Where can I find court dockets, records and briefs? Can I access PACER? What are basic docket/case number formats? What Bluebook citation rules apply?

Answer

To find dockets/court records efficiently, gather information about the case such as the docket/case number, party names, dates, and courts. This case information can be found in published decisions, law reviews, treatises, newspapers and websites.​

Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an online electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts for a fee. 

Access at Maryland Carey Law: The Maryland Carey Law community of students, faculty, and staff has access to court dockets, records and briefs through various databases without fees to you. Tip: State coverage varies dramatically among docket databases, and none of the databases provide comprehensive access to federal or state dockets, so be sure to review the database's scope of coverage before looking for a docket. Sources of dockets, records and briefs via the Law Library include:

  • Bloomberg Law Dockets - Provides dockets for all of the PACER federal courts, the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Tax Courts, the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, the International Trade Commission, a collection of 1,000+ state courts, and more. Dates of coverage vary by jurisdiction. To search, select "Dockets Search" from the menu.  Scroll down a docket for the list of numbered filings and select the "View" or "Request" links to open specific filings in a docket.

Bloomberg Law offers unlimited searching of docket sheets. However, Bloomberg Law imposes an annual $1,500 limit on docket transactions where fees may be incurred such as setting up alerts on dockets, updating dockets, or requesting documents that have not previously been downloaded. This cap resets each year on January 1. Once logged into Bloomberg Law, you may track your docket costs by going to My Account > My Dockets Billing.

The first $1,500 of docket fees incurred by each user in the Maryland Carey Law community are WAIVED. However, after you reach the $1,500 limit, your use of the Bloomberg Law dockets database will be restricted and you will not be able to incur further costs until January 1 of the next year. Within 30 days of reaching the limit, you should also receive an email from a Bloomberg Law representative informing you that you have exceeded your limit and that you will be restricted from conducting docket transactions that have a fee. 

Bloomberg Law provides tutorials on searching dockets:

  • Dockets Part I (how to search, filter, and set alerts, and find specific types of filings by using Docket Key search) and
  • Dockets Part II (how to access available documents, and how to request case filings).
  • Law360 Legal News via Lexis - Every major litigation development in the U.S. federal district courts.
  • Lexis Dockets - Search by docket number, judge, litigant(s), attorney, counsel, or firm, and by practice area (not full text). Search all available dockets from all 50 states and 5 US territories and all available federal dockets. Allows users to set up alerts when a new document is filed. 
  • Lexis CourtLink Dockets - Includes federal and state dockets and documents. Lexis dockets offer a separate product, CourtLink. Even so, Lexis is integrating dockets into regular Lexis+ Lexis Dockets. CourtLink includes full coverage of Federal Court dockets and is the same data from PACER. It also includes state court coverage, which varies in the states and counties covered, and whether civil or criminal types are included.  
  • Lexis Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions - Search the full text of all available federal and state briefs, pleadings, and motions, as well as court documents not specifically identified as a brief, pleading or motion. 
  • Westlaw Dockets - Search by a docket's court number, parties, attorneys, jurisdiction or other criteria (not full text), and by topic. Search the dockets filed in State Courts, U.S. District Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeal, U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, and the U.S. Supreme Court. Allows users to set up alerts when a new document is filed.
  • Westlaw Briefs - Search the full text of briefs by jurisdiction and by topic. Coverage varies by jurisdiction. Contains selected briefs from the U.S. Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, U.S. Tax Court, 51 state courts and the District of Columbia. Selected Petitions for Writ of Certiorari are also included. 
  • U.S. Supreme Court Dockets - Search for dockets filed from the 2001 Term to present by docket number, case name, or other words or numbers included on a docket sheet. 
  • Making of Modern Law: U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832-1978 - Search transcripts, applications for review, motions, petitions, supplements, and other official papers of select Supreme Court cases.
  • Maryland Judiciary Case Search provides public access to basic case records of the Maryland Judiciary. It is a free service searchable by participant (party, attorney) name, court, and docket number. It provides basic docket information (filing date, party names, attorney names, court, and case status) but does not provide filings. Dates of coverage vary by court. Records include Maryland District Court traffic, criminal, and civil case records and Maryland Circuit Court criminal and civil case records, Court of Appeals petitions, appeals, attorney grievance and judicial disability cases, Court of Special Appeals appeals, applications for leave to appeal and miscellaneous cases.

Microformats of records and briefs of the U.S. Supreme Court (1832-1860, 1955-1990, and landmark cases), Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals (1983-2001), and the Maryland Court of Appeals and Maryland Court of Special Appeals (1948-current) are available on the first floor in the microformat cabinets.

Please contact the library or your library liaison if you have further questions, if you can't find what you are seeking, or to discuss recommendations for minimizing docket charges.

About Dockets, Records, and Briefs

Definitions: The main type of court record maintained by the courts is the case file, a collection of filings and proceedings throughout the life of a case. A docket sheet is a summary report that lists the filings and proceedings in a case file, along with the date a document was filed and the court record number assigned to the document. The docket is assigned a docket number, and lists each party and the attorneys of record. A brief is a document prepared and filed by counsel to present arguments in a case before the court, and to counter the arguments of opposing counsel. Pleadings include complaints, petitions, answers, demurrers, motions, and declarations.

Docket/case number formats for federal and state courts vary by jurisdiction. Understanding how docket numbers are constructed can be helpful for finding case filings and for determining where and when a case was filed. Check the state or local court's website, or Westlaw's docket scope notes (i), for details on how that court's docket numbers are formatted. Docket numbers for the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. Courts of Appeal, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts often are in the format YY-NN(NNN) (e.g. 07-12; 06-123; 06-5001), where: 

  • YY = the two digit term year the case was filed, and 
  • NN(NNN) = a two to five digit sequence number assigned when a case is filed.

Docket numbers in U.S. District Courts often are in the format A:YYbbNNNNN (e.g. 2:96cv00822), where:

  • A = a single digit letter or number representing the filing court, 
  • YY = the two digit term year the case was filed, 
  • bb = a one or two letter code indicating the type of case, and
  • N(NNNN) = a one to five digit sequence number assigned when a case is filed.

Note these docket/case number format tips and exceptions:

  • Some district courts may skip the filing location number (A), the two-letter "Case type" code (bb), or the local information. 
  • Each federal court assigns docket numbers independently and uses one of these basic formats. Be aware of the jurisdiction of the docket, since the same docket number may be assigned to different cases in more than one jurisdiction.
  • Individual courts may end docket numbers with dashes, letters and numbers representing local notes such as a judge's initials, courtroom, or routing numbers. (e.g. 99-M-5011-ALL or 00-CR-5-S-01). 

Follow these legal citation rules in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation (21st ed.) when citing dockets, records and briefs:

  • Follow Rule 10.8.3 on Briefs, Court Filings, and Transcripts.
  • Rule 10.8.1(a) addresses pending and unreported cases available on electronic media.
  • Rule 10.5(c) addresses pending cases (and cases dismissed without opinion). 
  • For abbreviations, consult Table T7 on Court Names.
  • Format URLs according to Rule 18.2.2(d). 
  • Rule 18.3 on commercial electronic databases points to Rule 10.18.1 on cases.

If you're unable to find dockets using the resources via the Law Library, or for help with researching dockets, please don't hesitate to just ask us; the Law Library is here to help.

  • Last Updated Feb 13, 2024
  • Views 1329
  • Answered By Jenny Rensler

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