Unreported Decisions

Unreported Decisions in the United States

Unreported decisions are judicial opinions that have not been published in any official or near-official case reporter. They are also called “unpublished decisions,” “unreported opinions” and “unpublished opinions.”

Legal Materials

They can be easy or difficult to find.

U.S. Court of Appeals

Unreported decisions of the U.S. Court of Appeals are published in West’s Federal Appendix. They are also available in the Federal cases databases on Westlaw and Lexis. If you know the case name or number, unreported Court of Appeals decisions are also available through PACER.

U.S. District Courts

Unreported decisions of the U.S. District Courts can be found in Westlaw’s District Court Cases — Unreported (DCTU) database, as well as the database covering all District Court cases (DCT). Lexis includes unpublished district court decisions with its regular district court case files. If you know the case name or number, and have a password, you can also get an unreported district court decisions from PACER.

Lexis publishes all unreported USDC opinions starting June 21, 2005; prior coverage was selective. To eliminate unpublished opinions from a search, use FOCUS and add “and not notice(unpublish! or publish! or precedent!)” to the end of your search string.

U.S. State Cases

Unreported decisions from U.S. state courts can often be found on Westlaw or Lexis. Unreported state cases may also have appeared in a local legal newspaper, and they are generally included in case law CD-ROMs covering states where unreported opinions are considered persuasive. In some states, unreported decisions are available through the court’s online docket system. (For more information on these materials, see the entries for the individual state.)

In addition, an unreported opinion from a high-profile case may be included in the Lexis GENFED;EXTRA or STATES;EXTRA files. And legally significant unreported opinions might have been published in a Mealey’s Litigation Report, Westlaw Journal (formerly Andrews Litigation Reporter), CCH or other looseleaf reporters covering the topic in question.

Finally, you should be able to get the opinion from the relevant court clerk, the court library and/or the state library. If you’re really, really lucky the opinion could be posted on the court’s Web site.

Depublished Opinions

Apparently California and Oregon allow their “state supreme courts, on their own motion, to ‘depublish’ intermediate appellate court decisions” — that is, the can change reported opinions into unreported opinions. This is practice is discussed in Aaron S. Bayer’s “Unublished Appellate Decisions Are Still Commonplace” from the National Law Journal (August 24, 2009), in print or on Law.com. The article cites to Cal. R. Ct. 8.1125 and Ariz. R. Civ. App. P. 28(f).

Frequently Asked Questions

Joseph Gerken’s “A Librarian’s Guide to Unpublished Judicial Opinions” asks and answers most of the common questions about unreported decisions (96(3) Law Library Journal 475 (Summer 2004)). Questions addressed include: Why Do Courts Issue Unpublished Opinions? How Can a Court Say That a Decision is Not Precedent? Is Depublication the Same as Nonpublication? Can an Unpublished Decision be “Used” or “Cited”? Is it Possible to Use an Unpublished Decision in a Circuit With a Do Not Cite Rules? and Can an Attorney Ethically Ignore an Unpublished Decision That Supports a Client’s Case to Avoid Sanctions for Violating a Do Not Cite Rule? See also Aaron S. Bayer’s “Unublished Appellate Decisions Are Still Commonplace” from the National Law Journal (August 24, 2009).

Precedential value

The precedential value of unreported/unpublished opinions issued by Federal appellate courts is established in the court rules for each Circuit (see “Federal Court Rules”). For a discussion of these rules, see “From Anastasoff to Hart to West’s Federal Appendix: The Ground Shifts Under Un-Citation Rules,” 4 Journal of Appellate Practice and Procedure 1 (Spring 2002) and “Unpublished Appellate Decisions Are Still Commonplace” by Aaron S. Bayer, National Law Journal (August 24, 2009).

See Also

Case Pulls
Docket Sheets
Federal Cases
Federal Court Rules
State Cases

Unreported Decisions: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Unreported Decisions. This part provides references, in relation to Unreported Decisions, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Unreported Decisions by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Unreported Decisions and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Unreported Decisions or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Unreported Decisions and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Unreported Decisions. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Unreported Decisions should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Unreported Decisions when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

*This resource guide is updated frequently. However, if you notice something is wrong or not working, or any resources that should be added, please notify us in any of the "Leave a Comment" area.

Leave a Comment