of law appealed by one of the parties. Issues of law relate to the way the trial judge applied the law to the facts of the dispute during the trial. The facts themselves are not at issue. Once a ruling has been made, the judge writes an opinion of the decision, which becomes a “case” in the American body of law. The opinion of an appellate court is binding on all lower courts in that jurisdiction.

There are 14 appellate districts in Texas. The Texas Courts of Appeal hear both civil and criminal cases.

Courts of last resort - If the losing party still believes that its position is the legally correct one, it may appeal to the highest court in the jurisdiction. Again, the opinion of a court at this level is binding on all courts below it - appellate and trial.

  • Texas Supreme Court - hears only civil cases
  • Texas Court of Criminal Appeals - hears only criminal cases

    Overview of Case Law

    Order of publication in print -

    1. Slip opinions- Opinions written by a court are initially released as slip opinions, individually paginated pamphlets.
      • Texas district court cases: these opinions are not published, but they are public information. To get a copy of an opinion, contact the clerk of the court that heard the case.
      • Courts of Appeals: slip opinions are no longer published as they are often available on Court websites.
      • Texas Supreme Court: Texas Supreme Court Journal (KFT 1245 T42) publishes opinions more quickly than the South Western Reporter.
    2. Advance sheets- When a case is printed in an advance sheet for a particular reporter, it has already been assigned a place in the reporter system - for example, it has been designated for publication in volume 989 of the South Western Reporter, 2nd series on page 345. Each advance sheet pamphlet will contain a few of the cases that have been assigned a particular reporter. Once enough cases have been handed down to fill an entire volume, the advance sheets are replaced with the bound volume.
      • West's South Western Reporter and South Western Reporter Advance Sheets, Stack 210-211
    3. Bound volumes- Texas cases are finally printed in the South Western Reporter. (Older Texas cases were printed in other official reporter sets.)
      • West's South Western Reporter, 2nd floor.  Stack 210-211
      • South Western Reporter – Texas Cases, 2nd floor.  Stack 210-211

      Digests: Tools for Finding Cases by Subject

      To find cases from Texas state courts by subject, use a digest of Texas case law:

      For more information on finding cases and how to use a digest, follow the links below to details in our Finding A Case guide: