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American Digest System: Finding Court Cases
Table of Contents:
DIGESTS are multivolume sets that index published court cases by legal topics and case names. There are several digest sets, each indexing different courts: "regional" digests index court cases from groups of neighboring states, West's Federal Practice Digest indexes cases in federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court Digest indexes only U.S. Supreme Court cases. The American Digest System indexes all published federal AND state appellate court cases in two parts: 10-year cumulative indexes called "Decennial" digests and monthly "General" digest volumes for years since the last 10year cumulation.
Digests provide brief summaries of legal issues in the court cases indexed and citations to the cases themselves, which are published in multivolume sets called reporters. The digests and reporters available in Andersen Library are listed at the end of this guide. However, most of the digests and reporters are no longer received in paper format in Andersen Library.
This guide is for using paper-format digests for finding court cases. However, many court cases are available online. Decisions of many courts, including Wisconsins Supreme and Appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, may be found on the courts' websites, though often only relatively recent decisions are provided, and in some cases the access may not be free. Links to websites of several courts are provided on Andersen Librarys Law Resources webpage. Most courts' cases can be found full-text in two legal research databases:
SEARCHING FOR CASES BY SUBJECT
- SELECT DIGEST(s) TO USE, based on the location and/or date of the cases you want to find, e.g., to find cases in any federal court since 1975, use West's Federal Practice Digest, 3rd and 4th series.
- FIND DIGEST TOPIC(s) AND KEY NUMBER(s) FOR YOUR SUBJECT.
Digests group brief summaries of cases under broad legal topics. A list of the digest topics appears at the front of each volume. The digest topics are broken down into more specific subtopics, each of which is assigned a "key number", e.g,
To find digest topics and key numbers for a specific subject:
||Look up alternative words or phrases for the subject in the "Descriptive Word Index" volumes of the digest. Try broader words or phrases if very specific terms do not work, and/or |
||Scan the outline of key numbers (i.e., subtopics) at the beginning of a digest topic that may be relevant to your subject. Note the key numbers of subtopics that look particularly useful. |
- LOOK IN THE DIGEST UNDER TOPICS AND KEY NUMBERS FOR LISTS OF CASES.
Use the brief summaries to select cases you want to read in full. Write down their citations. Always check for a pocket part in the back of the volume--Look up the same topics and key numbers in pocket parts for cases that are more recent than those in the main volume.
NOTE: The same digest topics and key numbers can be used in other digests to find more cases dealing with the same legal issues.
- FIND AND READ THE CASES IN REPORTERS.
Citations to court cases follow a particular format:
For help with abbreviations for reporters or other legal titles, consult a reference librarian or Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (REF DESK KF246 .B46 1988). Cases may give references to other cases (or other legal sources) that you may want to look up.
- EXAMINE CASE HEADNOTES FOR RELEVANT DIGEST TOPICS AND KEY NUMBERS.
Near the beginning of each case is a numbered list of brief summaries of the legal issues dealt with in the case. These are called "headnotes." The digest topics and key numbers given for each headnote can be looked up in digests to find citations to other cases that deal with the same issues, e.g.,
- UPDATE CASES by finding their citations in the appropriate Shepard's citator set. "Shepardizing" cases provides lists of citations to cases that affirm, overrule, modify or cite your case. There may also be citations to American Law Reports annotations.
SEARCHING FOR CASES BY NAME
- SELECT WHICH DIGEST(s) TO USE, based on what you know about the case: state or federal court system, a specific court or state, date. If nothing but the name is known, use the entire American Digest System. NOTE: Andersen Library has this only from the 3rd Decennial Digest, so for cases prior to 1916 use regional digests for state cases and the Modern Federal Practice Digest or U.S. Supreme Court Digest for federal cases.
- LOOK UP THE CASE NAME IN TABLE OF CASES VOLUME(s), which are usually near the end of a digest. The tables list cases alphabetically by plaintiffs (Normally the plaintiff's name comes first.). If you are not certain that the names of the parties in the case are in the correct order, also use the "Defendant-Plaintiff Table" volumes, which list cases alphabetically by defendants. You may want to try different spellings.
When using the American Digest System, note that each decennial digest has its own Table of Cases for the 10-year period. More recently, the 10-year compilations are actually in two 5-year parts, each with its own Table of Cases. Each volume of the General Digest has a case table, but every tenth volume has a cumulative Table of Cases, e.g.,
- FIND AND READ THE CASE using the citation from the Table of Cases.
(See #4 above for how to read a citation.)
- LOOK UP THE DIGEST TOPIC(s) AND KEY NUMBER(s) from the Table of Cases to find more cases dealing with the same legal issues.
Reporters and Digests in Andersen Library's REFERENCE "LAW COLLECTION"AMERICAN DIGEST SYSTEM
Indexes all published federal and appellate state courts 1916- For earlier years, use regional and federal digests below.
Decennial digests, 3rd- (1916- ) (REF KF141)--each covers a ten-year period
General digests (KF141 Suppl.)--monthly bound supplements to latest decennial digest, with
cumulative indexing in every tenth volume
FEDERAL COURT REPORTERS
U.S. Supreme Court:
U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Ed. "L.Ed./L.Ed.2d" (REF KF101 .U5)
U.S. Reports, vol.375- "U.S." (Federal Documents Collection Ju 6.8:)
U.S. Courts of Appeals, and U.S. District Courts pre-1932:
Federal Reporter "F./F.2d" (REF KF105.F4)
U.S. District Courts, since 1932:
Federal Supplement "F. Supp." (REF KF105 .F42)
FEDERAL COURT DIGESTS
All published federal courts, including U.S. Supreme Court:
West's(Modern) Federal Practice Digest, 1st-4th series (REF KF105 .W4)
U.S. Supreme Court ONLY:
United States Supreme Court Digest (REF KF101.1 .U5)
REGIONAL REPORTERS & DIGESTS (state appellate courts)
Subscriptions to regional digests, except the North Western Digest, were discontinued as of the years given below. For later state cases, or for regions without their own digest, use the American Digest System.
Atlantic Reporter "A./A.2d" (REF KF135 .A7A7)
Atlantic Digest (REF KF135 .A7W4) --discontinued 1990
North Eastern Reporter "N.E./N.E.2d" (REF KF135 .N6N12)
North Eastern Digest (REF KF135 .N6N2) --discontinued 1970
North Western Reporter "N.W./N.W.2d" (REF KF135 .N7N12)
North Western Digest (REF KF135 .N72W4)
Pacific Reporter "P./P.2d" (REF KF135 .P2P2)
Pacific Digest (REF KF135 .P21W424) --discontinued 1990
South Eastern Reporter "S.E./S.E.2d" (REF KF135 .S6S12)
South Eastern Digest (REF KF135 .S6S235) --discontinued 1990
South Western Reporter "S.W./S.W.2d" (REF KF135 .S7S12)
Southern Reporter "S./S.2d" (REF KF135 .S8S12)
Southern Digest (REF KF135 .S8S2) --discontinued 1987
California appellate courts only:
California Reporter "Cal. Rptr./Cal. Rptr.2d" (REF KFC41 .W4)
New York appellate courts only:
New York Supplement "N.Y.S./N.Y.S.2d" (REF KFN5040 .N5N52)
For assistance, contact a reference librarian at (262)472-1032, by email or live chat, or in person at the library's Reference Desk.
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Last Revised: 9/97 - brb.