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Case Law and Citators: Federal Courts

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Federal Court Case Reporters

For this section, we are focusing on the Article II Courts in the Federal System:  the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Courts.  Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, there are no official reporters for these courts.  In the absence of an official reporter, West publishes the unofficial reporters for these courts.  The primary reporters include:

  • Federal Reporter (F.)
  • Federal Supplement (F. Supp.)
  • Federal Appendix (Fed. Appx.)

Prior to 1880, case opinions were published in Federal Cases.  Starting in 1880, the Federal Reporter became the primary reporter for the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Courts.  In 1932, the Federal Supplement was created as a separate reporter for the U.S. District Courts.     

Not all case opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Courts are published.  In 2005, 81.6% of U.S. Court of Appeals case opinions were unpublished. Therefore, the Federal Appendix was started in 2001 for publishing "unpublished" decisions.  Additionally, case opinions that don't make it into any of the appropriate reporters may still be available on Westlaw or Lexis.

Finally, there are specialized and topical West reporters, such as Federal Rules Decisions, West's Bankruptcy Reporter and West's Education Law Reporter to name a few.

Federal Court Case Opinions Online

Westlaw, Lexis and Bloomberg Law all provide access to Federal Court Case Opinions dating back to 1789.  Additionally, there are freely available alternatives, including: