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NATIONAL REPORTER SYSTEM ® INSTRUCTIONAL AIDS SERIES
Contents Introduction: Case Law, the Courts, and the Doctrine of PrecedentIntroduction: Case Law, the Courts, and the Doctrine of Precedent The National Reporter System Case Enhancements The Topic and Key Number System The Key Number Digests Topic and Key Number Research
Introduction: Case Law, the Courts, and the Doctrine of Precedent
Case Law: The Courts Trial courts are the entry to the court system. Trial courts are where –attorneys present evidence and make arguments, and –a judge or a judge and jury make determinations of law and fact. Appellate courts hear appeals of trial court decisions to determine whether there were errors of law in the trial court decision, such as in the admission of evidence or in jury instructions. (There may be more than one level of appellate court. A higher-level appellate court, such as a supreme court, hears appeals from an intermediate appellate court decision.)
Case Law: The Courts There is a federal system of trial and appellate courts. –District courts are the federal trial level courts. – Circuit courts and United States Supreme Court are the federal appellate courts. Each state has a system of trial and appellate courts. The number of appellate levels varies from state to state but each state has a trial-level court and at least one level of appellate court.
Federal Court System State Court Systems District courts (trial-level) (Southern District of New York, District of Minnesota) State trial-level courts Courts of appeals for the 13 federal circuits Most, but not all, states have at least one level of intermediate court(s) of appeal(s) State supreme court United States Supreme Court
Case Law: The Courts Appellate courts have control over trial courts in a specific geographic area or jurisdiction. Federal District of Minnesota cases are heard in the jurisdiction of the Eighth Circuit and its decisions can be appealed only to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. Decisions of the circuit courts can be appealed only to the United States Supreme Court.
Case Law: The Doctrine of Precedent (Stare Decisis) Precedents are prior cases in the jurisdiction that are close in fact or legal principles to the case in consideration. The doctrine of precedent dictates that decisions reached in previous cases in the same jurisdiction dealing with the same or similar issues should be followed unless there is a good reason to deviate.
The Doctrine of Precedent The decision of a court is binding authority on that court and on the lower courts in the same jurisdiction when deciding factually similar issues. The doctrine of precedent is founded on a sense of fairness and the belief that decisions should be consistent and not arbitrary so that the legal consequences of conduct can be predicted.
The Doctrine of Precedent The doctrine of precedent explains why attorneys need access to prior cases decided by the highest court in the jurisdiction. Cases decided in another jurisdiction, although not binding as precedent, may be a valuable source of legal reasoning for an issue not previously addressed in the jurisdiction.
The National Reporter System
Case Law Without a coherent, uniform means of accessing cases from all state and federal jurisdictions, finding cases discussing similar points of law would be immensely difficult. The National Reporter System organizes both federal and state case law into a cohesive body of law that can be researched within and across jurisdictions.
Since 1879, West’s National Reporter System has compiled cases from state and federal courts and organized them into various reporter sets. Volumes in a set are numbered consecutively. A new series starting with volume 1 is begun when one series becomes too unwieldy, e.g., the volume following 999 F.Supp. is 1 F.Supp.2d. Case Law
Federal Case Law Federal district (trial) level courts are published in the Federal Supplement ®. Only a selection of district court cases is reported. Citation format: 75 F.Supp. 225, 13 F.Supp.2d 881 These cases are on Westlaw in the DCT and DCT-OLD databases.
Federal Case Law U.S. district court cases can be appealed to the Federal Circuit court that hears appeals from that district. There are 13 U.S. circuit courts of appeal. The decisions of the circuit courts are published in the Federal Reporter ®. Citation format: 333 F.2d 120, 37 F.3d 300
The Thirteen Federal Judicial Circuits The Federal Reporter cases are on Westlaw in the CTA and CTA- OLD databases.
Federal Case Law Cases can be appealed from the circuit courts of appeals to the United States Supreme Court. Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are published in the Supreme Court Reporter ®. Citation format: 99 S.Ct These cases are on Westlaw in the SCT and SCT-OLD databases.
Federal Case Law There are also federal topical reporters that are part of West’s National Reporter System: Bankruptcy Reporter ® Federal Rules Decisions ® Military Justice Reporter ® Federal Claims Reporter™
State Case Law Only state appellate-level opinions are reported in the National Reporter System. Trial-level decisions are not reported. Cases from all 50 states are published in one of seven regional reporters: Atlantic Reporter ®, Southern Reporter ®, South Eastern Reporter ®, South Western Reporter ®, North Eastern Reporter ®, North Western Reporter ®, and Pacific Reporter ®. There are approximately 30 state reporters, which are reprints of one state’s cases from a regional reporter.
