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Local Government and Municipal Law

Primary and secondary sources regarding city ordinances



Local government and municipal law encompasses:

  1. Legislation adopted by any geographic governmental unit below the state level. These laws include charters, ordinances, regulations, codes, resolutions, etc. (commonly called ordinances).
  2. Laws governing the powers of those governmental units. 

For another overview, see Barbara Bavis, Municipal Codes: A Beginner's Guide, Library of Congress: In Custodia Legis (November 21, 2013).

Ordinances govern local matters such as buildings, cemeteries, landlord/tenant, marijuana, schools, zoning,etc. Ordinances have the force of law if it is:

  1. Within the scope of authority delegated to the local governmental unit;
  2. Properly adopted;
  3. Consistent with state or federal law. 

For an extensive list of the topics governed by ordinances see the Ordinance Law Annotations on Westlaw. The Annotations summarize cases with the topic covered by the ordinance



NOTE:  Access restricted to USD faculty, staff & students with username & password


Lexis & Westlaw

Lexis has searchable versions of codes for municipalities in all 50 states.

Westlaw has a database of state statutes concerning municipalities but no municipal ordinances/codes..

Where are the codes?

No single publisher has all the municipal codes. While some cities publish their own code, most contract the publishing out to one of the publishers below.

Search approaches for finding the relevant municipal code:

  1. Go to the city's website to search for the code;
  2. Use a search engine with the query: "city name code." Then either browse the results list or refine the search;
  3. Visit Institute of Governmental Studies: California Local Codes and Charters (Use CTRL+F to search for a city/county instead of the search box.  CTRL+F let's you open the link to the code) The University of California, Berkeley hosts a large depository collection of local ordinance codes and charters issued by California cities and counties. 
  4. Search the individual code publisher web sites below.

Citation format for ordinances, see:

  • California Style Manual Sec. 2:17
  • The Bluebook, Rule 12.9.2, page 130


Code Publisher Web Sites




This handbook chapter discusses litigation involving municipalities.

The California Municipal Law Handbook, Chapter 13 Liability and Litigation

Westlaw & Lexis

Depending on the issue cases dealing with municipal law can be heard in state or federal courts. The Westlaw Municipal Law collection, includes state and federal cases plus sample forms. (Find the collection under the Practice Areas tab,)

Ordinance Law Annotations, within the Westaw Municipal Law collection, provides summaries of cases by topic. 


Lexis users can browse for materials on local government law under the Governments topic. State and federal cases are found in the Local Governments subheading under Claims By & Against.


Depending upon the action sought, a municipality may have a prescribed form that needs to be submitted. Often these are available on the town's website. Many have been collected in the Westlaw tool below. Westlaw also has general suggested forms in the four publications listed at the bottom of the screen. 

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