Using the West Digests
Locating Cases Using the West Digests
A digest allows you to locate cases on a specific topic. West digests utilize headnotes and key numbers to organize and summarize all cases by subject. Florida Coastal has state digests for Florida and Georgia which are located in the regional collection on the third floor, and California and New York which are on the first floor with the regional reporters. Florida Coastal also has the following regional and federal digests:
· Federal (in repetition; currently in its 4th series (blue books); each repetition is not cumulative of the one before it (i.e., Fed4th does not contain excerpts to cases in Fed3rd, and so on))
· Atlantic (CT, DC, DE, ME, MD, NH, NJ, PA, RI, VT)
· North Eastern (ceased 1971) (IL, IN, MA, NY, OH)
· North Western (IA, MI, MN, NE, ND, SD, WI)
· Pacific (AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, ID, KS, MT, NV, NM, OK, OR, UT, WA, WY)
· South Eastern (GA, NC, SC, VA, WV)
· South Western (ceased 1958) (AR, KY, MO, TN, TX)
· Southern (ceased 1988) (AL, FL, LA, MS)
Step #1: Locate the proper digest for your search. Florida cases will appear not only in the Florida Digest, but also in the Southern digest (at least cases published until 1988). However, if you need Massachusetts case law, the North Eastern Digest will only help you for cases published until 1971. For more recent Massachusetts case law, you will have to consult Decennial and General Digests since 1971.
Step #2: The next step depends on the amount of information you already have.
Step #2a: If you have a particular key number and know the general topic as it is labeled in the digests, go directly to the digest volume containing your topic. Digest volumes are arranged alphabetically. Once you find your topic, next locate your key number. From here, you will review paragraph excerpts of cases that discuss your topic. These excerpts will end with a citation to the case which you can retrieve from the reporters themselves or via Westlaw or LexisNexis.
Step #2b: If you know the name of a case, or just part of it (only plaintiff’s name or only defendant’s name), you can find the citation to the case by using the digest’s table of cases. Party names are arranged alphabetically. It is necessary to know the jurisdiction of the court deciding the case; this information dictates which digest’s table of cases to consult for the case citation.
Step #2c: If all you have is the need to locate cases on a particular subject, such as contributory negligence, the first place to go is the digest’s Descriptive Word Index (DWI). The DWI works just like any other back-of-the-book index you have encountered. Once you find the entry for the legal topic you are researching, you will be given an abbreviation for the legal topic and a number. For example, if you saw App & E 45, you would first need to decipher what App & E stands for. It stands for Appeal and Error. If the abbreviation is not obvious to you, a table of abbreviations is reprinted at the beginning of each index to assist you. You would then locate the volume of the digest dealing with Appeal and Error by looking at the spines of the digests (again, they are arranged alphabetically). Once you locate Appeal and Error, you will then turn to section 45. This section includes cases organized by KEY NUMBER 45–the particular issue beneath appeal and error you happen to be researching. What you see is excerpted language from the case that discuss your particular legal issue, followed by the citation to the case.
Step #3: If you find cases, based on their digest excerpts, that you think might be helpful to your research, take note of the case citations, retrieve them from the proper reporters, and read them in full before citing them to support your claim. The excerpts in digests are reproduced as headnotes at the beginning of the case in which they are presented. Never cite to a headnote as it is not part of the official case–they are editorial enhancements to save you time and energy in locating applicable case law.
Step #4: However, consulting only the hardbound portion of the digest may not yield every possible case on your topic from your jurisdiction. At the beginning of the digest, there is a table entitled “Closing With Cases Reported In” (often referred to as the “Closing Table”). The purpose of this table is to let the user know up to which volume of the reporters the digest covers. For cases in reporters not covered by the hardbound volumes of the digests, updates occur in pocket-parts located at the back of the hardbound digests volumes. Pocket-parts, though, are only published annually. Therefore, they too have a Closing Table at the beginning to let you know how recent (i.e., up to which reporter) the cases covered within the pocket-part are.
Step #5: Consulting the pocket-part may still not be the last step. At the very end of all of the digests are paperback supplements that serve to update the pocket-parts. They are published at various times throughout the year. Because of this, they too have a Closing Table to inform you of its currency. These supplements are organized just like the hardbound digests. Consult them for even more recent cases on your topic.
Step #6: Until the most recent paperback supplement is published, how are cases that were published just a few months (or even weeks) ago located? Cases are published in paperback supplements to their hardbound reporters on a weekly basis. Each one of these weekly case updates, when aggregated, will ultimately become the next hardbound volume of the reporter. In paperback, they have their own digests that are specific to that supplement only; it is not cumulative of the digest before it. Similarly, for digests that do not yet cover recently-published hardbound reporter volumes, these reporters also have a digest to aid in locating cases within that volume. Theoretically, by the time you reach this point in your research, you may have to consult several of these weekly case digests and recent hardbound reporters to make sure that your case research is as up-to-date as possible.