A docket sheets is like a table of contents of the materials filed in a court case. This entry explains how to get docket sheets for cases in Federal and state courts. Special services -- online document ordering, case monitoring and getting older docket sheets online -- are discussed at the end of the entry.
Traditionally, you got docket sheets from the relevant court. You would either send someone to make a copy at the court or you would call the court clerk and ask (or beg) them to send you a copy. If that didn't work you could call one of the attorneys on the case. For closed cases, you might have to contact an archives or library that keeps older case files (see e.g., "New York State - Judicial Branch").
While those can still be good ways to get docket sheets, now most Federal and state court docket sheets are retrieved online.
Online Sources: The U.S. Supreme Court posts docket sheets on its own Web site (discussed below). The central source for most other Federal docket sheets is the PACER system. Information about PACER and links to individual court databases is available in the online PACER Service Center. For PACER questions, call 1-800-676-6856.
There are several software systems that try to make it easier to search and track PACER information. These include CourtExpress, Courtlink and Bloomberg Law.
In addition, many courts are posting their docket sheets on the Web, using PACER or an alternative system. Non-PACER systems are often free, and some even let you link to the full text of items listed on the docket sheet.
See also the State Courts section, below.
Searching Docket Sheets: All of the online databases provide at least the option to search for cases by the name of a party and Nature of Suit (NOS) code; you can do this simple search for almost all PACER courts at once using the PACER Case Locator. Courtlink and Bloomberg Law let you search the docket sheet and any filed documents available on their systems. Justia's Federal District Court Filings & Dockets page let's you search for district court cases back to January 1, 2006 for free, but you may get just the caption and not the list of filings.
Information for Specific Courts
Following is more detailed information on how to get docket sheets for specific courts.
United States Supreme Court: The U.S. Supreme Court post docket information for the current and prior Term (www.supremecourt.gov/docket/docket.aspx). You can search by party name, Supreme Court docket number or a lower court's docket number.
FreeCourtDockets.com, Courtlink and Westlaw (DOCK-SCT) also provide Supreme Court docket sheets. Courtlink and Westlaw go back to January, 2000.
Otherwise, you can get docket sheets by contacting the Court.
For historical research, the Journal of the Supreme Court of the United States publishes the activity of the court each day including cases granted certiorari, cases argued, orders issued and cases decided. Issues are posted in searchable PDF format by year on the Court's Journal page back to 1993. Print issues were published from 1889 to at least 1981, but finding the information you need may require looking through many issues.
Another possibility: You might be able to find the information you are looking for in one of the Records and Briefs sets discussed in the Briefs section of the "United States Supreme Court" entry.
U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal: Most of the Circuit Courts have posted their docket sheets on the Web. Links to those sites are available the LLRX Court Rules, Forms and Dockets, the PACER Service Center and on Legal Dockets Online. Otherwise, you can use PACER, CourtLink, CourtExpress, or get the docket sheet from the court.
U.S. District Courts: Visit LLRX's Court Rules, Forms and Dockets page or the PACER Service Center to find PACER Web sites. Otherwise, use CourtLink, CourtExpress or get the docket sheet from the court. Justia's Federal District Court Filings & Dockets page let's you search for district court cases back to January 1, 2006 for free, but you may get just the caption and not the list of filings. Free Court Dockets lets you pull District Court dockets by case number at no charge.
U.S. Bankruptcy Courts: Search the LLRX Court Rules, Forms and Dockets page or the PACER Service Center site to find Web sites. Otherwise, use PACER, CourtLink or CourtExpress, or get the docket sheet from the court. If you have a case number, Free Court Dockets lets you pull Bankruptcy Court dockets at no charge.
U.S. Court of Federal Claims: Claims Court docket sheets are available from PACER and the commercial services. Or you can get docket sheets by calling the Court Clerk's Office (202-357-6400). If you have a case number, Free Court Dockets lets you pull dockets at no charge.
Tax Court: U.S. Tax Court docket sheets are available free on the Court's Web site www.ustaxcourt.gov/docket.htm.
State Courts: Many state courts post docket sheet information on the Internet. You find most of these sites through Legal Dockets Online, the LLRX Court Rules, Forms and Dockets, the Public Access to Court Records page by the National Center for State Courts or link to them from the court's home page.
In addition, a number of commercial services provide state court dockets and generally offer better search features (e.g., subject-matter searching with NOS codes). Leading services include Courtlink, Westlaw and CourtExpress. These services mostly cover the same courts, but you can search two or three of them for maximum coverage.
If that doesn't work, get the docket sheet from the court or the attorneys on the case.
State-specific information is available in many of the entries for individual states. See, e.g., Alabama, which uses only its own court-approved fee-based systems.
Special Docket Sheet Services
Several docket sheet sources offer special services including ...
Getting copies of listed documents: Some of the Web sites posting docket sheets provide links directly to the materials listed on the docket sheet. Alternatively Courtlink, Bloomberg Law and CourtExpress let you order a pickup online. However, I recommend calling the Court first, because you may be able to order a PDF over the phone with a credit card, which would be faster and cheaper. Alternatively, you can mail off a check to the Court to pay for the copies, or you could call a document retrieval service to order a pick-up.
Case Monitoring: At the Federal level, PACER allows low-cost monitoring for selected courts. CourtExpress, Bloomberg Law and Courtlink have their own "Alert" services. A few state courts have their own monitoring services as well, including those listed by the National Center for State Courts.
Courthouse New Service provides daily emails announcing new lawsuits filled in each state, and you can set up a "Dinger" to let you know when a particular party has filed a suit or been sued. Westlaw Watch lets you set up Docket Alerts to spot new cases.
False claims cases are sealed when they are first filed and get unsealed only months or years later. This means they can get missed by regular docket alerts. Courtlink has special False Claims Reports that identify these cases are they are unsealed.
Foreign Courts: CourtExpress retrieves docket sheets from courts in countries outside the U.S. (call Aaron Butler at 1-800-542-3320). For other companies, see "Document Retrieval Services."