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UPDATED: How to Find a Case Online – using Free resources

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How to Find a Case Online (using free resources)
(if you have the citation)
 
It isn’t always possible to use a physical reporter to locate a case using a citation.  If you don’t have access to a bound reporter, here is a quick overview of a few of your free options for locating cases online.
 
Free case-retrieval resources:
GOOGLE SCHOLAR
  • Open your internet browser
  • Type in your citation and select the “Legal documents” search option.
  • Note Google’s disclaimer for legal opinions: “Disclaimer: Legal opinions in Google Scholar are provided for informational purposes only and should not be relied on as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed lawyer. Google does not warrant that the information is complete or accurate.”
  • You can also limit your search by jurisdiction.  From the search results page, use the first drop down menu to select a jurisdiction.  Alternately, you can use the Advanced Scholar Search to select specific courts to search (for example, “238 Or App 678” with the Oregon Court of Appeals selected from the menu of jurisdictions, although that is a bit redundant).
FINDACASE
  • Open your internet browser
  • Type in http://www.findacase.com/
  • Select a state (Oregon, for example)
  • Select the citation search option and enter your citation in the search boxes.  For example, for the citation “238 Or App 678”, you would type “238” in the vol. # box, select “Or.App.” as the reporter, and enter “678” for the page number.  Note: FindAcase requires you provide your zip code and answer a CAPTCHA to prove you’re human. 
  • Also of interest, when I tried the above search, only one of the top ten results was from an Oregon court, and the citation I was searching for was not among the results.  I tried searching for another case from the same volume, without any luck.  So, I tried to find a case from volume 237, 237 Or App 149, and was unsuccessful yet again.  However, I did return a relevant result when I searched for the case using the Pacific Reporter citation: 238 P3d 1016.  So, this is yet another lesson that free online case search tools are far from perfect.
  • You can find the FindACase database coverage here: http://www.findacase.com/help/library/LibCatPremium.aspx#saccontent.    
OPEN JURIST
  • Open your internet browser
  • You can type your citation directly into the search box on the upper right-hand corner of the page using the “Opinions” search option.  The search yields better results if you use quotation marks (181 F3d 906 yields thousands of results, but “181 F3d 906” yields 2, the original case and a case citing the original).
  • You can also refine your search results by the jurisdiction (9th Circuit, US Supreme Court, etc.). 
  • Note: OpenJurist appears to provide access only to Federal Court opinions, not state court opinions.
PUBLIC LIBRARY OF LAW (PLoL)
  • Open your internet browser
  • You do need to register to have full access to the PLoL database, but registration is free and is initiated the first time you click to view a case from your search results.
  • You can do a quick search by entering your citation into the search box, staying in the “Case Law” tab. For example, I searched for the Enterprise vs. Rent-A-Wreck case again using only the citation (181 F3d 906).  The search yielded one result, thankfully the correct one.
  • The advanced search options provide the ability to limit your search to a specific date range and/or jurisdiction.
  • The PLoL database has all: Supreme Court Cases; Federal Circuit Court Cases from 1950-; state Supreme and Appellate Court Cases from 1997-.

Originally posted 6/14/11. Updated 6/22/12 to remove lexisONE.