The States Included in Each of the Seven Regional Reporters
State Case Law This is the first page from a volume in the Pacific Reporter. It lists the states that have cases published in the Pacific Reporter.
Federal and State Case Law on Westlaw All cases from all the federal reporters are in the ALLFEDS database. Each state has a Westlaw case law database. The identifiers are XX-CS, where XX is the state’s two-letter postal abbreviation. Examples: (NY-CS, FL-CS). All cases from each regional reporter are in separate databases, (NW, SW, SO, ATL, NE, PAC and SE). All cases from all state and regional reporters are in the ALLSTATES database. All cases from all state, regional, and federal reporters are in the ALLCASES database.
Updating Reporters Print slip opinions (without corrections or enhancements) of individual cases are sent by the courts to government depository libraries shortly after the cases are decided. A slip-copy version of the case generally appears on Westlaw within two to twenty four hours of receipt of the case by West.
Updating Reporters Attorneys have access to all but the most recent cases through the advance sheets (which update the hardbound reporters) and are issued every two weeks. After going through a thorough editorial process, a case generally appears in the appropriate reporter advance sheet within six to eight weeks of receipt of the case.
Attorney-Editorial Case Enhancements
Editorial Enhancements This slip opinion appears just as written by the judge and processed and filed with the court. West attorney-editors take the language of the court, correct errors, and add features that are essential tools for the careful researcher.
Editorial Scrutiny When West receives a slip opinion –the manuscript is scrutinized for accuracy –parallel citations are added –textual information is updated –the court is contacted if clarification or corrections are needed More than 1.5 million case citations are checked, 500,000 parallel citations are added, and 80,000 errors in opinions are corrected each year.
Finding Tools Both the advance sheets and the bound volumes of the reporters include: a Table of Cases arranged by state a Table of Statutes interpreted by cases covered a list of Words and Phrases defined by the cases covered Tables of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Federal Rules of Evidence that are interpreted by the cases covered in the advance sheet or reporter
Editorial Enhancements Created by West Attorney-Editors Synopsis: A summary of the procedural history, the facts, the main points of law, and the holding of the case. Headnotes (digest paragraphs): Summaries of the points of law discussed in the body of the opinion. Key Numbers: Headnotes are assigned to a topic and key number in the West Key Number System.
Editorial Enhancements Headnotes and synopses are prepared by West attorney-editors using –consistent and current legal terminology instead of ambiguous, regional, or outdated words –descriptive terms instead of proper names Examples: –Tenant is used instead of Mr. Blake or plaintiff –Aspirin is used instead of Bufferin or Tylenol –Intoxicated is used instead of tipsy or inebriated These headnotes can help you retrieve many online cases that you might otherwise miss.
Synopsis and Headnotes The synopsis is the first paragraph of every National Reporter System case. Headnotes follow the synopsis in every National Reporter System case. Headnotes appear in the order the points of law are discussed in the case.
Editorial Enhancements and Fields Each online National Reporter System case is divided into segments called fields. A digest (headnote) field search and/or synopsis field search is an efficient way to search the online case law databases. di(wrongful! /3 terminat! discharg!) A digest field search allows you to retrieve a great number of cases that you would otherwise miss but at the same time will limit retrieved cases to ones in which the point of law you are researching is central to the holding of the case.
Field Searches on Westlaw Synopsis field search in Westlaw case law database: sy(malpractice /p “foreign object”) Digest field (headnote) search in a Westlaw case law database: di( bystander /p “emotional distress”) A combined synopsis and digest field search in a Westlaw case law database: sy,di(landlord /p “common area”)
Other fields: Citation (volume number, the reporter, and the first page number of the case) Title or Caption (names of parties) Docket Number (the number assigned to the case when it is filed with the court; this number follows the case through its litigation history) Attorneys of Record Judge(s) Opinion Field Searches on Westlaw
The Topic and Key Number System
Headnotes and the Topic and Key Number System When West receives an opinion from the court, a West attorney- editor identifies the points of law discussed in the case. Each point of law is summarized in a headnote. After carefully analyzing the point of law that the headnote discusses, the West attorney-editor assigns the headnote to at least one key number in the West Topic and Key Number System.
