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Zimmerman's Research Guide


United States District Courts

The address, clerk, telephone number (and sometimes a street map of how to get to) U.S. district courts is listed in "The Litigator's Pocket Guide to State and Federal Trial Courts," a supplement to The American Lawyer. You can also get addresses and telephone numbers from the Judicial Staff Directory, the Judicial Yellow Book, USCourts.gov and Court Web sites.

Links to District Court Web sites are posted by the Federal Judiciary and FindLaw.

For other sources of contact information, see the entries for "Court Clerks / Court Houses" and/or "Judges."

Complaints: District Court complaints are available from PACER (for a small fee once you register for a password) and the other services discussed in the "Docket Sheets" entry. Complaints for some cases starting in 2004 are available from Justia (for free and without a password). In addition, the Courthouse News Service (CNS) provides a current awareness service for many district courts and allows subscribers to download complaints for new cases announced in the daily emails. If those sources don't work, then you generally have to get a copy from the court or the relevant archives.

Court Rules: See the separate entry for "Federal Court Rules" (including local rules) and "Federal Procedure Rules." If you need rules for filing pleadings in multiple Federal courts, see Legal Secretary Federal Litigation (James Publishing).

Districts: To find out the name of the district court where a Federal judge sits, look him/her up in The American Bench, The Judicial Yellow Book, the Judicial Staff Directory or and most other judicial directories (see "Judges").

Most states have one district court, but some have two or more (e.g. California has Northern, Southern and Central district courts). You can see the geography of the districts on this map. To find out which counties are represented by which court, look up the state in Title 28 of the U.S. Code, Chapter 5, sections 81 though 131. You could also look in: The Judicial Staff Directory; The Judicial Yellow Book, Want's Federal-State Court Directory or another good court directory. You could also call the court or check their Web site.

Also see the separate entry for "Judicial Districts."

Docket Sheets and Case Filings: You can always get docket sheets, pleadings, motions, etc. from the court clerk's office, but most of these materials are available online. To get them, see "Docket Sheets."

Forms: Federal court forms are posted in the Forms & Fees section of the United States Courts web site. The forms of individual district courts are generally available on the court's web site. The forms of individual district courts are also published in West's 2-volume Federal Local Court Forms. Otherwise, then contact the court.

Opinions: Selected district court opinions are also published in the Federal Supplement and Federal Rules Decisions. They are searchable on Lexis (by state post office code: MEGA;__DIST) and Westlaw (the DCT file back through 1945; DCT-OLD before 1945). Smaller collections of district court opinions are available FDsys.gov (back to April 2004; free), VersusLaw, Fastcase, LOIS and, for free, Google Scholar.

All district court opinions are available in the online case files on PACER and the commercial services that make it possible to search PACER documents. For more on these services, see "Docket Sheets."

Some District Courts post opinions on their web sites. You can find these sites through FindLaw. See also "Unreported Decisions."

Precedent: District Courts are required to follow the legal opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for their circuit, under the doctrine of stare decisis. Some judges have said that district courts should also follow the legal opinions of other district court judges in their district. See e.g., United States v. Hirschhorn, 21 F.2d 758 (S.D.N.Y. 1927), where the court did not follow its own advice, and Kerr v. Hurd, No. 3:07-cv-297, 694 F.Supp.2d 817 (S.D. Ohio Mar. 15, 2010), where it did.

Statistics:Statistics on individual U.S. district courts is compiled by the Federal Judiciary and posted on the Federal Court Management Statistics page of the U.S. Courts website. The statistics include the number of filings, the number of pending cases, the number of cases closed, etc.

Transcripts and Recordings: "In 2007, PACER instituted a policy to automatically include PDF transcripts from U.S. District and Bankruptcy courts if they are ordered by a party and subsequently produced, with a 90-day delay during which the transcripts may be inspected at the court clerk's office. Selected District Courts (including the Southern District of New York) also provide digital audio recordings of proceedings in PACER at the discretion of the trial judge" (from the Duke Law Library's Court Records and Briefs page).

See Also
Case Pulls
Court Clerks / Court Houses
Docket Sheets
Federal Court Rules
Federal Procedure Rules
Judicial Districts
Jury Instructions
United States Courts, generally
Unreported Decisions

For comments, questions and suggestions, email the author
Copyright 2015 Andrew Zimmerman