Legal Research


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Part of a series of lectures given to students in the University of Osnabrück's foreign law program.

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Legal Research

  1. 1. Common Law Legal SystemCitations & Legal Research
  2. 2. Caption United States District Court, D. New Jersey. ESTATE of Elvis PRESLEY, Plaintiff, v. Rob RUSSEN, d/b/a The Big El Show, Defendant. Civ. A. No. 80-0951. 513 F.Supp. 1339 April 16, 1981.---------------------BROTMAN, District Judge.
  3. 3. The United States
  4. 4. Typical U.S. Citation Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) Page NumberName of the Parties Name of the Parties Year Report Name Volume U.S. = United States Reports
  5. 5. U.S. Supreme Court Cases Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965). ● U.S. = U.S. Reports ● Official government reporter ● S.Ct. = Supreme Court Reporter ● West Publishing ● L.E.2d = United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition ● Lexis/Nexis
  6. 6. Federal Appeal Court Cases United States court of appeals cases are published in the Federal Reporter (F., F.2d, or F.3d). ● Published by West ● No “official” reporter Smith v. Jones, 3 F.3d 111 (3d Cir. 1993) Name of Parties Volume Page Court Year Reporter Name
  7. 7. Federal Court of Appeals
  8. 8. Federal District Court Cases United States district court cases and cases from some specialized courts are published in the Federal Supplement (F. Supp. or F. Supp. 2d). Smith v. Jones, 25 F. Supp. 2d, 444 (M.D. Ala. 2002) Parties volume reporter page court year
  9. 9. State Decisions Published in several places Many states have their own “official” reporters. West publishes “unofficial” reporters that are grouped by region: ● North Eastern Reporter, ● Atlantic Reporter, ● South Eastern Reporter, ● Southern Reporter, ● South Western Reporter, ● North Western Reporter, ● Pacific Reporter ● NOTE – NY, Cal, and Ill also have West reporter.
  10. 10. Regional Reporter System
  11. 11. State v. Regional Reporter City of Troy v Ohlinger, 438 Mich 477 (1991) People v Ferency, 133 Mich App 526 (1984) or Court People v Ferency, 351 NW2d 225 (Mich. App. 1984). Parties Volume Reporter Page Year
  12. 12. The Full Citation People v Ferency, 133 Mich App 526; 351 NW2d 225 (1984). NOTE: ● the state reporters can easily be identified because they use an abbreviation related to the state itself: ● N.Y., Mich, Calif, Ill ● Many state court rules require both the official and “unofficial” citations for cases.
  13. 13. Examples Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co., 248 N.Y. 339 (1928) Glassroth v. Moore, 229 F. Supp. 2d 1290 (M.D. Ala. 2002) Geary v. Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish Sch., 7 F.3d 324 (3d Cir. 1993) Jackson v. Commonwealth, 583 S.E.2d 780 (Va. Ct. App. 2003) ● State or Federal court? ● Specifically, what court?
  14. 14. Pinpoint Citations Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 158 (1973). What is this number?
  15. 15. Finding A Case When you know a Party Name(s) ● Table of Cases in Digests ● Electronic Search using Westlaw, Lexis or even Google! ● You are looking for the citation. When you know the citation ● Bound volume of reporters as discussed above. ● Westlaw, Lexis or more recently court websites. When you dont have either: ● This means you are at the beginning of your research and you need to find cases. ● More on this later.
  16. 16. Helpful Hints The Supreme Court table of cases will normally only list citations for actions taken by the Supreme Court, which include: ● granting cert. (i.e. permission for the appeal to be heard) ● granting/denying motions (motion to file amicus briefs, motion to amend briefs, etc.) ● motions for rehearing ● the decision(s) of the Court
  17. 17. More Hints and Tasks the first citation is usually dealing with the request for hearing. See if you can determine from where (which court) the case is being appealed. some of these citations deal with procedural motions being filed by the parties or outside parties who wish to be heard as part of the case. See if you can determine what they are asking for. there will always be a citation for the final decision of the Court (if one was given). After the final decision, there may be a citation for a rehearing request. See if you can determine from the index whether such a citation exists for your case.
