New Students Legal Research Series
WHY VERIFY A CASE?
A decision from an appellate court is binding on courts beneath it (inferior courts) when those courts decide similar issues. But your case law research does not end simply because you've found an appellate court case that appears to support your argument. Even a case directly on point may lose its authority if
It is therefore necessary to verify the validity of any case you cite by checking its history and finding other cases that have cited it. Only after doing so can you rest assured that the cases supporting your argument are good law.
- the decision is reversed or modified on appeal
- it is overruled, limited or otherwise called into doubt in
- subsequent appellate cases
- it is rendered moot by subsequent legislation
HOW CAN I BE SURE MY CASE IS GOOD LAW?
You can verify case citations using KeyCite (the citation research service from <% Response.Write Application("strCompanyName") %>-available only on Westlaw®). To automatically check your citations in the citator services on Westlaw, use Westcheck® 4.0 or higher.
KeyCite is the citation research service from West that integrates all case law on Westlaw. With KeyCite, you can determine if your case is good law and find other cases and secondary sources that cite your case. KeyCite is available only on Westlaw, which can be accessed through WestMate® software or on the World Wide Web at lawschool.westlaw.com. (You can also access Westlaw from The West Education Network (TWEN).) KeyCite is as current and comprehensive as Westlaw.
If you can access Westlaw, you can access KeyCite using one of the following methods:
- From the Start Menu, type a citation in the KeyCite a citation text box and click GO.
- Click the Tasks drop-down list in the toolbar and select KeyCite a Citation. The KeyCite a Citation dialog box is displayed. Type a citation in the Enter a Citation text box and click OK.
- You can also access KeyCite directly from a case you are viewing. If the case has negative history that may affect its precedential value, you will see a red or yellow case status flag in the document header. If the case has some history but it is not known to be negative history, a blue "H" will be displayed in the document header. Click the flag or the blue "H" to access KeyCite and display the history of the case.
A red flag warns that the case is no longer good law for at least one of the points it contains.
A yellow flag warns that the case has history but hasn't been reversed or overruled.
A blue "H" indicates that the case has some history.
Depth of Treatment Categories
Indicates an extended discussion of the cited case, usually more than a printed page of text.
Indicates a substantial discussion of the cited case, usually more than a paragraph but less than a printed page.
Indicates some discussion of the cited case, usually less than a paragraph.
Indicates a brief reference to the cited case, usually in a string citation.
KEYCITE: DISPLAYING THE HISTORY OF THE CASE
When you first access KeyCite, the history of the case is displayed. The history is divided into the following categories:
Direct History traces the same case through the appellate process and includes prior and subsequent history.
Negative Indirect History lists cases outside the direct appellate line that may have a negative impact on the precedential value of your case.
Related References lists cases that involve the same parties and facts as your case, whether or not the legal issues are the same.
HOW CAN I FIND CASES AND OTHER SOURCES THAT CITE MY CASE?
KEYCITE: DISPLAYING CITATIONS TO THE CASE
To retrieve citing references for your case, click Citations to the Case. A list of all cases on Westlaw and secondary sources, such as law review articles and ALR® annotations that cite your case is displayed.
You will find cases in your research that have been cited by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cases and secondary sources. Fortunately, the following KeyCite features can make a long citations list more manageable:
HOW CAN I MAKE SURE MY STATUTE IS STILL GOOD LAW?
- The citations most likely to be essential are listed first; namely, the negative citing cases that may limit your case's precedential value, followed by positive citing cases ranked in order of depth of treatment. You can tell at a glance which cases on the list are most likely to be important by noting the number of depth of treatment stars assigned to each group of cases.
- You can limit the list of citing cases to references from a particular jurisdiction, date or West publication; to those providing a specified depth of treatment; or to those discussing points of law summarized in specific headnotes or classified under specific topics.
Use KeyCite to see if your statute is still good law and retrieve other documents that cite your statute. KeyCite gives you the history of a statute and includes case citations, administrative materials and secondary sources that have cited a statute. You can also use KeyCite to locate pending legislation.
VIEWING THE HISTORY OF A STATUTE
To view historical information for a statute, type the statute citation in the KeyCite a citation text box and click GO. Click the History tab to view the complete history of your statute. The information contained in the Credits and Historical and Statutory Notes can assist you in determining whether the section you check in KeyCite has been amended or repealed. Credits are a chronological listing of citations to session laws that have enacted, amended or renumbered a section. Historical and Statutory Notes describe legislative changes affecting a section.
HOW CAN I FIND DOCUMENTS THAT CITE MY STATUTE?
If you are viewing a statute, click Citations in the left frame to view a list of documents that cite your statute. Documents are listed in the following order: pending legislation, citations to cases from USCA and state statute annotations (when available), additional case citations that do not appear in USCA annotations, administrative materials and secondary sources.
VIEWING STATUTE ANNOTATIONS
To view cases that have cited a particular statute, click the Annos tab to view the full text of the notes of decisions for your statute.
For general or technical questions or for search assistance, call 1-800-850-WEST (1-800-850-9378) or send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org.