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Researching Case Law

This guide is designed to be an introduction to cases and case law research.

Overview

Retrieving  a case by legal citation is the easiest and fastest way to get the specific case to which the citation refers.  In order to find a case by citation you need to have three basic components: (1) the volume number of the reporter that case was found in (2) the abbreviated name of the reporter and (3) the page number the case begins on in the reporter.

Case Citation

Case citation of volume 966, N.E.2d reporter, at page 915

Suppose our citation was for 966 N.E.2d 915 and I wanted to find this case in the print reporter. I would first find the North Eastern Reporter in the UC Law Library print collection. Then I would find the 2nd series within that. Next I would look for volume 966 and finally the page number 915.

Other places that you can use the citation to find a case are:

  • Court Websites
  • Fee Databases:  Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, Casemaker
  • Google Scholar
  • Public Library of Law

Finding Cases by Citation: Lexis, Westlaw & B-Law

Suppose our citation was for 966 N.E.2d 915 and I wanted to find this case online.

  • Westlaw: type the 966 N.E.2d 915 in the search box at the top of the screen.
  • Lexis Advance: type the 966 N.E.2d 915 in the search box at the top of the screen.
  • Bloomberg Law: type the 966 N.E.2d 915 in the search box at the top of the screen. Then select citation search.

 

Federal & Regional Reporters

Overview

Many, but certainly not all, appellate decisions from the courts are reported.  The reported decisions are compiled by publishers (predominantly West publishing) into numbered volumes providing easy access to reported decisions.  West Publishing began printing reporters in the late 1800’s and the collection became known as the West Reporter system.  Prior to that time many states published their own reporter volumes and today many still publish their own reporters.  West has compiled the state appellate decisions (these include intermediate appellate courts and state supreme courts) and printed them in Regional Reporters.  Each region contains the decisions of several states (e.g. The North Eastern Reporter which contains cases decided by the Ohio courts also contains cases from Indiana, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts).  The state published volumes are referred to as “official” reporters and the West reporters are considered “unofficial.”  Most states do not publish any trial court decisions. 

Federal Reporters

Unlike most states, the federal courts do publish some decisions from the trial level.  The decisions, from the Federal District Courts, are printed in the Federal Supplement reporter.  The appellate decisions, from the Federal Circuit Courts, are printed in the Federal Reporter.  Both of these reporters are considered “official” because there is no other comprehensive location for these decisions.  Unpublished decisions, those decisions that are not binding because they do not involve new legal principles or interpretations and were previously only available directly from the issuing court, are now published in the Federal Appendix reporter.  While attorneys may cite such opinions issued after January 1, 2007 the persuasive value of the opinion will vary according to the different circuits.  “Unpublished” opinions issued before January 1, 2007 cannot be cited for precedent.   United States Supreme Court decisions are printed in an official reporter, the United States Reports, and in several unofficial reporters.

United States Supreme Court Cases

  • Official Reporter:  United States Reports (U.S.)
  • Unofficial Reporters:
    • West's Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.)
    • Lexis' Supreme Court Reporter Lawyer's Edition (L. Ed., L. Ed. 2d)

United States Courts of Appeals Cases

  • Federal Reporter:  (F.)
  • Federal Reporter Second Series:  (F.2d)
  • Federal Reporter Third Series:  (F.3d)

United States District Court Cases

  • Federal Supplement Reporter:  (F. Supp.)
  • Federal Supplement Reporter Second Series:  (F. Supp. 2d)
  • Federal Supplement Reporter Third Series: (F. Supp. 3d)

Regional Reporters

State decisions are reported in seven regional reporters.   Additionally, many states have their own “official” reporters. 

Atlantic Reporter  

  • CT, DE, D.C., ME, MD, NH, NJ, PA, RI, VT                       

(A.)

(A.2d)

(A.3d)

 North Eastern Reporter  - Unofficial reporter for Ohio  

  • IL, IN, MA, NY, OH

(N.E.)

(N.E.2d)  

 North Western Reporter 

  • IA, MI, MN, NE, ND, SD, WI

(N.W.)

(N.W.2d)

 Pacific Reporter  

  • AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY

(P.)

(P.2d)

(P.3d)

 South Eastern Reporter 

  • GA, NC, SC, VA, WV

(S.E.)

(S.E.2d)

South Western Reporter

  • AR, KY, MO, TN, TX

(S.W.)

(S.W.2d)

(S.W.3d)

 Southern Reporter

  • AL, FL, LA, MS

(So.)

(So. 2d)

(So. 3d)

US Circuit Court Map

US Circuit Map

United States Courts of Appeals Geographical Boundaries:

  • First Circuit: Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island.
  • Second Circuit: Vermont, Connecticut, New York.
  • Third Circuit: Delaware,New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virgin Islands.
  • District of Columbia Circuit: DC.
  • Fourth Circuit: Maryland, North Carolina, District of South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia.
  • Fifth Circuit: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas.
  • Sixth Circuit: Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Tennessee.
  • Seventh Circuit: Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin.
  • Eighth Circuit: Arkansas ,Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota.
  • Ninth Circuit: Alaska, Arizona, California,Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, Washington.
  • Federal Circuit: nationwide jurisdiction in a variety of subject areas

Regional Reporter Map

Regional Reporter Map

Regional Reporters (where State cases are published).

  • Pacific Reporter Series: Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming.
  • North Western Reporter Series: Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin.
  • South Western Reporter Series: Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas.
  • North Eastern Reporter Series: Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio.
  • Southern Reporter Series: Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi.
  • South Eastern Reporter Series: Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia.
  • Atlantic Reporter Series: Connecticut, Delaware, D.C., Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont.

Ohio Cases

If you have a legal citation, you will need to correctly identify each component to determine which reporter published you case.  Each citation is typically broken down into three basic components: the volume number; the reporter series; the page number. 

For example:

89 Ohio St. 93

89→ Volume # 83

Ohio St.→ Ohio State Reports

93→ Page # 93

Cases are considered reported if they are in the Ohio Official Reports.  See reported v. unreported cases, below, to see what this distinction means.

The Ohio Supreme Court designated the Supreme Court website as the Ohio Official Reports for opinions of the courts of appeals and the Court of Claims as of July 1, 2012.  See Rules for Reporting Opinions, Rule 3.2 

Before July 1, 2012, the Ohio Official Reports referred to official print publications of Ohio cases.  All Ohio Supreme Court decisions are included in these. The Reporter of Decisions selected certain appellate and municipal cases to publish in the Ohio Official Reports. See Rules for Reporting Opinions The most recent series of the Official Reports are:

Once you have deciphered the citation, you can also use these other resources to locate your case:
  • Court Websites
  • Fee Databases:  Lexis, Westlaw, Bloomberg Law, Casemaker
  • Google Scholoar
  • Public Library of Law

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