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Education Law: Finding Cases

Case Law

As mentioned on the Home/Legal Research Overview page, rulings and decisions of the courts are judicial primary authority.  So when you are looking for case law, you are looking for decisions of courts relating to your topic. 

Some tips to help you in your research:

  1. Decisions from appellate courts have greater authority than those of trial courts because they are mandatory for a broader jurisdiction.  If you are researching federal court decisions, you want to use those from the Federal Courts of Appeal and from the Supreme Court.  If you find a decision from a federal District Court, that is a trial court decision, it has limited authority and you should not use it.
  2. What you find when you find a case decision is not a transcript of the trial; a case decision is the court's analysis of the arguments presented.  The facts of the case will be presented (and the level of factual detail can vary greatly from decision to decision), but that is not the primary focus of the decision, which is analysis of the law and its application to the facts.
  3. When reading a decision, do not base your analysis of the case on the overview or the information in the headnotes.  Those sections of the document were not written by the court.  They are merely a quick guide; you need to read the case in whole to be able to understand and summarize the case.

Where to look for case law:

The Libraries provide two primary databases for case law research:  WestlawNext Campus Research and Nexis Uni. You can find either of these databases on the alphabetical list of databases.

Keep in mind that if you are connecting from off-campus, you need to connect through one of our pages so that you can log in with your FlashLine ID and password; otherwise, you will not be able to gain access to the database.

The search tips below are specific to WestlawNext Campus Research:

When you first log on to WestlawNext Campus Research, you are presented with a general search screen.  Unless you have a case citation or case name, it is NOT recommended that you start your legal research on this screen.  

On the right hand side of the search box at the top of the screen, is a default search limit of ALL FEDERAL.  Clicking on ALL FEDERAL brings up a menu to limit by Jurisdiction.  Click the boxes next to United States Supreme Court and Federal Courts of Appeal to limit your results to cases from those courts, then click Save.  Your search will now be limited to decisions from those courts.

You can now type your topic search in the main search box. 

Wording your search:

  1. You may need to think in terms of parallel language.  So if you are searching for cases involving higher education, you might want to use a search string like this: (college or university or higher education)
  2. If you are looking for something more focused, use the "and" connector to add in additional terms.  If you were looking for employment law and higher education cases, you might want to try this:  (college or university or higher education) and employment.
  3. You can also search for specific aspects of an area of law, like discrimination or FMLA.

Using Advanced Search options:

  1. If you search results are very broad and you are finding they aren't really hitting the mark, the Advanced search options offer addition ways to focus your search.  To see the Advanced search options, click the word Advanced (it is to the far right of the search box.)
  2. You can use the following options to limit a search:
    • dates
    • frequency of terms (requires the system to find a term used multiple times in a result, weeding out results that might not be focused on your research topic)
    • proximity connectors, such as /s (requires the system to find your search terms near each other rather than wherever they might appear in the result)