Updated Nov. 7, 2013.
Prepared by Mary Whisner
Court opinions are published in sets called reporters. Digests are tools that help researchers locate cases on specific legal topics or issues. West is the publisher of most of the reporters and digests described in this guide.
See also the Gallagher Caselaw Research Checklist.
Reporters contain the full text of published court opinions. When a court first releases an opinion, it is usually published as a single case in a pamphlet known as a "slip opinion" or "slip decision." Multiple opinions are collected and published in soft-bound pamphlets called "advance sheets." Depending on the publication, advance sheets are issued on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. Advance sheets are later replaced by bound volumes, known as "reports" or "reporters." The pagination in the advance sheets and the bound volumes is identical.
Official reports are published under the authority of the legislature and are usually printed by the government. Unofficial reporters are printed by private publishers (such as West) with or without authority from the legislature. The National Reporter System, developed by West, covers both federal and state courts. All West reporters - i.e., all of the following, except U.S., L.Ed., Wash., and Wash. App. - are part of the National Reporter System.
For more information about reporters see:
the The National Reporter System (PowerPoint slideshow)
or one of the basic legal research guides in the Library (KF240 at Reference Area).
This table identifies the major reporters for cases from the U.S. (federal) courts that are available in the Law Library. This list does not include courts that no longer exist and some specialized courts.
|U.S. Court||Title||Abbreviation||Call Number||Location(s)|
|Supreme Court||United States Reports||U.S.||KF101 .A212||Reference Area
|Supreme Court Reporter||S. Ct.||KF101 .A322||Reference Area
|United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition||L. Ed.
L. Ed. 2d
|KF101 .A313||L2 Reporters Area|
|Courts of Appeal||West's Federal Reporter, 3d Series (1988-date)||F.3d||KF105 .F432||Reference Area
|Federal Reporter, 2d Series (1925-88)||F.2d||KF105 .F432||L2 Reporters Area|
|Federal Reporter (1880-1924)||F.||KF105 .F432||L2 Reporters Area|
|District Courts||West's Federal Supplement, 2d Series (1988-date)||F. Supp. 2d||KF120 .F42||Reference Area
|Federal Supplement (1933-88)||F. Supp.||KF120 .F42||L2 Reporters Area|
|Federal Rules Decisions (1941-date)||F.R.D.||KF 8839 .F4||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Bankruptcy Courts||West's Bankruptcy Reporter||B.R.||KF1515 .A2 W47||Reference Area|
|Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims||West's Veterans Appeals Reporter||Vet. App.||KF7745 .A518||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces||West's Military Justice Reporter||M.J.||KF7605 .A2W4||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Court of Claims||Federal Claims Reporter||Fed. Cl.||KF125 .C5 C53||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Court of International Trade||United States Court of International Trade Reports||Ct. Int'l Trade||KF6698 .A512||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Tax Court||United States Tax Court Reports||T.C.||KF6324 .A512||Reference Area
The Law Library does not subscribe to the Federal Appendix, which includes cases from the U.S. Courts of Appeals that are not selected for publication in the Federal Reporter. These cases may be found in print in subject-specific looseleaf services and online via commercial databases and court websites. Ask a Reference librarian for assistance.
Cases from Washington State appellate courts are found in the Pacific Reporter:
|West's Pacific Reporter, 3d (1988-date)||P.3d||KF135 .P2 P32
|Pacific Reporter, 2d (1931-88)||P.2d||KF135 .P2 P32
L2 Reporters Area
|Pacific Reporter (1884-1931)||P.||KF135 .P2 P32
L2 Reporters Area
The other regional reporters, their abbreviations, and call numbers
(all in the L2 Reporters Area, outside the Student Orgs Commons) are:
|Atlantic Reporter||A.; A.2d; A.3d||KF135.A7 A8|
|California Reporter||Cal. Rptr.; Cal. Rptr. 2d; Cal. Rptr. 3d||KFC47 .C32|
|New York Supplement||N.Y.S.; N.Y.S.2d||KFN5045 .A33|
|North Eastern Reporter||N.E.; N.E.2d||KF135 .N6 N62|
|North Western Reporter||N.W.; N.W.2d||KF135 .N7 N6|
|South Eastern Reporter||S.E.; S.E.2d||KF135 .S6 S6|
|South Western Reporter||S.W.; S.W. 2d; S.W. 3d||KF135 .S7 S6|
|Southern Reporter||So.; So.2d; So.3d||KF135 .S8 S6|
The Law Library also has the official reporters for the Washington appellate courts:
|Washington Supreme Court||Washington Reports, 2d||Wash.; Wash. 2d||KFW45 .A22||Reference Area
L2 Compact Stacks
|Washington Court of Appeals||Washington Appellate Reports||Wash. App.||KFW48 .A5W3c||Reference Area
L2 Compact Stacks
When citing Washington cases to Washington courts, follow the Reporter of Decisions Style Sheet, which uses different abbreviations for Washington court reports:
The Law Library generally has other official state reporters that predate coverage in the regional reporters. Search the catalog by the name of the state and the phrase "law reports." LLMC Digital--a commercial online source to which the Law Library subscribes--contains PDF images of many old state court reports. Follow the link on the Legal Databases & Indexes page.
Cases are printed in reporters in rough chronological order. To locate cases by subject or legal issue, use a digest that covers cases from the appropriate court(s).
Digests are organized alphabetically by topics, established by West Publishing Co. and detailed in its Analysis of American Law. KF144.W4 at Reference Area & Reference Office.
Each Topic begins with a scope note (Subjects Included and Subjects Excluded and Covered by Other Topics), then an outline of the Topic (Analysis). Abstracts of points of law are then arranged in order by Key Number.
Each digest has a Descriptive Word Index and a Table of Cases. Most also have Defendant-Plaintiff Tables (earlier regional and decennial digests do not).
For more information, see The Topic and Key Number System (PowerPoint slideshow).
The digests in this table are listed from most comprehensive to most specific.
|U.S. & state courts (all cases in the National Reporter System)||Decennial Digest (multiple series)||KF140 - KF141||Reference Area
Classified Stacks (1897-1906)
|U.S. courts, including
Courts of Appeal,
Court of Claims &
|Federal Practice Digest, 4th Series (1975-date)||KF127 .W484||Reference Area|
|Federal Practice Digest, 3d Series (1975-89)||KF127 .W483||Reference Area|
|Federal Practice Digest, 2d Series (1961-75)||KF127 .W48||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Modern Federal Practice Digest (1939-60)||KF127 .M6||L2 Compact Stacks|
|Federal Digest (1754-1938)||KF127 .F4||Reference Area|
|U.S. Supreme Court||United States Supreme Court Digest (1754-date)||KF101.1 .W4||Reference Area
|State appellate court cases from the Pacific Reporter *||Pacific Digest (1884-date) (5 series)||KF135 .P21||Reference Area|
|U.S. Bankruptcy courts||West's Bankruptcy Digest||KF515.3 .W47||Reference Area|
* Note: The Law Library does not have digests for other regional reporters. Use the Decennial Digests for states not included in the Pacific Reporter and Pacific Digest.
There are several successful approaches to using the digests to locate relevant cases.
From reading secondary sources or using annotated codes, you might have identified a major case on point. Review the topics and key numbers in that case that case; determine which of them (and there may be more than one) address the specific issue in which you are interested. Find digest that covers the jurisdiction(s) you need; the topics and key numbers are the same throughout the system.
Choose one or more Topics that are likely to address the issue you are researching. Read the scope notes to see whether your issue is covered. Skim the outline to find a Key Number or range of Key Numbers.