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Finding Court Documents

Understanding court systems and dockets; finding court filings such as complaints, motions and orders

Dockets & Documents

What is a docket?

 

A docket is a chart listing all of the documents that have been filed with the court in the proceedings of a case. Each case has an identifying docket number. The docket shows the names of the parties and their attorneys and the judge who has been assigned to the case. It also shows the date the case was filed and the dates of all the filings and proceedings.

Availability of Documents

Courts and databases differ in how they make documents listed on their dockets available.  Availability often depends on how the court gets the documents: e-filing courts (those that accept or require electronic filing) tend to have more documents available online than other courts. 

Some courts permit downloading documents for free, other courts require a fee. In either case it may be easier to acquire them from commercial databases. While the commercial databases don't yet have all the court dockets online, they are racing to provide access to all of them.Click on the appropriate tab in this guide for links to relevant sites.

Sometimes, calling or writing the clerk of courts may be the only way to order copies of documents listed on the docket sheet. Addresses and phone numbers are found by following the links in this guide.

Research Content

The research value of court dockets is that they document every step of the trial of a case as well as the appellate history.

Dockets provide:

  • Case identification numbers
  • Identification of the parties to the litigation.
  • Identification of the attorneys and judges of record
  • The dates in the timeline of the case
  • The current status of the case
  • Links to the documents filed in the case
    • Complaints reveal the causes of action relied upon by the plaintiffs, and responses provide the defenses asserted.
    • Briefs set forth the arguments proffered by counsel.
    • Motions set forth the procedures invoked during the pretrial, trial and post-trial phases and may be used as exemplars in similar cases.
    • Interrogatories and responses shed light on the discovery process.
    • Transcripts record the testimony given.
    • Court orders reflect the relative success of the parties' actions.
    • Verdicts and judgments may give information about damages awarded.

Section of Docket from San Diego County Superior Court

Finding Federal Court Dockets

Federal Dockets

 

The dockets for federal trial and appellate courts are most comprehensively available on PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).Because there are fees associated with using PACER, researchers may prefer to try individual court databases to see if the materials are available.

Federal dockets are also available on commercial databases available to the USD students and faculty at o additional cos.

JUSTIA

JUSTIA offers limited free access to dockets and docket sheets from U.S. District Courts and Courts of Appeal, starting in 2004. It may be possible to avoid a fee by checking on this site to see if the needed document is available.

Federal Court Web Sites

U.S. Supreme Court

Dockets for cases filed since the beginning of the 2001 Term can be searched from the link https://www.supremecourt.gov/docket/docket.aspx by using a Supreme Court docket number, a case name, or other words or numbers included on a docket report. Many documents can be acquired directly from this site.

Federal Appellate Courts

The Courts of Appeal rely on PACER for docket access , but they occasionally provide direct access to cases of "special interest" on their web sites. These tend to be current cases, so the dockets are relatively small and contain mainly briefs of the parties.

Federal Trial Courts

District Courts also rely on  PACER except for cases of public interest. Note that in the case below, free direct access to PACER records is provided for the most recent 60 days. The full docket sheet provided does not link to any documents.

PACER & Commercial Databases

PACER (Public Access to Court Records)

PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) is the premier site for acquiring access to federal court dockets and ordering copies of federal court documents. Users must register to view and print or download court records and documents. Registration is free, but access to PACER will generate a $0.10 per page charge. Most users choose the View option for registration. Attorneys wishing to be able to also electronically file documents with a federal court may wish to choose one of the Attorney options. Your law library or employer may already have a PACER account.

 

 

The Case Locator is the search engine for locating federal docket information. It has a number of search options.

Commercial Databases

Dockets for Supreme Court cases, includes per curiam decisions, dockets, oral arguments, joint appendices and amici briefs. Access restricted to USD students, faculty and staff. Enter via Legal Research Center alphabetical list of databases. Search link under  heading.

