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U.S. Government Legal Information

Federal Courts Structure

Unpacking Case Law

Case law is the law of reported judicial opinions. Opinions are also known as reports or decisions. NOT all opinions published; trial court opinions are seldom published. A reported judicial opinion may include: majority or plurality opinion, concurrences or dissents, and a prefatory syllabus.

"Stare Decisis" (or precedent) is the basic concept of case law (common law) in which courts look to statutes and regulations and prior court decisions to formulate opinions. This can be done through citators, such as Shepard's or KeyCite from Westlaw. 

You can find Case law and opinions in any of the following databases.

Slip Opinions: 

Slip opinions are the first publicly available version of  opinions. Several days after an opinion is announced by the Court (the bench opinion), it is printed in a pamphlet called a "slip opinion." Each consists of the majority or plurality opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions, and the syllabus. It may contain corrections not appearing in the bench opinion.

Preliminary Prints:

The preliminary prints are the third generation of opinion publication and dissemination. These are brown, soft-cover "advance pamphlets" that contain, in addition to the opinions themselves, all of the announcements, tables, indexes, and other features that make up the U. S. Reports.

Bound Volumes: 

Bound volumes of United States Reports contain the fourth and final generation of the Court's opinions and additional materials. The volumes consolidate opinions for an entire Term. These are the Official Reports of the Supreme court and are published by the Government Publishing Office.

It takes a long time to publish the bound volumes (6-8 years). For more current opinions, see Preliminary Prints, and Slip opinions (Public Laws).

  • Contain published or reported opinions of the court
  • Are arranged chronologically
  • Are published by jurisdiction. Delaware is in Atlantic region and Third Circuit.
  • United States Reports -- the reporter of the Supreme Court. Abbreviated: U.S. (Published by the federal government)
  • Reporters for other jurisdictions are commercially published
  • One case may be published in more than one reporter; citations to additional sources are called parallel citations




Comprehensive: All Courts

Comprehensive: Federal Court

Westlaw Campus Access/Patron Access

Nexis Uni




Supreme Court

"Bound Volumes"

United States Reports (U.S.) U.S. Doc Ref Ju6.8:

U.S. Reports, HeinOnline (vol. 1-; 1754-)

U.S. Reports, Supreme Court (vol. 502- ; 1991-)

Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.) KF101 .A322

Nexis Uni

Westlaw Campus Access/Patron Access

U.S. Supreme Court Digest, Ref KF8741 .A53 U5

Supreme Court

"Preliminary Prints" and "Slip Opinions"

United States Reports Preliminary Prints, HeinOnline

United States Reports Slip Opinions HeinOnline

Westlaw Campus Access/Patron Access

U.S. Law Week (U.S.L.W.) K25 .N48 Latest 5 years in Ref


Lower Federal Courts:

U.S. District Courts
U.S. Circuit Courts
U.S. Court of Appeals
U.S. Court of Claims
U.S. Court of Customs

Delaware is in the Third Circuit


Nexis Uni


Westlaw Campus Access/Patron Access

Federal Reporter (F. or Fed.)
KF110.1 .F441
1880-1924 (vol. 1-300)
Federal Reporter, 2d Series (F.2d)
KF110.1 .F442
1924-1993 (vol. 1-999)
Federal Reporter, 3d Series (F.3d)
KF110.1 .F442
1993- (vol. 1-)
Federal Supplement (F.S. or F. Supp)
KF105 .F44
1933-1998 (vol. 1-999)
Federal Supplement, 2d Series (F.S.2d or F. Supp2d)
KF105 .F44
1998- (vol. 1-)
3rd Circuit Opinions and Oral Arguments

Federal Digest, K69 .F42x

Prior to 1939, Modern Federal Practice, KF127 .W48 1976 

1939-1960, West's Federal Practice Digest, 2d, Library Annex KF127 .W48 1976

1961-1975, West's Federal Practice Digest, 3d Library Annex KF127 .W48 1984
1975-1983, West's Federal Practice Digest, 4th Ref KF127 .W48 1989

State supreme court and appellate court decisions (opinions) are:
  • published in West's regional reporters
  • available online

Court Website Links

Delaware is in the Atlantic region reporter, which also covers:


Nexis Uni


Westlaw Campus Access/Patron Access

Atlantic Reporter (A. or Atl.)
KF135 .A7
1895-1938 (vol. 1-200)
Atlantic Reporter, 2d Series (A. 2d.)
KF135 .A7
1938-1988 (vol. 1-531)
West's Atlantic Reporter (A. 2d.)
KF135 .A7
1988- (vol. 532-)

Atlantic Reporter Digest, Library Annex KF135 .A7 W39
West's Atlantic Digest 2d, Ref KF135 .A71 .W4

The legal citation for a case identifies the name of the court reporter in which the opinion is published and where the case can be found.

legal citation for a case

Parallel Citations

Opinions may be published in more than one reporter. These are called "parallel citations." 





  • Are multi-volume subject indexes to case law
  • Are arranged alphabetically by subject (points of law). Each Digest has a multi-volume "Descriptive Index" to assist laypersons in finding points of law
  • Are compiled by state, geographic area, or jurisdiction. Delaware is in Atlantic region and Third Circuit
  • Are commercially published
  • Are updated by pocket parts and pamphlets
  • Include table of cases and plaintiff-defendant and defendant-plaintiff case indexes
  • West's digests use topic and key number classification, keyed to the West's published court opinions.