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PLS 314: Case Law

Case Law

Case law

            To research and rely on case law, you must have access to 3 books in the library:

            1.  Digest – indexing system for reporters

            2.  Reporters – contain cases in the order they were decided.        

3.  Shepards – supplies a list of sources that have cited a given primary source.

Digests:  the only comprehensive digest system is the West Digest System.  The basic West Digests are:

  1. Decennial Digest:  digest all cases in the entire West National Reporter System
  2. Federal Digest:  digests only cases in the West federal case reporters
  3. Regional Digest:  digests only cases in the corresponding West regional reporter
  4. State Digest:  digests only cases from a single state

Organization:

            Alphabetical “digest topics”

            Broken into detailed “key number” outlines

Cases that discuss an area of law are summarized and organized under a digest topic and the correct portion of the key number outline

            What approaches can you take to use the digest?

            1.  “Table of Contents” approach:  Browse the digest topics to determine which topic covers your research.  Then browse the key number outline of that digest topic to determine which particular part of the key number outline covers your research.  Once you’ve chosen the digest topic and key number, review the case blurbs under that particular digest topic and key number.  The goal is to locate a case with similar facts. 

            2.  Index:  choose the word or phrase that most specifically describes your topic.  The index will supply you with the digest topic and key number covering that word or phrase.  Once you have the digest topic and key number, review the case blurbs under that particular digest topic and key number. 

            3.  Table of cases – if you know the name of the case you are looking or, each digest has an alphabetical list of all cases from the jurisdiction the digest covers.  The cases are listed both ways (Riggs v. Sullivan and Sullivan, Riggs v.)

            4.  “Case on point” approach – If you already have a case that covers the type of information you want, and you want more cases like the one you have, you can refer to the headnotes at the beginning of the case for the digest topic and key number the case fits under.  You can then go back to any West digest and find more cases like the one you have under that same digest topic and key number.

            How is the digest updated?

            1.  Pocket parts

            2.  Soft bound supplements (update between the annual pocket parts)

            3.  Determine where the digest stopped on the reporter shelf:  The digest is a summary of what is in the reporter.  Therefore, the reporters are printed faster than the digest.  There will therefore be cases in the reporters not yet summarized in the digest.  You have to determine where those cases start.  To do this, go to the digest book, pocket part or softbound supplement for the digest topic you are researching under – whichever is the most recent.  In the front cover, you will find and entry that states, “Closing with cases reported in” which will give you the volume and page number of the reporter where the digest stopped.  Each reporter has a digest in the back of the cases contained in just that reporter.  To catch the cases the digest has not yet summarized, you will need to start at the spot indicated by the “Closing with cases reported in” entry, and check the digest in the back of each reporter from that point to the end of the shelf.

Reporters:       The West National Reporter System is the only comprehensive reporter system.  West reports cases from all federal courts, and all cases from state appellate courts.

The federal court structure from top to bottom and the basic West reporters in which you can find those courts’ cases:

Court Structure:                    Reporter(s):

Supreme Court                        U.S., S. Ct., L. Ed.

Court of Appeals                     F., F.2d, F.3d

District Court                          F. Supp., F. Supp. 2d

The Kentucky court structure from top to bottom and the reporters in which you can find those courts’ cases:

Court Structure:                    Reporter:

Supreme Court                        S.W., S.W.2d, S.W.3d

Court of Appeals                     S.W., S.W.2d, S.W.3d & Ky.

Trial courts                              Not reported

Shepards:  Shepards supplies a list of resources that have cited a given primary source.  It is necessary to shepardize any primary source. 

Shepardizing serves 3 purposes:

            1.  Validation – making sure your source is still good law    

2.  Finding other sources on the same subject

            3.  Subsequent History – determining if a case has subsequent history for inclusion in a full citation pursuant to 10.7

Shepards divides citations into two types of references: 

            1.  History – your case up and down in the appellate line

2.  Treatment – other cases, outside the appellate line, that have commented on or cited a case

The steps to Shepardizing:

  1. Locate the most recent softbound supplement and look for “What your library should contain.”
  2. Compile the list of hardbound books and softbound supplements that should appear on the shelf, ignoring any not listed (these are outdated and should be discarded from the shelf)
  3. Eliminate those books that do not contain your citation
  4. Locate your citation in the remaining books and supplements
  5. What you look for depends on why you are shepardizing (a, b and c represent the purposes of shepardizing)
    1. Validation
      1. Look for any history reference
      2. Look for any negative treatment reference
    2. Looking for other sources on the same subject
      1. Look for any history reference
      2. Look for any helpful treatment reference
      3. Look for citations with headnotes in common for cases
    3. Subsequent history for a case cite – we will review this with our Bluebook review