A Civil Action: Sources

Legal Research Guides

Updated April 4, 2007.
Prepared by Mary Whisner.

"A Civil Action," starring John Travolta, was the top-grossing theatrical release the week it opened. If you have seen the movie, you might be curious about the case it depicts. This page gives you some leads.

The book

Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action (New York: Vintage Books, 1996). KF228.A7H37 1996 at Classified Stacks (Gallagher Law Library).

Reading Group Guide by the publisher.

Selected book reviews

  • Marya Rose, Tort Reform for a Civilized Society? Implications of Tort Reform for Toxic Tort Lawsuits, 17 B.C. Third World L.J. 133-53 (1997). (Shelved by title at Compact Stack)
  • Robert F. Blomquist, Bottomless Pit: Toxic Trials, The American Legal Profession, and Popular Perceptions of the Law, 81 Cornell L. Rev. 953-88. (Shelved by title at Compact Stacks)

Published opinions and related cases

  • Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 96 F.R.D. 431(D. Mass. 1983)
  • Anderson v. W.R. Grace & Co., 628 F. Supp. 1219 (D. Mass. 1986)
  • Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 805 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. Mass. 1986)
  • Anderson v. Cryovac, Inc., 862 F.2d 910 (1st Cir. Mass. 1988), on remand, Anderson v. Beatrice Foods Co., 127 F.R.D. 1 (D. Mass. 1989)
  • Anderson v. Beatrice Foods Co., 129 F.R.D. 394 (D. Mass. 1989), aff'd, 900 F.2d 388 (1st Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 891 (1990)

Legal documents

Lewis A. Grossman & Robert. G. Vaughn, A Documentary Companion to A Civil Action: With Notes, Comments, and Questions (3d ed.). KF228.A7G76 2006 at Classified Stacks


  • The movie’s "official website" includes information about the stars, information about the case, and links to other sites.
  • Court TV has an online documentary about the movie and the lawsuit.
  • W.R. Grace, one of the defendants in the suit, has a website with its perspective on the suit, the book, and the movie.
  • Daniel D. Kennedy, a reporter who wrote for the Woburn Daily Times Chronicle from 1979 to 1989 and now writes for the Boston Phoenix, has a website with news stories and interviews from his years covering the case. The latest story: just before the release of the film, the former manager of the tannery in the case filed a libel suit against Jonathan Harr for his portrayal in the book.
  • Northshore Online contains investigative news stories from 1979-81 about the radiation and leukemia cluster. 
  • Lessons from Woburn Project, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society (Harvard Law School) and the Films for Justice Institute (Seattle University School of Law), includes video and other material from an online conference with many of the trial participants on January 30, 1999. Three videotapes and an accompanying coursebook are based on 35 hours of interviews. The series is described online and videoclips are available.
  • A geological sciences class at Ohio State University uses the lawsuit as a case study. A website includes court exhibits, technical documents, and photos.
  • Woburn wasn’t the only place where toxics were dumped. If you are interested in the questions raised by "A Civil Action," you might want to look at "Love Canal @ 20," an exhibit developed by the Science and Engineering Library at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Also of interest is SUNY Buffalo’s Love Canal collection. The sites include maps and other graphical information about Love Canal and links to dozens of other sources about Love Canal and other toxic dumps.
  • Brandeis University has a webpage about A Civil Action, sponsored by the Brandeis University Libraries and the New Student Forum. It includes a biographical sketch of Jonathan Harr, bibliographies, and links to related sites.
  • Articles from "Picturing Justice," a website about law and popular culture:
  • The Movie Review Query Engine contains more than 100 links to reviews of A Civil Action.