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Docket Information and Court Filings: Background & Terminology

Information on locating federal and state docket sheets and the underlying documents.

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Example of Bloomberg Law Docket Sheet

Court dockets contain all materials filed by the court or by any party (including amicus curiae) in a court proceeding. In general, courts assign each newly filed action with a docket number, which often refers to the year in which the case was commenced followed by a sequential reference number, and sometimes includes letters or numbers indicating the type (civil, criminal, family court, etc.) or location of filing and/or the initials of the judge to whom the case is assigned. For example, a federal district court docket number may sometimes be given in a form such as 3:04cv04321 ABC(XYZ). In this hypothetical case, the 3 indicates a filing location (one of the courthouses within the district), and the rest of the number indicates the initial papers in the action were filed in 2004, it is a civil action, it was the 4,321st such case commenced in that court during that year, and the case was assigned to a judge with the initials ABC and to a magistrate judge with the initials XYZ. You may sometimes see such a docket number shortened to the form 04cv4321 or even 04-4321.

Once the action is commenced, courts usually maintain a docket sheet (sometimes called a register of actions or other terminology) for each action; this is a chronological list noting the date and caption or description of each paper filed in the action (whether entered by the court - such as a minute order, memorandum decision ruling - or by parties and others - such as motions and briefs, and supporting affidavits or declarations and exhibits). Individual documents are typically given a sequential docket item number. This number is noted in a column on the docket sheet list, along with the filing date on which the party or other person filed the document as well as the date of entry (on which the court clerk created the entry in the docket sheet describing the filed document).

Docket files are maintained throughout the pendency of an action and after final disposition of the action. However, not all docket materials are available online.  This research guide suggests some ways to check for docket information or documents online, for both the state and federal court systems.

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