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Legal Research: A Guide to Case Law

Dockets and Court Filings

A docket is defined by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts as a "log containing the complete history of each case in the form of brief chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings." Every case is assigned a unique docket number, which researchers can use to find information such as the names of the parties, dates of appearances before the court, and a brief summary of the claims or charges. A docket is also useful for identifying court filings—the underlying documents (pleadings, motions, briefs, etc.) filed in a case. Although dockets and court filings are not considered "case law" and do not have precedential value, the information contained in these resources can sometimes help researchers better understand why a court issued a particular decision or opinion.

Dockets and court filings are generally maintained by the clerk of the court where the case was filed. Some clerks have made dockets and court filings available electronically, but the availability varies by court and time period. Even those courts that have made these materials available electronically have not necessarily done so in a free and open public database—many of these databases either restrict access to members of the legal profession and/or charge for access.

Below, researchers will find information and links to select federal, state, and subscription resources for accessing dockets and court filings. For detailed guidance on how to find briefs, oral argument transcripts, and docket information for cases considered by the Supreme Court of the United States and the U.S. federal appellate courts, visit the Law Library's companion research guides:

Researchers should keep in mind that for certain topics and cases of interest—including very current cases—third-party websites will often publish or link to dockets and court filings. For example, the Turtle Talk Blog External frequently posts court filings related to Indian and Tribal law, and the Election Law at Ohio State External website posts court filings in major pending election cases External. Researchers can often find these documents simply by conducting internet searches with the case name or topic combined with phrases like "court filings" or "court documents." However, the authenticity of court documents posted on third-party websites should always be checked against pleadings and rulings available from the court clerk or on official government websites.

Public Electronic Access to Dockets & Court Filings

Federal Courts: PACER and RECAP

While some federal courts have allowed for selected records and briefs to be accessed via their websites, the most complete coverage can be found in the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service and the RECAP Archive:

State Courts

Electronic access to state court dockets and filings varies from state to state. For more information, visit:

Subscription Databases with Dockets & Court Filings

Many subscription legal research databases provide access to dockets and court filings, but often these features are "add-on" packages, meaning that not every subscription includes full access to these resources. Of the Law Library's databases and eResources available in the Reading Room, Bloomberg Law (Patron Access) provides the most comprehensive electronic access to federal and state dockets and court filings. Nexis Uni also has a collection of "Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions," primarily from federal courts.

The subscription resources marked with a padlock are available to researchers on-site at the Library of Congress. If you are unable to visit the Library, you may be able to access these resources through your local public or academic library.