Case law is the collection of rules or principles of law arising from judicial decisions. In general, they are thereported cases that form the body of law withing a jurisdiction. Case law is based upon judicial opinions by various courts, which may set future precedent. Case law is distinguished from statute law. Also known as `common law’.
Together with statute law, case law is a primary source of law in common law countries. It is a key feature of the common law system and researching case law is an important part of the legal research process.
Case law is law based on the reported decisions of judges in cases that come before them. In their decisions the judges will give the relevant facts of the case and the legal reasoning that applied in coming to their decision.
Courts in the United States adhere to stare decisis, which generally means that courts respect and adhere to the precedent of previous decisions. there is a hierarchy of authority in judgements. Those made in superior courts form precedents and inferior courts must follow these precedents, so the reported decisions of judges in cases form an important part of the law.
However, in the United States, a court does not have to stand by a decision that is not binding precedent. Generally courts will follow the decisions of higher courts in their jurisdiction. Therefore the effect of a court’s decision on other courts will depend both on the level of the court and its jurisdiction. A decision by the United States Supreme Court is binding precedent in all courts.
A decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit would not be binding on the United States Supreme Court or courts from another circuit. However, it would be binding in all lower courts of the 11th Circuit.
Publication of Case Law
In each jurisdiction one law report series is designated “authorised” . (Called authorised because they have been reviewed and approved by a judge of the respective court, in some countries).
Not all case law is published. Generally, appellate court decisions that will be used as future precedent are published (reported) in sources (case reporters) specific to that court. Attorneys use published case law as a means to interpret the law. For these reasons, few trial court decisions are published in case reporters.
Free Case Law Research
The Lawi Project (including the legal Encyclopedias and the Portals) is a free online resource allowing anyone to search for, among other things, U.S. court opinions. The site is providing fully searchable case law, legal decisions and legal opinions from federal and state courts.
Key to your case and critical to all legal research
Case law encompasses the collection of reported cases forming all or part of the body of law within a given jurisdiction. These judicial opinions are the cornerstone to crafting documents and arguments.
The expansive scope of the LoislawConnect case law database includes published civil and criminal proceedings, acquisitions, suits, and controversies on the federal level, and on the state level for all 50 states plus the District of Columbia.
Current and up-to-date, this primary source material is available for the Federal Courts in all primary law subscriptions and also available by state.
- Federal Law
- U.S. Supreme Court Reports from 1899 to present
- Recent U.S. Supreme Court Developments
- Federal Circuits—U.S. Court of Appeals cases and recent developments
- 1st through 11th Circuit
- Federal Circuit Court Unpublished Opinions from January 1, 2007 under FRAP 32.1
- Federal District Court Opinions
- U.S. Tax Court
- Administrative Decisions Under Immigration and Nationality Laws of the U.S.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Opinions
Case Law Research Guide: Main United States Courts
U.S. Courts of Special Jurisdiction
- U.S. Tax Court (Jan. 1999 – present)
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Armed Forces
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
- U.S. Court of International Trade
- Google Scholar: This website provides access to thousands of full-text State and Federal court cases. The Scholar search runs just like the search engine so you can search by keywords and phrases. To narrow your results to include only your State cases, use the “Select Courts” option.
- The Public Library of Law: This free website provides case law from all over the U.S., but searches can be narrowed down to include only a U.S. State cases using the Advanced Search option.
- Federal and States Courts Websites: Each court in most of the U.S. States has its own website and many publish their court opinions online. This central webpage links to the different individual court websites. Cases can only be located by specific docket number and date, so this is tool is, in general, only recommnded if you have a specific case you are looking for.