Updated by Fred Dingledy
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.
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:
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.
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:
Prince's Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations (7th ed.), KF246 .B46 2017
The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (21st ed.), KF245 .B58 2020
The table below lists the reporters in West's Regional Reporter Series, which features cases from state appellate courts.
|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|
|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.
|Arkansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas|
|Southern Reporter||So. or So.2d or So.3d||Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi|
The table below lists reporters for federal courts. You can find these reporters on the first floor of the library.
|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
|Unofficial reporter for U.S. Supreme Court|
|Federal Reporter||F. or
|Unofficial reporter for U.S. Court of Appeals|
|Federal Supplement||F. Supp. or
F. Supp. 2d or
F. Supp. 3d
|Unofficial reporter for U.S. District Courts|
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.
|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|
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:
Bloomberg Law (requires a BLaw 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 Plus (requires a Lexis password): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.
Nexis Uni (must be on campus or have a William & Mary ID+password to use): Enter the citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.
Westlaw (requires a Westlaw password): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.
Westlaw Patron Access (must be at law library to access): Enter the reporter citation (e.g., 347 U.S. 483) in the search blank.
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