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Finding the Law: Case digests

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Legal Research: Finding the Law: Using Case Digests

Legal Research: Finding the Law: Using Case Digests

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  • 1. Legal Research: Finding the Law: Using Case Digests © Professor N. Mathis Rutledge
  • 2. Legal Research
    • Goals in legal research –
      • Find primary authority
      • Find binding precedent
    • Primary authority – cases, statutes, constitutions, regulations
  • 3. There’s More Than One Way to Find Primary Law
    • You can find primary law by using:
    • Secondary sources
    • Case Digests
    • Statute annotations
    • Shepard’s Citations
    • Electronic Commercial Services
    • Internet
  • 4. Where to Start?
    • It depends on what you know?
    • Do you have a case name or citation?
    • Do you have a topic and key number?
    • Are you starting from ground zero?
  • 5. Caveat for Secondary Sources
    • A secondary source is not primary authority, it is secondary authority.
    • A secondary source is commentary on the law
    • Don’t use analysis in secondary sources as a crutch for your own analysis
    • Secondary source is a wonderful starting point for legal research. It is not the ending point.
  • 6. Primary versus Secondary Law
    • Secondary law is commentary on the law
    • It is not binding on the court, but may be persuasive
    • Some secondary sources are more respected than others
    • Restatements, treatises, law review articles versus CJS or AmJur
  • 7. Key to Using
    • Begin with the index or table of contents (sometimes separate volume)
    • Locate material in main text
    • Update research - using supplement or pocket part - separate volume, or softbound volume located in back of book
  • 8. Using Case Digests
  • 9. The Case: See Sample
    • Citation
    • Case name/title
    • Docket Number
    • Court
    • Date
    • Synopsis
    • Headnotes
    • Judge’s Name
  • 10. Headnotes in a Case
    • Headnotes appear before the text of every case in the National Reporter System.
    • A headnote is a paragraph summary of a single point of law discussed in the case.
    • Headnotes appear in the order the points of law are discussed in the case.
    Headnote 2 Headnote 1
  • 11. Headnotes and Key Numbers The point of law discussed in each headnote is assigned to at least one West topic number and key number.
  • 12. Case Digests
    • Subject index for cases
    • Contains abstracts of cases
    • Divided by jurisdiction and subject matter
  • 13. West’s Key Number Digests
    • The headnotes from every reported case in the National Reporter System are organized by topic and key number in West’s Key Number Digests. Headnotes become digest paragraphs.
    • There are
      • federal, state, and regional digests
      • special-subject digests
      • digests that cover specific periods of time
  • 14. West’s Key Number Digests
    • Using an on-point key number, you can find similar headnotes from other cases in any National Reporter System publication.
  • 15. Key Numbers and Key Number Digests
    • West’s Key Number Digests are the research link between Key Numbers and the National Reporter System cases.
    • The digests contain the headnotes (digest paragraphs) and their corresponding topic and key numbers from every set of cases in the National Reporter System.
    • The headnotes (digest paragraphs) are organized first alphabetically by topic and then numerically by key number.
    Digests
  • 16. Key Number Digests
    • Digest sets include:
    • State digests
    • Regional digests
    • Federal Practice Digest
    • Specialty subjects, such as Bankruptcy, Military Justice, Federal Claims, and Education Law digests
    • Decennial digests, which contain all headnotes from cases for each 10-year period beginning with 1897
    • The Century Digest , which contains headnotes from cases from 1658 to 1896
  • 17. West’s Key Number Digests
    • Each digest series spans many volumes and is organized first alphabetically by topic then numerically by key number.
  • 18.
    • This is a page from the Minnesota Digest
    • Listed are all the headnotes (digest paragraphs) from Minnesota cases that discuss the points of law assigned to specific key numbers 8, 2, 9, and 12 under the topic of Abatement and Revival.
    Digests
  • 19. Topic Lists in Print Digests
    • Use the alphabetical Digest Topics list at the beginning of each print digest volume as a table of contents.
    • Check the key numbers under the topics that seem most relevant.
    Browsing the Topic Hierarchy
  • 20. 1. Cases are printed in the National Reporter System reporters. National Reporter System Topic and Key Number System Digests Headnotes Constitutional Law 1 . 2 . 3 4. 2. Each point of law discussed in a case is summarized in a headnote. 3. The point of law in each headnote is assigned a key number(s). 4. Digests organize all headnotes (digest paragraphs) by key number. 5. The key number in a digest is used to find other relevant cases. 4 3. 5.
  • 21. The West Topic and Key Number System
    • is an extensive outline of the entire body of case law in this country.
    • is an index to the entire National Reporter System, helping you more easily locate cases with similar legal issues in any jurisdiction.
    • is a classification system with at least one topic and key number assigned to each point of law.
  • 22. The West Topic and Key Number System
    • divides the law into approximately 400 broad digest topics .
    • breaks down each topic into subheadings
    • contains approximately 100,000 specific key numbers
