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Zimmerman's Research Guide


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New York State - Judicial Branch

This entry discusses how to find materials by and about the New York State courts.



A. General Information

The New York court system has three main levels. The highest court is called Court of Appeals. The intermediate appellate court is called the Appellate Division, which is divided into four departments (there is also an Appellate Term in the First and Second Departments). The main trial court is called the Supreme Court (there are other, lower trial courts). The purpose and jurisdiction of each court is explained in the Court system's Introduction to the Courts, and in New York State Courts: An Introductory Guide.

Links to New York State court Web sites are posted by FindLaw.

For a thorough discussion of the New York judicial system and key research materials see Gibson's New York Legal Research Guide 3rd by William H. Manz.


B. Judicial Opinions

Decisions from all New York State courts are posted free by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau, including all published opinions since 1997, selected older "landmark or notable" published decisions and selected unpublished opinions since 2001. Copies of nearly all published decisions are available from the NYCLA Library (212-267-6646, x204 or x205), the ABCNY Library (212-382-6711), the New York State Library (518-474-5355) and all New York law school libraries. Members can get copies cheaper from the New York Law Institute (212-732-8720). Westlaw says it has all published (and some unpublished) New York cases going back to 1799 (generally in the NY-CS database). You can also get New York cases from Lexis back to the 1790s. Good but less comprehensive online collections are available from VersusLaw, Fastcase, Lawprobe, Loislaw, TheLaw.net and Google Scholar.

To be more specific:

Decisions of the NY Court of Appeals (New York's highest court) are published officially in New York Reports and, unofficially in the New York Supplement and the North Eastern Reporter. These decisions are posted free by FindLaw back through 1992, and by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau back through 1990, plus selected older "landmark or notable" decisions. Decisions back to 1847 can be pulled or searched on Lexis (NY;NY) and Westlaw (NY-CS). Loislaw goes back to to 1869; Fastcase and TheLaw.net to 1950; the Google Scholar to 1950 and VersusLaw to 1951; and Lawprobe to 1955. The New York Legal Research Library on HeinOnine has a historical collection of cases including Court of Appeals decisions as far back as 1846.

Decisions of the New York Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (NY's main appeals court) are published officially in Appellate Division Reports and unofficially in New York Supplement. Decisions from the First and Second Departments are also published in the New York Law Journal (starting 2011 full text will be published only online; summaries will appear in print). Appellate Division decisions from all departments are posted free by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau back to 2003; decisions from the Third and Fourth Departments are posted free on the Court Web sites. Lexis has Appellate Division cases from 1875 (NY;APPDIV); Westlaw has them from 1896 (NY-CS); LOIS from 1924; Fastcase and Google Scholar from 1950; Versuslaw from 1955.

Selected decisions of the New York Supreme Court (NY's main trial court), the Supreme Court's Appellate Term, the Surrogate Court, the Court of Claims, the Surrogate Court and other "lower" courts are published officially in Miscellaneous Reports and unofficially in the New York Supplement. Beginning with Miscellaneous Reports 3d, short summaries are provided for cases not published in full. The full text of these decisions is posted free by the New York State Law Reporting Bureau back though 2003. A slightly different selection going back to 2001 is posted on the Court System's Search Decisions page.

Published lower court opinions are searchable on the Law Reporting Bureau back to 2003, on Lexis back to 1888 (NY;NYMISC) and on Westlaw back to 1896 (NY-CS).

Unreported decisions from the Supreme Court, Appellate Term, Court of Claims and other lower courts are available back to 2001 on Lexis (NY;NYUNPB) and Westlaw (in the NY-CSUNR database, or combined with published decisions in NY-CS). Unreported decisions are also posted by New York State Law Reporting Bureau back to 2003.

Selected lower court cases from the First and Second Departments are published in the New York Law Journal. Older cases are avaialable in print. Starting 2011 full text of cases are published only on the NYLJ web site (subscription required); summaries appear in print and on Lexis (for more information, see the New York Law Journal entry).

Decisions of the New York Court for the Correction of Errors from 1828 to 1841 and the New York Supreme Court of Judicature from 1828 to 1841 are available on on Westlaw in the general NY-CS case law database.

Decisions of the New York Court of Claims from March 2000 are posted in searchable databases at www.nyscourtofclaims.state.ny.us. They are available on Lexis back to 1928 (NY;CLAMCT).

