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Finding a Law Case From A Known Citation

by Richard Irving
Bibliographer for Political Science, Public Administration and Policy, and Law

revised by Jane Woldow



Updated: August 4, 2008
[Case Reporters] [A Case Cite]
[Abbreviations] [Finding Cases Using Online Databases]
[Location and Arrangement of Collection]

Case Reporters

Court decisions are published in series called reports. In addition to official court reports, published by the court or with its official authorization, cases can be found in unofficial reporter series published by commercial publishing companies. Unofficial reporter series can contain either a particular court's cases, e.g., the Supreme Court Reporter contains only U.S. Supreme Court cases, or compile the decisions of a number of state or federal courts, e.g., the Atlantic Reporter publishes the appellate court decisions of Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maine, Maryland, new Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Appellate cases, and some lower court cases, can be found in both official and unofficial series. 

A Case Cite

A cite is a reference to legal authorities. In this guide, cite indicates a reference to a reported court case. There are five elements to a case cite:
    1. The name of the parties involved.
    2. The reporter series in which the case can be found
    3. The volume number, within the series, in which the case can be found.
    4. The page number on which the case begins.
    5. The year of the decision.


    e.g.,

Miranda v. Arizona 384 US 436 (1966)
parties involved Volume Series Abbrev. Page Date
If a case is published in more than one series all of the citations may be listed. The cite to the official series is listed first followed by cites to unofficial reporters. Alternate citations to the same decision are called parallel citations.

e.g., Miranda v. Arizona 384 US 436, 16 L.Ed. 2d 694, 86 S.Ct. 1602 (1966)

In this instance 16 L.Ed. 2d 694 and 86 S.Ct. 1602 are parallel citations to unofficial reporter series.


Abbreviations

Case reporter series appear in cites in abbreviated form. In order to locate a case it is important to know to which reporter series the abbreviation refers:

e.g.,

US United States Reports
L.Ed. 2d Lawyers Edition 2nd Series
S.Ct. Supreme Court Reporter
There is not a standard set of abbreviations used by all law reporting services. Black's Law Dictionary (REF KF 156 B53) contains a list of legal abbreviations. However, when using a casebook one should check for a table of abbreviations in the front of the volume in order to avoid mistakes.

At the end of this guide there is a chart listing all the reporter series at the Dewey and University Libraries along with their call numbers, as well as the abbreviations used by Black's Law Dictionary and Shepard's Citations


Finding Cases Using Online Databases

The University Libraries has been transitioning from paper series of reporters to the use of online databases to retrieve the text of cases and other legal documents. The table below lists the series we have in print format and the years we have for each series.

Most cases can also be found by using either the Westlaw Campus or Lexis-Nexis Academic databases. In Westlaw Campus cases are easy to acess by using the names of the case, e.g. Miranda v. Arizona or the cite to the volume, series abbreviation, and page number, e.g. 384 US 436. Click the "Law" tab at the top left and then enter either the citation or title to the case using the "Find" template in the sidebar. Using the citation will retrieve the specific decision whereas a title search may retrieve multiple decisions regarding the same parties. Westlaw Campus recognizes the parallel citations. The "Help (FAQs)" link at the top of the screen provides assistance.

In Lexis-Nexis Academic it is a similar process. First, click the "Legal" tab at the top left. Then click the "Federal & State Cases" link from the sidebar on the left. The next sceen will include options to search by either "Case name" or "citation number". If you search by citation numder, click "citation help" to get the correct format for entering the citation. LexisNexis Academic also includes the parallel citations but is less forgiving in the citation format.

For additional assistance locating cases, either online or in print, contact Ask a Librarian

Location and Arrangement of Collection

Case law reporters at Dewey are located on the main floor. The case law reporters at the University Library are located on the first floor in the stacks behind the reference desk.

Reporter Series at the University at Albany
Series Title Call Number Black's Abbrev. Shepard's Abbrev. Library
*Lawyers' Edition,
United States Supreme
Court Reports
KF 101 L3

 

L.Ed.

 

LE

 

DEWEY/ULIB
or Lexis-Nexis Academic
Supreme Court Reporter KF 101 W4 S.Ct. SC DEWEY
or Westlaw Campus
United States Supreme Court Reports KF 101 U.S. US ULIB
**Federal Reporter KF 105 F44xa F. F DEWEY
or Westlaw Campus
*Federal Supplement KF 120 F44xa F. Supp. FS DEWEY (vols. 1-500 of 1st series in storage)
or Westlaw Campus
*Atlantic Reporter KF 135 A71 A. A volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*Northeastern Reporter KF 135 N61 N.E. NE volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*Northwestern Reporter KF 135 N71 N.W. NW volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
**Pacific Reporter KF 135 P21 P. P volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*Southeastern Reporter KF 135 S61 S.E. SE volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
**Southwestern Reporter KF 135 S71 S.W. SW volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*Southern Reporter KF 135 S81 So.  SO volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*California Reporter KFC 50 W47 Cal. Rptr. CaR volumes through 2001 are in STORAGE
-cases from 1959 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus
*New York Supplement (1888-1937) KFN 5047 N48 N.Y.S. NYS STORAGE
*New York Supplement, Second Series (1938+) KFN 5047 N48 N.Y.S.2d. NYS2d DEWEY/ULIB
-cases from 1945 onward can be found on Westlaw Campus





*All have 2nd series at Dewey which is indicated by 2d after the abbreviation, e.g., LE 2d.  2nd Series have same call number.

**Has 2nd and 3rd series at Dewey.


This page is maintained by Richard Irving
Comments to rirving@uamail.albany.edu