 

Extensive full-text collection of Supreme Court materials. For the period 1832 (when printed Court records began) through 1915, the documents are based primarily on the holdings of the Jenkins Memorial Law Library, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For 1915-1978 the source is the Library of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. Records include case name, Supreme Court term year, docket number, U.S. Reports citation, Supreme Court Reporter citation, Lawyer's Edition citation, opinion date, counsel names, and more.

To access, search U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs from the Legal Research Center web site. Click on the Internet link in the record. To use from off campus, sign in with your USD login.

 

On Lexis, search the Dockets option to acquire docket sheets. Search Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions to retrieve many of the documents filed in a particular case. If you have a citation to a case, you can bring up the case and then look under About This Document on the right sidebar to find links to Related Court Materials.

 

Westlaw has three front-page links for finding trial materials, Dockets, Briefs and [other] Trial Court Documents. If you have a citation to a case, you can bring up the case and then click on the Filings tab at the top of the document.

Bloomberg Docket Search

Perhaps the most comprehensive and easily searchable commercial database of state court dockets is on Bloomberg Law. Bloomberg also links to federal court dockets.

Access Bloomberg from the Databases A-Z link on the Legal Research Center web site. If you don't already have a student account, sign up using the link on the bottom right of the screen. To begin your search, click on the Dockets link under Research Tools in the Law School Success box. A template will appear allowing you to search federal, state and international court dockets.

Finding State Court Dockets

Bloomberg Law

Bloomberg Law is a commercial database with the most comprehensive and easily searchable collection of state and federal court materials. In addition to the subscription costs, there may also be fees associated with retrieving documents that are not already in the database

 

Court Directories

The Court Records Directory links to contact information for trial courts and online court records in every state and county.

The State Court Web Sites section of the National Center for State Courts web page provides judicial branch links for each state, focusing on the administrative office of the courts, the court of last resort, any intermediate appellate courts, and each trial court level. There are also links to the court structure charts for each state, which were developed by the Court Statistics Project.

California/San Diego Court Dockets

Supreme Court and Court of Appeal

 

 

 

The dockets of the California Supreme Court and the California Courts of Appeal may be searched from the same page. Designate the court you wish to search from the drop down box at the top right of the screen. To search the San Diego Court of Appeal, select District 4 Div 1.

On the Case Summary page, you will have several options to find information on the case.

All of the docket entries will be listed in this record, but the documents themselves are not available online. Researchers may locate the documents online via Bloomberg Law, or they may have to order them from the Clerk of Courts.

 

Superior Court

 

 

 

Trial courts maintain their own docket systems. The San Diego trial docket is called the Register of Actions. Register of Actions information is available for Civil (including Small Claims) and Probate cases initiated on or after January 1, 2007 and for some Central Probate cases that were initiated on or after April 28, 1997. The Register may be searched in a number of ways.

Imaged documents are available for a fee. The current fee structure is $7.50 for up to ten pages, $0.07 for each additional page, with a maximum oif $40.00.

Additional Sources

Journalists comprise another segment of researchers seeking court records. This link leads to a collection of court record sources compiled by journalists. The document is alphabetical by state with links to  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DHHv7GS6mycat97RTzlZDkokPZcm3QpoJgQ0W_QqaiY/edit 

Jump to: Alabama | Alaska | Arizona | Arkansas | California | Colorado | Connecticut | Delaware | District of Columbia | Florida | Georgia | Hawaii | Idaho | Illinois | Indiana |Iowa | Kansas | Kentucky | Louisiana | Maine | Maryland | Massachusetts | Michigan | Minnesota | Mississippi | Missouri | Montana | Nebraska | Nevada | New Hampshire | New Jersey | New Mexico | New York | North Carolina | North Dakota | Ohio | Oklahoma | Oregon | Pennsylvania | Rhode Island | South Carolina | South Dakota | Tennessee | Texas | Utah | Vermont | Virginia | Washington | West Virginia | Wisconsin | Wyoming