William and Mary Law School

How to Find a Case with the Citation

Updated by Fred Dingledy
November 2014

Introduction & Definitions

Example of a Case Citation

Reporter Abbreviations

West's Regional Reporter Series

Federal Reporters

Virginia Reporters

Using Case Citations Online

INTRODUCTION & DEFINITIONS

This guide explains how to use a case citation to locate a case in the library's print collection or in an online database. Here are some terms you should know:

Case: a judicial proceeding involving a controversy between parties.

Decision: a determination by the court after a consideration of the facts and law; the court's judgment.

Opinion: the court's explanation of the decision reached in a case. An opinion expounds on the law as applied and details the reasons on which the decision is based.

Parallel Citation: a citation reference to the same case printed in two or more different reporters.

Reporter: a series of books containing a collection of court decisions designated for publication by a court and arranged in chronological order.  Official reporters are either published or sanctioned by the court.  Unofficial reporters are commercially published.

EXAMPLE OF A CASE CITATION

An example of a case citation is Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). This citation can be broken down into different parts:

Case Citation

This citation tells you that Brown v. Board of Education can be found in volume 347 of United States Reports, beginning at page 483. It also tells you that this case was decided in 1954.

REPORTER ABBREVIATIONS

In the citation above, United States Reports has been abbreviated as "U.S." Each reporter has its own standardized abbreviation. To interpret the reporter abbreviation, check the tables below, ask a librarian for assistance, or consult one of these three sources, which can be found in our reference and reserve collections:

Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (6th ed.), KF246 .B46 2009
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (19th ed.), KF246 .U5 2010
Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed.), KF156 .B53 2014

WEST'S REGIONAL REPORTER SERIES

The table below lists the reporters in West's Regional Reporter Series, which features cases from state appellate courts. You can find these reporters on the first floor of the library.

  Abbreviation States Covered
Atlantic Reporter A. or A.2d Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia
North Eastern Reporter N.E. or N.E.2d Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio
North Western Reporter N.W. or N.W.2d Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin
Pacific Reporter P. or P.2d Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming
South Eastern Reporter S.E. or S.E.2d Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia
South Western Reporter S.W. or S.W.2d Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas
Southern Reporter So. or So.2d Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi
FEDERAL REPORTERS

The table below lists reporters for federal courts. You can find these reporters on the first floor of the library.

  Abbreviation Description
United States Reports U.S. Official reporter for U.S. Supreme Court
Supreme Court Reporter S. Ct. Unofficial reporter for U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition

L. Ed. or
L. Ed. 2d

Unofficial reporter for U.S. Supreme Court
Federal Reporter F. or F.2d or
F.3d
Unoffiicial reporter for U.S. Court of Appeals
Federal Supplement F. Supp. or
F. Supp. 2d
Unofficial reporter for U.S. District Courts
VIRGINIA REPORTERS

The table below lists reporters for Virginia state courts. You can find these reporters on the first floor of the library, in the Virginia collection. You can also find Virginia state court opinions in the South Eastern Reporter.

  Abbreviation Description
Virginia Reports Va. Official reporter for the Virginia Supreme Court
Virginia Court of Appeals Reports Va. App. Official reporter for the Virginia Court of Appeals
Virginia Circuit Court Opinions Va. Cir. Unofficial reporter for the Virginia Circuit Court
USING CASE CITATIONS ONLINE

You can use a case citation to easily retrieve cases online. Here are some databases that allow you to retrieve cases using a case citation:

BloombergBNA Law (requires a BBNA password): Enter the citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank in the upper-right-hand corner.

Google Scholar: Select the "case law" button, then enter the citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.

Lexis Advance (requires a Lexis password): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.

WestlawNext (requires a Westlaw password): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.

Westlaw PRO (on-campus use only): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the "Find by Citation" box in the upper left hand corner.
-- FOR FURTHER ASSISTANCE, PLEASE SEE A REFERENCE LIBRARIAN --