• Library
  • UW-W
  • Google
  • Google Scholar

American Digest System: Finding Court Cases

Table of Contents:

What are digests? | Online access to cases |
SEARCHING FOR CASES: by subject | by name
Reporters & Digests in Andersen Library

DIGESTS are multivolume sets that index published court cases by legal topics and case names. There are several digest sets, each indexing different courts: "regional" digests index court cases from groups of neighboring states, West's Federal Practice Digest indexes cases in federal courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court Digest indexes only U.S. Supreme Court cases. The American Digest System indexes all published federal AND state appellate court cases in two parts: 10-year cumulative indexes called "Decennial" digests and monthly "General" digest volumes for years since the last 10-year cumulation. Digests provide brief summaries of legal issues in the court cases indexed and citations to the cases themselves, which are published in multivolume sets called reporters. This guide explains using paper-format digests to find court cases. The digests and reporters available in Andersen Library are listed at the end of the guide. However, because most court cases are available online, Andersen Library no longer receives digests (or reporters) in paper format. Decisions of many courts, including Wisconsin's Supreme and Appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, may be found on the courts' websites, though often only relatively recent decisions are provided, and in some cases the access may not be free. Links to websites of several courts are provided on Andersen Library's Law Resources webpage. Most courts' cases can be found full-text in two legal research databases:

SEARCHING FOR CASES BY SUBJECT

  1. SELECT DIGEST(s) TO USE, based on the location and/or date of the cases you want to find, e.g., to find cases in any federal court since 1975, use West's Federal Practice Digest, 3rd and 4th series.
  2. FIND DIGEST TOPIC(s) AND KEY NUMBER(s) FOR YOUR SUBJECT.
    Digests group brief summaries of cases under broad legal topics. A list of the digest topics appears at the front of each volume. The digest topics are broken down into more specific subtopics, each of which is assigned a "key number", e.g,

    Digest entry for topic Products liability, key number 27 Contributory negligence...

    To find digest topics and key numbers for a specific subject:
    2a) Look up alternative words or phrases for the subject in the "Descriptive Word Index" volumes of the digest. Try broader words or phrases if very specific terms do not work, and/or
    2b) Scan the outline of key numbers (i.e., subtopics) at the beginning of a digest topic that may be relevant to your research. Note the key numbers of any subtopics that look particularly useful.
  3. LOOK IN THE DIGEST UNDER TOPICS AND KEY NUMBERS FOR LISTS OF CASES.
    Use the brief summaries to select cases you want to read in full. Write down their citations. Always check for a pocket part in the back of the volume--Look up the same topics and key numbers in pocket parts for cases that are more recent than those in the main volume. NOTE: The same digest topics and key numbers can be used in other digests to find more cases dealing with the same legal issues.
  4. FIND AND READ THE CASES IN REPORTERS.
    Citations to court cases follow a particular format:

    image of a legal case citation, elements in this order: volume, reporter abbreviation, page

    For help with abbreviations for reporters or other legal titles, consult a reference librarian or Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (REF DESK KF246 .B46 1988). Cases may give references to other cases (or other legal sources) that you may want to look up.
  5. EXAMINE CASE HEADNOTES FOR RELEVANT DIGEST TOPICS AND KEY NUMBERS.
    Near the beginning of each case is a numbered list of brief summaries of the legal issues dealt with in the case. These are called "headnotes." The digest topics and key numbers given for each headnote can be looked up in digests to find citations to other cases that deal with the same issues, e.g.,

    example of a case headnote, elements in this order: legal topic, keynumber, one-sentence summmary of one legal issue in the case

  6. UPDATE CASES by finding their citations in the appropriate Shepard's citator set. "Shepardizing" cases provides lists of citations to cases that affirm, overrule, modify or cite your case. There may also be citations to American Law Reports annotations.

