How to Find a United States Case by Name
This guide provides instruction on finding case citations by name from print sources. If you have the name of a case, but not the citation, one method of locating the citation is to use the Table of Cases in a Digest.
Determine the approximate date and the jurisdiction
Determine the approximate date and the jurisdiction; e.g., federal or state court in which the case was decided:
To locate a citation to a federal case, consult Federal or Supreme
Court Digests (Supreme Court reporters and federal case reporters).
- Federal Digest covers the years to 1939
- Modern Federal Practice Digest covers 1939 – 1961
- Federal Practice Digest 2nd, 1961 -1975
- Federal Practice Digest 3rd, 1975 – 1988
- Federal Practice Digest 4th, 1989 – present
Two Supreme Court digests which cover all Supreme Court cases (Supreme Court cases are also in the federal digests) are the following:
- West’s United States Supreme Court Digest
- United States Supreme Court Digest, Lawyer’s Ed. (KF 101.1 D55)
To find California cases by name, use the California Digests.
- West’s California Digest, covers 1850 – 1950
- West’s California Digest, 2nd, 1950 – present
- McKinney’s New California Digest, 1850 – 1974
- McKinney’s California Digest of Official Reports, 3rd & 4th, 1974 – present
West publishes 46 state digests. Coverage includes all of the states (except Delaware, Nevada and Utah), plus the District of Columbia. The Dakota Digest and the Virginia and West Virginia Digest each cover two states. For Delaware cases, consult the American Digest system; for Nevada and Utah cases consult the Pacific Digest. See State digests.
Many state cases are also published in West’s Regional Reporter system (i.e., the Atlantic, Pacific, North Eastern, North Western, South Eastern, Southern and South Western Reporters). Each Regional Reporter has its own digest, but the Pacific Digest is the only Regional Reporter Digest held at some law libraries.
Look for the Table of Cases
Once you have selected the appropriate digest, look for the Table of Cases at the end of the set:
Is your party plaintiff or defendant?
- The “Table of Cases” lists plaintiff’s name first.
- The “Defendant-Plaintiff Table” lists defendant’s name first.
When you have found the case name, the table will give you the citation: e.g., Williams v.
Rubiera. Legal citations normally follow this format: 539 F. 2d 470 (Volume Number Reporter Name Page Number)
Tables of abbreviations
To find tables of abbreviations, consult:
- The front of each digest volume for a list of abbreviations; or
- The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation; or
- ALWD Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation. 3rd ed. (Call Number: KF 245 A45 2006); or
- Our Research Guide in this Legal resources website, in “How to Read a Legal Citation”, for additional sources.
Use the American Digest system
If you do not know the date or jurisdiction of your case, use the American Digest system; this
covers all state and federal cases.
- American Digest: all cases through 1896 (KF 139).
- Decennial Digest: (1st, 2nd, 3rd) cumulate each 10 year period following 1896 (KF 141).
- General Digests follow the last cumulated Decennial. The Table of Cases cumulates every
10 volumes (KF 141 Supp.).
Use Shepard’s Acts and Cases by Popular Name
If your case is fairly well known, you may be able to locate the citation in Shepard’s Acts and
Cases by Popular Name (KF 90 S52).
See our Research Guide “How to Find a U.S. Case by Topic”.
For very recent cases, consult our Research Guide “California Case Materials Checklist,” or our Research Guide on “Federal Case Materials Checklist”, for additional sources.