The United States Court of Appeals is comprised of about a dozen "Circuit Courts," each covering a geographic area (e.g., the Second Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases appealed from the U.S. trial courts located in New York, Vermont and Connecticut) plus subject-specific courts such as the Federal Circuit (which hears cases decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade, the U.S. Claims Court, the Court of Veterans' Appeals and patent cases. Appeals from the U.S. Court of Appeals are taken to the U.S. Supreme Court) and the Armed Forces Court of Appeals.
For more information about the individual Appellate Courts, visit their Web sites. Links are posted by FindLaw.
Opinions: Judicial opinions United States Circuit Courts of Appeals are available from many different sources. Google Scholar has an impressive searchable collection starting in the 1920s. Internet links to more free opinions are posted by FindLaw.
Use the fee-based services for deeper databases and more sophisticated searching, notably Lexis, Westlaw, LOIS, Fastcase, Bloomberg Law and Versuslaw. These generally provide better search options, more reliable text, older cases, official pagination and nicer printouts than the free services.
Case Files: To get copies of pleadings, orders and other documents listed on the docket sheet (a/k/a the "Record on Appeal"), you have at least the following choices.
(1) PACER. You can link from the online docket sheet to the full text of case file documents (see "Docket Sheets"). Coverage varies for each court, but I'd guess most have case filings from at least 2005.
(2) A commercial interface to PACER, such as Courtlink or CourtExpress, etc).
(3) For high-profile cases, you can try Lexis (GENFED;EXTRA) or one of the subject-specific reporters, such as a
Mealey's Litigation Report or a Westlaw Journal (formerly Andrews Litigation Reporter).
(4) Westlaw has briefs and pleadings for selected cases starting in 1975.
(5) For older cases, some large law libraries keep mirofilm with the complete case files of U.S. Court of Appeal cases. If you don't know of a local source, I know you can get copies of old case files from the library of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York library (212-382-6666).
(6) You can hire a document retrieval service to go to the Court and copy the files. Exception: Case files for old Federal cases are shipped off to The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
Docket Sheets: See the separate entry for "Docket Sheets."
States Covered: Every volume of the Federal Reporter has a map showing which states are covered by each Circuit Court. A similar map is posted in the Federal Judiciary's Court Locator.
To see if things were different in a prior year, check out the map in an volume of the Federal Reporter from that year.
Appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court: To find cases by a particular Circuit Court judge that subsequently go up to the U.S. Supreme Court, search "writtenby(judge's name) and history(supreme court)" in the relevant database of circuit court cases on Lexis.
Oral Arguments: Some Circuits post recordings of oral arguments including the 3d (2007- ), 4th (2011- ), 5th (2008- ), 7th (2008- ), 8th (2000- ), 9th (2005- ) and Federal (2006- ). Otherwise, contact the relevant court to inquire about getting transcripts or recordings of oral arguments.