  • 23.
    • The topic are arranged alphabetically and numbered between 1 and 450.
    • Each topic addresses a broad legal issue.
    • Some topics have been added after the original 414 topics were assigned numbers.
      • See, 48A Automobiles
      • See, 48B Aviation
    • Other topics have been eliminated or renamed
  • 24. Topics and Key Numbers
    • Each topic is broken down into subheadings.
    • There can be as many as eight levels in the topic and key number hierarchy.
    • This process continues until further breakdown of a legal issue is unproductive and a specific key number is assigned. See, 92k90.1(1.2), above.
    92 Constitutional Law (Topic) 92V Personal, Civil and Political Rights (Subheading) 92k90 Freedom of Speech and of the Press 92k90.1 Particular Expressions and Limitations 92k90.1(1.2) k. Election Regulations (Specific Key Number)
  • 25. Topics, Subheadings, and Key Numbers
    • This is a breakdown of subheading 90.1 (Particular expressions and limitations) under the Constitutional Law topic and subheading V. (Personal, Civil and Political Rights) in the print version of the digest.
    • 92k90.1(1.2) is the specific key number dealing with Election regulations.
  • 26. Example
    • Research on quashing an indictment because court lacks jurisdiction
    • DWI – Indictment & Information
      • JURISDICTION of court. Ind & Inf 6, 38
      • This is referring me to Indictment & Information topic (abbreviated as Ind & Inf) and key numbers 6 & 38
  • 27. Where to Start?
    • It depends on what you know?
    • Do you have a case name or citation?
    • Do you have a topic and key number?
    • Are you starting from ground zero?
  • 28. Case Citation
    • Citation – go to the reporter service and review the case
    • Find the headnotes. The headnotes will identify relevant topics & key numbers
    • Can lead you to additional sources
  • 29. Case Name
    • Do you know the jurisdiction?
    • Go to the digest
    • Every digest has a Table of Cases volume
    • List correct citation to the case and relevant topic and key numbers
  • 30. Searching by Topic
    • If you have a topic already
      • From the Descriptive Word Index, case, secondary source
    • Go to the relevant volume, look at the overview section and review subject list & outline of key numbers
    • Not the best way to begin, but a good way to double check research
  • 31. Other Digests
    • West is not the only publisher of Digests. Lexis publishes a digests for Supreme Court decisions
    • Lexis does not use key number system
    • Can use like an index
  • 32.  
  • 33. Starting from Ground Zero
    • Brainstorm , consider different search terms
    • Know your goal : Find binding primary authority; if unavailable find persuasive primary authority
    • Know your jurisdiction
    • Use the Descriptive Word Index (DWI)
  • 34. Knowing your jurisdiction
    • Are you looking for federal or state law or both?
    • State issue: state materials in library in alphabetical order, includes digests
    • State & regional digests (library does not have regional digests)
    • Federal issue – Federal Practice Digest, Supreme Court Digest
    • Both – General Digest, Decennial or Century Digests
  • 35. Descriptive-Word Index
    • Located at the end
    • Every digest has one
    • Can also help in researching codes and secondary materials
    • Use when you have no cites
    • Unhelpful if you haven’t brainstormed
  • 36. Descriptive Word-Index
    • Look up the subject
    • Find a list of abbreviations, corresponding to topic & key numbers, and cross references
    • Once locate relevant topic & key numbers, go to main volume
  • 37. Descriptive Word Index
    • When classifying points of law and assigning to key numbers, West attorney-editors choose words that describe the important facts and legal issues
    • These fact and issue words are arranged alphabetically in the Descriptive Word Index volumes of the digest.
    • The Descriptive Word Index refers you to relevant topic and key numbers.
  • 38.
    • Ask, “What words describe the pertinent facts of the case or legal question involved?”
    • Most descriptive words fall into one of five categories of elements common to every case:
      • Parties or facts
      • Places and things
      • Issue or basis of action
      • Defenses
      • Relief sought
    Descriptive Word Index
  • 39.
    • Example: John Landlord failed to replace a light bulb in the hallway of one of his apartment buildings. Jane Tenant failed to see a step and fell down a flight of stairs. She is suing John for damages.
    • You might start by checking in the index under landlord , tenant , apartment , common area , or premise liability . At least one of these entries will probably lead you to key numbers assigned to headnotes in cases that discuss the same or similar issues.
    Descriptive Word Index
  • 40. Now have a topic & key number
    • After locating topic & key numbers, check the pocket part
      • Any new entries?
    • Once you have a list of topics and key numbers, go to the digest volumes
    • Volumes are in alphabetical order, key numbers are in numerical order
    • Don’t forget the pocket parts
  • 41. Using a Known Key Number in Print Digests
    • Go to a print digest covering the appropriate jurisdiction and find the volume containing the topic.
    • The digest paragraphs are arranged in numerical order under the topic.
    • All headnotes (digest paragraphs) from all cases discussing the point of law assigned to that key number are listed along with citations to the originating cases.
  • 42. Let’s Try It

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