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The common law system, used in all of the United States except Louisiana, to a large extent draws applicable rules of law from past decisions or judgments of the courts ("court reports"). Generally speaking, legal researchers are concerned with decisions of the appellate courts (examples: supreme courts and courts of appeal) and not trial courts (examples: Indianapolis and Marion County courts).
A legal researcher refers to court reports by "cite" or "citation", a combination of numbers and letters providing an abbreviation for the location of the materials in question.
EXAMPLE: 263 N.E.2d 385. The first number is the volume number, followed by the abbreviation for the set of books, then the page number. Here, we are referring to volume 263 of a set called "Northeastern Reporter, 2d series", and page 385 in that volume. Books explaining hundreds of law abbreviations are available at the Law Library circulation desk or the Reference Librarians' station (center of lobby).
This Pathfinder simply explains the pattern of publication for decisions ("reports") from the various state courts. To locate decisions on specific topics or by case name, see Pathfinder DIGESTS - HOW TO LOCATE CASES WITH DIGESTS. (Also, keep in mind that one or two states employ unusual names for their appellate courts. Example: in New York, the supreme court is the trial court, the appellate division of the supreme court is the intermediate court of appeals, and the court of appeals is the highest court.
At one time, all or nearly all of the fifty states published the decisions of their supreme courts in sets known generally as "official state court reports". The Indiana Reports provided decisions of the Indiana Supreme Court, the Michigan Reports those of the Michigan Supreme Court, the Montana Reports those of the Montana Supreme Court, and so on. Because these "official state court reports" were duplicated by commercially produced sets (see below), because they were published at taxpayer expense, and because the commercially produced sets were superior in quality and timeliness, many of the states eventually stopped publishing their "official" reports. Indiana stopped publication of the Indiana Reports in 1981; on the other hand, Michigan still publishes the Michigan Reports.
About three-quarters of the fifty states have an intermediate court of appeals, one level below the state supreme court. The same information (stated immediately above about state supreme courts) applies to the "official state court reports" from the state courts of appeal. The Indiana Appellate Reports provided decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals, the Michigan Appellate Reports those of the Michigan Court of Appeals, and so on. Indiana stopped publication of the Indiana Appellate Reports in 1982; on the other hand, Michigan still publishes the Michigan Appellate Reports.
Generally speaking, a legal researcher is concerned only with appellate reports, not those of the trial courts. Law libraries normally do not hold the decisions of trial courts. Exceptions: for some reason, Pennsylvania and Ohio have chosen to publish the decisions of their trial courts. You will sometimes see them cited, and many of these decisions can be found in our library.
About 1880, the West Publishing Co. started to publish the Regional Reporters: Atlantic Reporter, Northeastern Reporter, Pacific Reporter, Southern Reporter, etc. These sets contain the decisions of both the state supreme courts and the state courts of appeal, but in regional groupings of states rather than state-by-state. For example, the Northeastern Reporter includes supreme court and court of appeals decisions from Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts. After reaching 200 or 300 volumes, each of these sets started the volume-numbering at "1" again and called these later volumes the "second series". Thus, the Northeastern Reporter, 2d series (cited N.E.2d) reports current Indiana cases.
The A.L.Rs. See Pathfinder FINDING CASES WITH THE A.L.Rs.
Subject-related sets of court reports. (Examples: Aviation Cases, Negligence Compensation Cases Annotated, Public Utilities Reports.) Look in Online Catalog under relevant subject words.
Subject-oriented looseleaf services (Examples: BNA Criminal Law Reporter, CCH Products Liability Reporter, P-H Estate Planning.) Look in Online Catalog under relevant subject words.
LEXIS and WESTLAW databases. Our contract restricts usage to law school personnel. Law students receive training as part of the Legal Writing courses. Other patrons should consult a librarian.