A case is a written decision issued by a court, often referred to as a judicial opinion or decision. Federal courts and state courts use a similar hierarchical organization (lowest to highest): trial court, appellate court, highest court. The highest federal court is the United States Supreme Court, and the federal appellate courts are called the United States Courts of Appeal. The U.S. Courts of Appeal are divided into thirteen circuits: the 1st through 11th Circuits, the District of Columbia Circuit, and the Federal Circuit. Federal trial courts are called the United States District Courts. While the U.S. Supreme Court publishes all its decisions, the Courts of Appeal and the District Courts publish only selected decisions.
The most complete collection of case law available to Cornell faculty and students is on LexisNexis Academic. Cases can also be retrieved using HeinOnline, and some recent case law is available from the Cornell Legal Information Institute. Individual court web pages frequently include recent cases.
A standard three-part citation is used to identify cases:
|Volume Number||Reporter||Page Number|
If the reporter has gone through volumes 1 – 999, a second series is issued beginning with volume 1 again. In the above example the notation “3d” indicates that the Federal Reporter (F) is now in its third series. Be sure to note which numbered series your citation points to.
To find citations to relevant cases:
To find a case on LexisNexis Academic, enter the citation or the names of the parties in the "Look up a Legal Case" widget on the home page (see image below).
To find a case on HeinOnline, you need a citation. Click the Fastcase tab and enter the citation in the search box.