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Dockets and Pleadings

Locating dockets, pleadings, and related materials for federal, state, and select international courts.


What is a docket?

A court docket is a record of all documents filed by the court, parties, or any other entity (i.e. amicus curiae) in a court proceeding. The docket will include all filings such as pleadings, briefs, declarations, exhibits, orders, judgments, and sometimes also court notations such as payment of fees or continuances of dates.  In a civil matter, the docket will usually begin with the filing of a summons and complaint, while in a criminal matter, an indictment. Once an action has commenced, the court maintains a docket sheet (or sometimes called a register of actions) which is a chronological list noting the date and caption or description of each document filed in the action.  Individual documents are assigned a sequential docket item number which is noted in a column on the docket sheet list (usually on the left), along with the filing date of the document, as well as the date of entry (the date that the clerk entered the entry in the docket sheet), and sometimes the party or entity filing that document.  Dockets are kept throughout the lifetime of a pending action and after final disposition of the case.  However, not all docket information is available online because some records may be sealed or even destroyed. 

What is a docket number?

Courts assign each newly filed case with a docket number, which often is denoted by the year that the case was filed, followed by a reference number, usually sequentially assigned, and often including letters or numbers indicating the type of suit (civil, criminal, family, etc.) and/or the location of the filing, and/or the initials of the judge to whom the matter is assigned.  The term "docket number" is generally used synonymously with the term "case number."

What is a pleading?

Pleadings are the actual papers which were submitted to a court in a case, most often briefs such as memoranda of points and authorities, motion papers, declarations, complaints, and answers.   Pleadings are useful for legal researchers because they may provide additional insight into the arguments presented to the court, which either persuaded or failed to persuade the court.  The pleadings will often include the facts of the case, the legal issues presented in the case, and the legal arguments which support or refute those issues based on mandatory and/or persuasive authority.

Where to Start

Before attempting to locate pleadings and records from a specific case, it is most helpful to first identify as much of the following information about the case as possible:

1. The full names of the parties.

2. The docket or case numbers of the original case, as well as any appeals.

3. The location of the court in which the case was filed, as well as the courts of any appeals.

4. The date (exact or approximate) of the case and any appeals.

5. The names of judges and/or attorneys involved in the case.

General Reference

Principles of Legal Research (2d ed.) by Kent C. Olson - See Chapter 9, 'The Judiciary, Part 4: Other Court Information'

Legal Research in a Nutshell (13th ed.) by Morris L. Cohen and Kent C. Olson - See Chapter 7, 'Court Rules and Practice'

A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and State (2d ed.) by Michael Whiteman and Peter Scott Campbell

More Guides

Duke Law Library - Court Records & Briefs

Berkeley Law Library - Docket Information and Court Filings

Harvard Law Library - Records, Briefs & Court Filings