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Case Law

Case Law

  • "The law based on judicial opinions (including decisions that interpret statutes), as opposed to law based on statutes, regulations, or other sources. Also refers to the collection of reported judicial decisions within a particular jurisdiction dealing with a specific issue or topic."  Nolo's Plain-English Law Dictionary. 
  • Case law functions (mostly) on the concept of stare decisis, or precedent.

Case Law Reporters

  • Case law is traditionally published in chronological order in reporters that are specific to a legal jurisdiction.
  • Reporters can be:
    • official (published by the government legal jurisdiction.  Example: United States Reports, abbreviated U.S. or Washington Reports Second Series, abbreviated as Wash.2d
    • unofficial (fee-based, published by Westlaw or Lexis (or Juris, Bloomberg Law, etc.). Generally provide added value though legal annotations called headnotes. 
      • West Supreme Court Reporter, abbreviated as S. Ct.
      • Lexis - United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition, abbreviated as L. Ed. & L. Ed. 2d
    • Unofficial (freely available online through a number of sources (noted below)) 
    • both, in the case of government legal jurisdictions who contract with West or Lexis or who do not publish their own reporters leaving West and Lexis to provide their services by subscription. 
    • unofficial reporters can also be topic-based (in addition to jurisdiction-based) - see these examples
    • Published in multiple series (each covering specific time periods)
  • Things to consider: Case names can change! Example: Obergefell v. Hodges
  • How to cite cases in reporters. Sometimes the same case may be in multiple reporters (i.e. an official reporter and an unofficial reporter). Sometimes you will cite both reporters (a parallel citation), sometimes you will be instructed to cite to a particular reporter (usually the official version). If you don't know how to cite a particular reporter, that info can be found in The Bluebook: A uniform system of citation (2020, 21st edition) located in the Terrell Reference Collection at KF245 .B58 2020 (note - you can usually find it online as well)

Legal Research: A Guide to Case Law (Law Library of Congress) 

Note - look in the box below for case law available online (including free access)


Locating Federal Court Decisions at the WSU Libraries

Note:  Federal reporters at the WSU Libraries are no longer current in print, although older editions are available in the stacks and in compact shelving.

Washington State Caw Law: Appellate

Washington State Judicial Opinions Website.  Washington Courts.  A free site with published opinions from the Washington Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals, dating back to territorial days.  Opinions on this website are the officially edited opinions and are published 60-90 days after slip opinions are filed.  Includes search option.

Washington State Court Slip Opinions.  Washington Courts.  This website provides slip opinions from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals that were filed after February 22, 2013.  Slip opinions are the opinions that are filed on the day that the appellate court issues its decision and are often not the court's final opinion.  Includes search option.

Washington State Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals Opinions.  Available via Nexis Uni. WSU Only Access.

Other States

About State Court Decisions (Law Library of Congress)

See also the Library of Congress' Guide to Law Online: US States and Territories (look under judicial)

WSU Libraries Subscription Resources for State Case Law

State Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Opinions.  Available via Nexis Uni. (WSU Only Access).

Nexis Uni provides access to all state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opinions back to statehood or territorial days. Extensive search options.

Free Online Resources for State Case Law

Cases and Codes. State Resources.  FindLaw

Provides links to state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals opinions. Dates of coverage vary by state.


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