Summaries of selected decisions of the NY Housing Court are posted free on Tenant Net from 1996. Summaries of decisions of the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court in New York County are posted in the Commercial Division Law Report from 1998.

The New York Legal Research Library on HeinOnine has a historical collection of 18th and early 19th century opinions from the Surrogate's Court, the Court of Correction of Errors, the Supreme Court of Judicature, the Court of Trial of Impeachments, the Superior Court of New York City, the Courts of Oyer & Terminer, the Court of Admiralty, the Superior Ct of Buffalo and the Supreme Court.

Lower court decisions not available in these sources are generally available only by calling the court itself (as discussed below). Exception: If a case is particularly notable, it may be available through services such as Bloomberg BNA Research & Custom Services (formerly BNA Plus), a back issue of a Mealey's Litigation Report or a Westlaw Journal (formerly Andrews Litigation Reporter), Courthouse News and/or Bloomberg Law.


C. Case Files

Case files (a/k/a "Records and Briefs" for appellate cases) are the materials in the court's file for a case - that is, everything listed on the docket sheet. For pending cases, you generally get copies of case files from the court, unless the material is available online (as discussed below) or sent off to an archive (in which case you get information from the court clerk's office).

Appellate Courts: After a case closes, the Court of Appeals and Appellate Divisions send out their case files to be microfilmed. During this period, you might be able to get copies from one of the attorneys for the parties to the case; check with the court to be sure. Trial court files usually stay with the court.

A few months later the microfilm shows up in the big NY law libraries, such as the New York State Library (518-474-5355), NYCLA Library (212-267-6646, x204 or x205), the ABCNY Library (212-382-6711). You should be able to get copies from any of these libraries. Members can get copies cheaper from the New York Law Institute (212-732-8720). You may also be able to get microfilm copies from the relevant Supreme Court library.

You can look up Court of Appeals records and briefs in the microfilm with the official reporter citation. For Appellate Division cases, you need the seven digit fiche ID number. You can get the fiche ID number for many cases using the Appellate Division Records and Briefs Index posted by the Court System's Library and Information Network (LION). You can get the fiche ID number for Appellate Division cases not listed in the index by calling the New York State Library (518-474-5355).

For trial court cases, your best bet is to contact the court with the name of the case and the case number.

Briefs Online: Briefs filed in New York appellate courts are available online from the following sources.

  1. Westlaw has merit briefs filed with the New York Court of Appeals back to 1992 (NY-COA-BRIEF) and merit briefs filed with the Appellate Division back to 1995 (NY-APP-BRIEF).
  2. Lexis offers selected briefs from the Court of Appeals, Division, Supreme Court and Civil Court (NY;NYMTBR). Court of Appeals briefs start with 1999. A few briefs from the First and Second Department go back as far as 1998. The oldest Third Department brief is from 2005, the oldest Fourth Department brief is from 2001.
  3. The "New York Court of Appeals Records and Briefs" library on HeinOnline includes has PDF images of briefs starting in 2002 (subscription only).
  4. Selected briefs may also be available online via the CourtExpress and CourtLink docket systems.
  5. Second Department briefs back to the mid-1990s are available through the ecourts case information system.
  6. Briefs from cases in the Supreme Court for New York County (i.e., Manhattan) may be available through SCROLL.

Other Online Case Filings: Selected motions, memoranda, pleadings and other filings from New York trial court cases are available on Westlaw back to around 2003(NY-FILING). Filings for cases in the Supreme Court for New York County (i.e., Manhattan) are available through SCROLL. Pleadings from a few high-profile pleadings may show up on Lexis (STATES;EXTRA) and in some subject-specialty reporters, such as the Environmental Law Reporter and the reporters published by Mealey Publications and Andrews Publications. The"New York Court of Appeals Records and Briefs" library on HeinOnline includes has PDF images of case filings starting in 2002 (subscription only). Selected case filings are also available online via CourtExpress and CourtLink. See also the entries for "Andrews Litigations Reporters" and "Mealey's Litigation Reports."

Document Retrieval: You can order documents you find searching docket sheets on a number of different sources, including eLaw, CourtExpress and CourtLink.

If all else fails: If all else fails you can try contacting the attorneys for the parties to the case. Sometimes they will provide copies of case materials, especially if you explain the materials are not available elsewhere.