  18. 18. Legal Research Finding the Law &Basic Westlaw Research
  19. 19. So Many Cases, So Little Time Find the right cases, statutes, rules, etc. This is a very broad overview of legal research.
  20. 20. Research  With so many cases, isnt finding the proper holdings akin to looking for a needle in a haystack?
  21. 21. Research Goal = predict outcome of case (memo) or persuade court of position (brief) Search for statutes, cases, legal treatise Can be done in library or online Takes years of practice to be good
  22. 22. So How Do You Find This Stuff? First must define the legal issue(s) Look at facts obtained from client and witness interviews, discovery, etc. This is what going to law school is all about. Determine whether claim(s) are statutory, common law or both. If statutory, find pertinent statute. If common law, find caselaw.
  23. 23. Westlaw: Finding a Document by Citation Choose “Find” from menu at top of welcome screen. You will then see on the left side a box to input the citation for the document you want: case, journal article, etc. NOTE – in the lower left side is a pull-down menu for publication country. by default it is set to U.S. law.
  24. 24. Finding a Case by Party Name This is not so easy for U.S. case using Westlaw International In the U.S., finding by case name is an option on the general “find” page” Can only conduct this search inside a database Choose “Directory” then subdirectory “U.S. Federal Materials” “Cases” choose a database here (e.g. “allfeds”) once inside the database in upper right corner select search by party name.
  25. 25. Accessing a Database Click “Database” from top menu Note that there are numerous sub-directories U.S. Federal Materials U.S. State Materials Legal Periodicals Here we can start thinking about searching for law. if you know your legal question and want to look for cases in a particular jurisdiction, this is one way to start.
  26. 26. The Steps in Legal Research (added 11 Nov 2011) Step 1 – Define your issue to be researched. Step 2 – Find key words related to the issue. Step 3 – determine the jurisdiction of the issue. federal or state? which state? Step 4 – fully research the question. Step 5 – make sure your research is current Step 6 – draft a memo.
  27. 27. Searching for Law Issue: Fugitive from justice, statute of limitations. Directory → US Federal Materials/Statutes → United States Code Annotated You can search using “Terms & Connectors” or “Natural Language”. here we are searching only Federal statutory law! Result: 18 U.S.C.A. § 3290 “No statute of limitations shall extend to any person fleeing from justice.”
  28. 28. One Good Case Method on Westlaw We know that Tinker v. Des Moines is a landmark student speech case. Tinker dealt with disruptive speech. we are looking for cases that dealt with offensive speech with a sexual content. We find key number for student speech We search the key number by jurisdiction and a narrow it using search terms.
  29. 29. Exercise: Finding a Case Find Van Horn v. Watson case that we use next week in class. How do we do this? If we only know case name this is not so easy we probably need more: jurisdiction, legal issue, date This case was decided by the California Supreme Court. If we know citations No problem!
  30. 30. Exercise: Finding Law by Subject What is the exact issue? The narrower, the better! Which court has jurisdiction? Where do we begin our search? One good case? Key Search? General Case Search? Journals or Encyclopedias? Example: Can a school dress code require male students to have short hair? Jurisdiction – Michigan.
  31. 31. Cases to find for next Class Goddard v. Boston & M. R. Co., 60 N.E. 486 (Mass. 1901) B. Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Company, 94 N.E. 386 (Mass. 1911) C. Mascary v. Boston Elevated Railway Company, 155 N.E. 637 (Mass. 1927). D. Scaccia v. Boston Elevated Railway Company, 57 N.E.2d 761 (Mass. 1944). NOTE – please use the copy found in the book and NOT the one found on Westlaw. The headnotes in Westlaw are different and may make the exercise I want to conduct more confusing for you.