SEARCHING FOR CASES BY NAME

  1. SELECT WHICH DIGEST(s) TO USE, based on what you know about the case: state or federal court system, a specific court or state, date. If nothing but the name is known, use the entire American Digest System. NOTE: Andersen Library has this only from the 3rd Decennial Digest, so for cases prior to 1916 use regional digests for state cases and the Modern Federal Practice Digest or U.S. Supreme Court Digest for federal cases.
  2. LOOK UP THE CASE NAME IN TABLE OF CASES VOLUME(s), which are usually near the end of a digest. The tables list cases alphabetically by plaintiffs (Normally the plaintiff's name comes first.). If you are not certain that the names of the parties in the case are in the correct order, also use the "Defendant-Plaintiff Table" volumes, which list cases alphabetically by defendants. You may want to try different spellings. When using the American Digest System, note that each decennial digest has its own Table of Cases for the 10-year period. More recently, the 10-year compilations are actually in two 5-year parts, each with its own Table of Cases. Each volume of the General Digest has a case table, but every tenth volume has a cumulative Table of Cases, e.g.,

    entry in a digest's case table, elements in this order: party names, court, citation, digest topic(s) and key number(s)

  3. FIND AND READ THE CASE using the citation from the Table of Cases.
    (See #4 above for how to read a citation.)
  4. LOOK UP THE DIGEST TOPIC(s) AND KEY NUMBER(s) from the Table of Cases to find more cases dealing with the same legal issues.

REPORTERS & DIGESTS IN ANDERSEN LIBRARY'S REFERENCE "LAW COLLECTION"

Photo of Law Collection

AMERICAN DIGEST SYSTEM

  • The American Digest System, which indexes all published federal and appellate state courts cases, consists of Decennial digests covering ten-year periods, supplemented by monthly General digest volumes with cumulative indexing in every tenth volume. Andersen Library has the 3rd-11th (1916-2007) decennial digests at REF LAW COLL KF141 and general digests volumes up to v.53 (2007) at REF LAW COLL KF141 Suppl.

FEDERAL COURT REPORTERS

U.S. Supreme Court:

U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Ed. "L.Ed./L.Ed.2d" (REF KF101 .U5)
U.S. Reports, vol.375- "U.S." (Federal Documents Collection Ju 6.8:)

U.S. Courts of Appeals, and U.S. District Courts pre-1932:

Federal Reporter "F./F.2d" (REF KF105.F4; 1st series v.1-3rd series v.160)

U.S. District Courts, since 1932:

Federal Supplement "F. Supp." (REF KF105 .F42 1st series v.1-2d series v.50)

FEDERAL COURT DIGESTS

All published federal courts, including U.S. Supreme Court:

West's(Modern) Federal Practice Digest, 1st-4th series, 2007 (REF KF105 .W4)

U.S. Supreme Court ONLY:

United States Supreme Court Digest (REF KF101.1 .U5)

REGIONAL REPORTERS & DIGESTS (state appellate courts)

The only regional digest (and reporter) available in Andersen Library is North Western (the last reporter volume available in print is 2nd series v.600). The other regional reporters and digests are listed below, showing which states' appellate courts they include, because the abbreviations given here will be seen in both print and online legal sources. See also the Law Resources web page) for more help in finding state court cases.
  • CT,DE,ME,MD,NH,NJ,PA,RI,VT:
    • Atlantic Reporter "A./A.2d"
    • Atlantic Digest
  • IL,IN,MA,NY,OH:
    • North Eastern Reporter "N.E./N.E.2d"
    • North Eastern Digest
  • IA,MI,MN,NE,ND,SD,WI:
    • North Western Reporter "N.W./N.W.2d" (REF KF135 .N7N12, ending with 2d series v.600)
    • North Western Digest (REF KF135 .N72W4)
  • AK,AZ,CA,CO,HI,ID,KS,MT,NV,NM,OK,OR,UT,WA,WY:
    • Pacific Reporter "P./P.2d"
    • Pacific Digest
  • GA,NC,SC,VA,WV:
    • South Eastern Reporter "S.E./S.E.2d"
    • South Eastern Digest
  • AR,KY,MO,TN,TX:
    • South Western Reporter "S.W./S.W.2d"
  • AL,FL,LA,MS:
    • Southern Reporter "S./S.2d"
    • Southern Digest
  • California appellate courts only:
    • California Reporter "Cal. Rptr./Cal. Rptr.2d"
  • New York appellate courts only:
    • New York Supplement "N.Y.S./N.Y.S.2d"

Last revised: BRB - July 23, 2010

Location

Andersen Library
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
800 West Main Street
Whitewater, WI 53190-1790

Contact the Library

Circulation Desk: 262-472-5511
Reference Desk: 262-472-1032

54.161.155.142