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Dockets, Briefs & Oral Argument: Home

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This research guide focuses on sources for online docket information and materials (including briefs and oral argument)

Covers both federal court sources and tips for court systems, along with print and other options for finding briefs not available online or in digitized formats.

Terminology

A court's docket comprises all materials filed, and events occurring, in proceedings before the court. Court systems, particular court divisions or locations, and individual judges may refer to their own "docket" to refer to the current, active cases before them at any given time.

The docket file for a particular case comprises the filings and events in the case.
  • The contents of a docket file may be referred to individually as docket items (the underlying documents and events occurring in a case).
  • Documents might include filings (full text documents submitted by parties and others such as [proposed] amicus curiae), orders (if a written decision was issued) and other court-generated documents, and transcripts (if produced, released, and filed).
  • Although generally a public record, a docket file may contain some materials that are redacted or entirely under seal (not available for public viewing), or that are so voluminous that they may only be accessed in person at the court or archival facility.
  • Not all docket materials (filings, orders, transcripts) are available online!

A given case may have distinct dockets with case events in multiple courts, each of which maintains its own docket system—such as a case that is appealed, transferred from one court to another, combined with other related case(s), or otherwise has events and documents in different courts.

A court assign each action with a docket number, often including the year the case commenced and a sequential reference number; it often includes letters or numbers indicating the type (civil, criminal, family court, etc.), location, and/or initials of a judge. Example:
  • in a federal district court, a docket number 3:04cv05678 ABC(XYZ) might indicate: filing location "3" (a courthouse within the district); complaint filed in 2004; a civil action, the 5,678th such case commenced in that district that year; case assigned to a judge, Anna B. Chin, and to a magistrate judge, Xavier Y. Zeiss. The docket number might be shortened to the form 04cv5678 or even 04-5678.
The court clerk's office maintains a docket sheet (sometimes called a register of actions or other terminology) for each action, listing the date and caption or description of each paper filed or occurrence (such as a minute order, memorandum decision ruling, hearing, transcript taken, etc.) in the action.
  • Individual documents are often given a sequential docket item number, usually noted in a column on the docket sheet list.
  • For each docket item, the clerk or other court official typically makes a short docket entry describing the item.
  • Each entry on the docket sheet list shows a filing date for the filing or other action, and may also note a separate date of entry (on which the court clerk created the entry describing the filed document or action).

Docket files are maintained as "open" (or "active") throughout the pendency of the case, and after final disposition are switched to "closed" status and archived but kept accessible depending on the court's records retention policies.

For more details, see Harvard Cyber Law Clinic's "How to Read a Docket"—particularly the section on Reading Docket.

Sample "Register of Actions" (aka docket sheet) from Alameda County Superior Court

Superior Court for Alameda County Public Portal - register of actions in case no. 22 CV011948

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