This headnote summarizes the second point of law discussed in this case on Westlaw. The headnote is assigned to key number 90.1(1.2) under Topic 92 (Constitutional Law). Headnote Key Number 90.1(1.2) Topic Number (92) Headnote Number (2)
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.
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
Topics 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 (e.g., West attorney-editors no longer use topic 3).
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)
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.
Currentness of Topics Topics or portions of topics are added, renamed, expanded, contracted, merged, or eliminated as law, society, and political sensitivity dictate. Insurance topic was reorganized in 1998; Negligence topic was reorganized in 1999 RICO topic was added in 1990; Sentencing topic was added in 2000 Drunkards topic became inactive in 1978 and all new cases were classified under a new topic, Chemical Dependents. The new topic also contains some issues that were previously categorized under Drugs and Narcotics Insane Persons topic was renamed Mental Health
Currentness of Key Numbers Key numbers are added, renumbered, or transferred to other topics as law, society, and political sensitivity dictate. What was once a specific key number may be expanded over time to provide deeper analysis of a growing area of the law. Translation tables in print volumes aid in moving between the old and new classifications. On Westlaw, a “Formerly” line is added to key numbers that have changed so you can search by old or new key number. (See below.)
Think of the topic and key number as an address: –Each street in the city represents a digest topic. –There are many houses on each street and each house has its own number. –In order to find a particular house, you must know both the street name (topic) and the house number (key number).
Key Number Digests
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
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 Digests
West’s Key Number Digests Each digest series spans many volumes and is organized first alphabetically by topic then numerically by key number. Digests
Finding and Using Relevant Key Numbers
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
West’s Analysis of American Law West’s Analysis of American Law lists all the topics and the specific key numbers with the title given to each key number. Constitutional Law TOPIC NO – Particular Expressions and Limitations (1.2) Election Regulations Browsing the Topic Hierarchy
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.
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
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
Secondary Sources’ Library References in Print and on Westlaw Reference to a constitutional law key number for an Am Jur ® 2d (American Jurisprudence) section on Westlaw. Reference to relevant constitutional key numbers in an ALR ® (American Law Reports) article on Westlaw.
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.
Using a Known Key Number in a Westlaw Search If you know the key number before you sign on to Westlaw: chose either a case law or a headnote (digest) database, enter the key number as your Terms and Connectors query: 92k90.1(1.2) The “k” makes the term unique. You will retrieve only documents containing the key number. You can require that certain words be in the same paragraph as the key number to customize your search: 92k90.1(1.2) /p speech
Use the “Key Numbers” link on the top of the screen to access the Key Number Search feature. Enter in your key words, select a jurisdiction, and the system will return suggested Key Numbers for you to use. Click on the Key Number you want, and the system will run a Custom Digest search for you. –Students love this new feature! New Feature – Key Number Search
Search on Westlaw In case law databases, key numbers and headnotes appear before the text of the case in the order the legal issues are discussed in the case, just as in the print reporters. In the headnote (digest) databases, the key numbers and headnotes are organized by topic, then by key number, just as in the print digests.
If you don’t know either the topic or the key number –in a headnote database (NY-HN, ALLCASES-HN), enter a Terms and Connectors query or a digest field search: campaign! /p contribut! /p speech –in a case law database (NY-CS, ALLCASES), restrict your query to the digest field (di): di(campaign /p contribut! /p speech) Start out by keeping all terms in the same paragraph. Search on Westlaw
The West Topic and Key Number System Allows you to quickly find all (including the most current) cases that discuss a legal issue Allows you to quickly determine the merits of your clients’ cases based on how prior cases dealing with the same issue have been decided Allows you to move among reporters, digests, the ALR and AmJur publications and statutes using cross-referenced relevant key numbers The Key Number System is the index to American common- law issues.
The National Reporter System, the West editorial enhancements, the West Key Number System, and West’s Key Number Digests are an integrated research system that guides you to prior cases in any state or federal jurisdiction that discussed similar facts or points of law.
We hope that you have found this lesson helpful. If you have more Westlaw education or training needs, please contact your Academic Account Manager or call the Reference Attorneys at WESTLAW.Academic Account Manager If you have feedback on the Instructional Aids Series, please contact Erin Jensen.Erin Jensen Thank You…