For more information about records and briefs, see "Researching New York Records and Briefs" by William H. Manz in the February 2007 issue of the New York State Bar Association Journal or Gibson's New York Legal Research Guide 3rd, also by William H. Manz.


D. Court Rules

New York court rules are published in McKinney's New York Rules of Court: State and Federal (Thomson/West) and the New York Standard Civil Practice Service Deskbook (Lexis/Matthew Bender).

Local court rules and individual judges' rules are posted by the New York Law Journal. They may also be posted on the relevant court's Web site; links to court Web sites are posted by FindLaw. Rules for the Court of Appeals are posted by the Court.

New York State Court Rules are searchable on Lexis (NY;NYRULE) and Westlaw (NY-RULES).

I don't know of a good annotated version of the Rules, but New York Jurisprudence 2d (Thomson/West) has a "New York Court Rules" volume that cites cases in the footnotes. Also check out Carmody-Wait, 2d, Cyclopedia of New York Practice with Forms (Thomson/West). For annotations to the CPLR, see below.

Updates to NY Court Rules are generally published in the New York Law Journal; they may also be posted on the Journal Web site and the Web site of the relevant court.

CPLR: The CPLR (i.e., "Civil Practice Law and Rules") is the New York equivalent to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The CPLR is included in just about all the court rule sources mentioned above. In addition, the CPLR is published as a title of the New York State codified statues and, hence, annotated versions are available in McKinney's Consolidated Laws of New York Annotated, New York Consolidated Laws Service ("CLS"), Lexis (NY;NYCODE) and Westlaw (NY-ST-ANN). An unannotated version is posted free as part of the "Laws of New York" by the NYS Legislature (click "Laws of New York").

For information about the predecessor to the CPLR, see "New York Civil Procedure Act."

See also "Federal Court Rules" and "State Court Rules."


E. Docket Sheets

The eCourts databases provide docket information for cases before the New York State Supreme Court (civil), housing court, family court and selected criminal and local courts. eLaw has case information from New York State Supreme Court trial and appellate courts -- as well as the Civil Court for the City of New York (subscription required). CourtExpress, CourtLink and Bloomberg Law are also good sources for lower court docket sheets.

See also the "Docket Sheets" entry in this Guide and the "Case Files" section of this entry, above.


F. Judicial Biographies

For New York appellate judges, the main source of print information is The American Bench. However, there are two good sources on New York supreme court judges, notably the Attorney's Guide to Civil Practice in New York County: Supreme Court (by the New York County Lawyers' Association), which includes the telephone number (and hours) of the judges chambers, his/her motion schedule and a detailed biography, among other things and New York Judge Reviews and Court Directory (James Publishing), which provides biographical information as well as candid evaluations similar to those in the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. Online sources include the Judicial Directory posted by the Court System, the Judicial Profiles from the New York Law Journal (subscription only) and the judicial profiles from Judicial Reports, which also provide attorney evaluations, as well as campaign finance information, reversal record and any Judicial Conduct Reports.

For more information, see "Who's Who - Researching Judicial Biographies" by William H. Manz in the February 2006 issue of the New York State Bar Association Journal (available on Westlaw).


G. Jury Instructions

New York's official Civil jury instructions are published as New York Pattern Jury Instructions, in print from Thomson/West and on Westlaw (NY-PJI). The Court System posts the official Criminal Jury Instructions. See also the separate entry for "Jury Instructions."


H. Oral Arguments & Trial Transcripts

Videotapes of oral arguments before the Court of Appeals since November 1989 can be purchased from Albany Law School's Government Law Center. To order, call 518-445-2329 or mail in the official order form. Westlaw has unofficial transcripts of selected oral arguments before the Court of Appeals (NY-ORALARG; or search NY-TRNSCRPTS-ALL for both transcripts from both appellate and trial courts).

Selected trial transcripts from the Supreme Court are available on Westlaw (NY-TRIALTRNS; or search NY-TRIALTRNS-ALL for both state and Federal cases). Otherwise, you should contact the court for information about purchasing the transcript from the relevant court reporter.


See Also
Case Pulls
New York Civil Practice Act
Docket Sheets
Court Clerks / Court Houses
Judges
New York Law Journal
State Court Rules
State Courts

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2014 Andrew Zimmerman