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Legal Research Subject Guide

Finding Case Law

Finding Case Law

When judges and courts decide cases, written opinions are published in case reporters explaining the reasoning in reaching their decisions. As noted above under “California Court System,” only the opinions of the Court of Appeals and the California Supreme Court are published; Superior Court decisions are not published. These judicial opinions are an important source of legal authority and are used by other courts to decide cases on the basis of principles and rules established in earlier decisions (called precedents). When court opinions are referenced in a legal treatise (a reference book covering a specific area of law) and other secondary sources, the citations are usually in the form of a "parallel citation," citing both the state "official" reporter and subsequent "unofficial" reporters. The text of the opinion is the same in all sources, whether "official" or "unofficial." Example:

Finding Cases by Citation or Party Name

1. Print Sources

  • West's California Reporter 
    (Ref. KFC 47 .C32)

    The library contains volume 1-1st series (1 Cal. Rptr. 1) through volume 116-3rd series (116 Cal. Rptr.3rd 192). Other than the opinion, cases reported include the West's Key numbers and headnotes. Later cases can be accessed through the online sources below. 
    [Tip: If only the name of the case is known, the West's California Digest contains "Table of Cases" volumes that list cases alphabetically by name and provides the citations.]


2. Online Sources

California Courts: Opinions  

  • This link opens to the opinions section of the Judicial Branch of California's website for published opinions from the "Official Reports" of the California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals from 1850 to present (current within 90 days of filing).  After opening the link, check the "I have read..." box at the bottom of the page and click "Begin Searching Opinions." When the page opens, note the "Search" options in the left column: By Citation Number, Party Name, and Keyword. "Slip opinions" (unedited prior to being published) from the last 120 days are searchable from the Judicial Branch main page. "Unpublished opinions" of the California Courts of Appeal are also posted for 60 days solely as public information about actions taken by the courts. 
  • Deering's California Codes Annotated
    The Deering's California Codes Annotated file (CACD) contains the statutory code for the State of California as published in the compilation entitled Deering's California Codes Annotated. It includes all laws of a general and permanent nature, as enacted by the California Legislature.Note: California Code archives are available from 1991.
  • FindLaw for Legal Professionals: California Cases
    Provides access to California Supreme and Appellate Court Cases from 1934 to the present. "Advanced Search" opinions include citation number, docket number, party name or full-text keyword. Opinions are displayed in MS Word or PDF formats.
    Note: FindLaw requires free registration to view full-text opinions.