Skip to main content

Finding Cases Using Print Resources: Determine the Jurisdiction

Learn how to find relevant case law in the MU Law Library.

Background Information on Case Law

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CASE LAW GENERALLY:

Cases are reported in the national reporter system only when they are appealed.  If a case is resolved at the trial level, a transcript, filed at the courthouse of record, may be the only recourse.  Though a case has not been appealed, and is therefore not reported, it may be discussed in secondary sources such as treatises, professional journals, news media, etc.

There are two major court systems operating in the United States:  the Federal system and the State system.

The State court structure will vary from state to state, but will usually include trial level courts (the first court in which a case is tried); intermediate appellate courts (the first level of appeal); and the highest appellate court, usually, but not always, called the Supreme Court.

The Federal court structure is more uniform.  It also has a trial level court, an intermediate appellate court, and a Supreme Court.

To illustrate, a comparison of the court structures of Missouri and the Federal system follows:

MISSOURI FEDERAL
TRIAL

Municipal Courts (each city); Circuit Courts (covering one or more counties)

District Courts; two in Missouri:  Eastern District in St Louis, Western District in Kansas City

INTERMEDIATE APPELLATE

Three courts of appeal:  Southern District in Springfield; Western District in Kansas City; Eastern District in St Louis

Circuit Courts of Appeal (13); Missouri is in the 8th Circuit

HIGHEST APPELLATE

Supreme Court, located in Jefferson City, has statewide authority

US Supreme Court, located in Washington, DC, has nationwide authority

Determining Jurisdiction

Before you try to locate a case by name or by topic, you first want to find the appropriate digest for the jurisdiction and time frame you are interested in.
 
This link, https://tegr.it/y/110zf  will take you to a Tegrity tutorial on jurisdiction that is just under 3 minutes. Please use the Open in fullscreen option and then click on the Maximize square at the top right-hand corner of the screen. When you are finished, press the Escape (Esc) key and exit the tutorial

Do you want to find federal cases or cases from a specific state?

MISSOURI: The Missouri Digests are located on the 1st floor in the low shelves under the stairway.

 

  1. Missouri Digest, covers 1821 - 1930 (Missouri Reference, 1st floor);
    West’s Missouri Digest, 2nd, 1930 - present (KFM7857 .M52) (Missouri Reference, 1st floor).

    FEDERAL COURTS: To locate a citation to a federal case, consult Federal or Supreme Court Digests, located in the Federal section (last bank of shelves) on the 1st floor.  Supreme Court reporters and federal case reporters are also located in the Federal section on the 1st floor.

    1. Federal Digest covers the years to 1938.

    2. Modern Federal Practice Digest covers 1939 - 1959.

    3. West's Federal Practice Digest, 2nd, 1960 -1975.

    4. West's Federal Practice Digest, 3rd, 1975 - 1988.

    5. West's Federal Practice Digest, 4th, 1989 - present.

    6. United States Supreme Court Digest, 1754 - 2010.

      OTHER STATES: The Law Library does not subscribe to print digests for any states other than Missouri.  Cases for all other states may be found using the American Digest system on Westlaw.

      REGIONAL REPORTERS & DIGESTS: Each Regional Reporter has its own digest, but the Law Library no longer subscribes to any of them in print. Cases for all other states may be found using the American Digest system on Westlaw.

      Subject Guide

      John Dethman
      Subjects:Law

      Reference Sources for Translating Legal Abbreviations

      When you locate citations for cases you want to use, you may need help figuring out what these citations mean.  The following list contains sources for translating legal abbreviations.  Also, be sure to visit the guide "Legal Abbreviations" for additional assistance.