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Mind the Research Gap: Law School to Real World

Docket...Docket...It Sounds Familiar...

A docket is a list of all of the court documents filed in a specific case in a specific court. A case will have at least one docket for each court where it is litigated. For example, a case that is filed in MN 4th Judicial District Court (Hennepin) and then appealed to the 8th Circuit would have a 4th District Court docket, and an Eight Circuit docket, each listing the documents filed in that court. 

Common court documents include complaints, answers, motions, petitions, and briefs. More rarely, courts will also make transcripts or recordings of trials and oral arguments.

PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) provides exactly what the name implies: electronic public access to federal court records...for a fee.  Searches on PACER can quickly become expensive, so make sure to check with your place of employment on their policy for searching through PACER.  Your employer may also have access to Dockets through another service like Westlaw or Lexis.

As a UST Law Student, you have access to Bloomberg Law which includes a subscription to Docket Search.  This resource pulls from PACER itself, and the Law Library highly recommends using it when looking for a Docket (just note that access to State records is included, but the scope of that reach varies by jurisdiction).  See the Bloomberg Law Docket box below for instructions on how to use Bloomberg's Dockets Search.

For Minnesota Trial Courts, you can find Dockets through Minnesota Court Records Online (MCRO).  See the Minnesota box below for instructions on how to search MCRO.

Will I Know It When I See It?

Docket sheets provide a general overview of who is involved in a case and what actions they have taken.

The specific format varies from court to court, but most docket sheets include, in order:

  1. Information about the case, such as the docket number, nature of suit or case type, judge, related cases, date filed, and whether the case is open or closed
  2. The names of the parties and their attorneys (both current and former), with contact information for their attorneys. When multiple attorneys are, or have been, involved in a case, the docket will generally indicate which attorneys should be given notice regarding any filings and which attorneys have left the case.
  3. A list of filings ordered by date. The list generally includes the date and number of the filing, as well as a general description of the filing. Many modern docket systems will also provide links to the underlying filing (e.g. PACER, Bloomberg, Westlaw) but in others you may need to look up the filing separately (e.g. Lexis).

The sample docket sheet below shows these basic elements.

Courts assign each case a docket number to make it easier to track. Usually, it's not necessary to understand how docket numbers are assigned to use them to retrieve cases. However, understanding how docket numbers are constructed can be helpful for correcting mistyped docket numbers and determining where and when a case was filed.

Each court generally has its own system for assigning docket numbers, which may include some or all of the following:

  • The year the case was filed, in two or four digit format.
  • The court the case was filed in, represented by a letter or number.
  • The type of case (e.g. civil, criminal, bankruptcy).
  • A sequence number, randomly assigned to each case as it is filed. 

To learn how a specific court assigns docket numbers, check:

  • The court's website
  • Westlaw's source information for the court, which generally explains how the court assigns docket numbers. To view this information, navigate to the court's page in Westlaw's Dockets section and then click the i symbol beneath the court's name.

Common sources of confusion include:

  • Skipping or altering punctuation (2:14-ap-123456 vs. 214ap123456)
  • Skipping or adding leading zeros (7-4771 vs. 07-04771).
  • Skipping or altering parts of the docket number. In particular:
    • Letters indicating case type are often skipped (2:14-ap-123456 vs. 2:14-123456; C-07-04771 vs. 07-04771)
    • Letters at the end of the number are usually local notes such as, e.g. the judge's initials, and are commonly skipped (2:14-cv-123456-ABC-RZ vs. 2:14-cv-123456).

In the Minnesota District Courts, docket numbers are formatted as follows:

CC-TT-YY-NNNNNN (e.g. 27-CV-08-13677), where:

CC = County Designation

TT = Case Type

YY = two-digit year

NNNNNN = Sequence Number

In the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Court of Appeals, docket numbers are formatted as follows:

AYYNNNN (e.g. A070003), where:

A = Appellate

YY = Year

NNNN = Sequence Number

A "standard" case number in Federal District Courts appears as:

A:YYTTNNNNN (e.g. 2:96cv00822)

A = a single digit number representing the filing location.

YY = the two digit year.

TT = a one or two letter code indicating the type of case.

NNNNN = a one to five digit number. Some courts may omit the filing location number and/or the two-letter "Case type" code. As such, Westlaw will accept the following case number citation formats for search purposes:

 

A:YYTTNNNNN (e.g. 2:96cv00822)
A:YYYYTTNNNNN (e.g. 2:1996cv00822)
YYTTNNNNN (e.g. 96cv00822)
YYYYTTNNNNN (e.g. 1996cv00822)
YY-TT-NNNNN (e.g. 96-cv-00822)
YYYY-TT-NNNNN (e.g. 1996-cv-00822)
A:YY-NNNNN (e.g. 2:96-00822)
A:YYYY-NNNNN (e.g. 2:1996-00822)
YY-NNNNN (e.g. 96-00822)
YYYY-NNNNN (e.g. 1996-00822)

 

Individual courts may add dashes, letters and numbers representing a particular judge's initials and/or courtroom/routing numbers (e.g. 99-M- 5011-ALL or 00-CR-5-S-01). These additional keystrokes beyond the standard case number format should NOT be included when performing a search.

The "standard" case number format in the Federal Courts of Appeal and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts is:

YY-NNNN (e.g. 99-1001) or YY-NNNNN (e.g. 02-20135)

YY = the two digit year.

NNNN(N) = a four or five digit sequence number

Federal Court: Nature of Suit

The federal courts require plaintiffs to check a box indicating Nature of Suit (such as 110 Insurance contract or 550 Prisoner civil rights petition). PACER's user manual provides a complete list of Nature of Suit codes

NoS codes can help you search for cases by type but keep in mind:

  • Plaintiffs can only check one code- so you might miss relevant cases that deal with multiple issues.
  • Some NoS codes are vague, such as 190 Other Contract, 440 Other Civil Rights.

As a result, it's usually best to experiment with both keyword and NoS searches.

State Court: Case Type and Key Nature of Suit 

Most state courts do not have classification systems as detailed as Nature of Suit, but they typically provide some general description of case type (e.g. criminal misdemeanor, civil family support, unlawful detainer, criminal traffic, state bar resignation).

Bloomberg Dockets

Your UST Law Student status gives you access to Bloomberg Law (if you have not created your account and are not sure how to do so, please email lawreference@stthomas.edu).  Bloomberg Law is great for a lot of things, but it's best known around these parts for Dockets Search.  Dockets Search is a great benefit to UST, but small warning, it does come with a cost. Through our institutional subscription each student has access to search and view dockets, and each search goes against our institutional spending limit.  No need to worry too much about it, you will hear from the Law Library if we see any spending getting too high!  However, if you ever have questions about how to perform a Docket search, or what is covered under our subscriptions, contact a Friendly Law Librarian for help.

If you have a citation to a case, access the case on Bloomberg and then check the sidebar for a Related Docket(s) link to view any available dockets and court documents.

For example, to access the docket for Vivid Entm't, LLC v. Fielding, 774 F.3d 566 (9th Cir. 2014), type 774 F.3d 566 in the main Bloomberg search bar and select the GO TO Citation link in the dropdown to access the case. Then, click the Related Docket(s) link in the sidebar to access the docket for the case.

If you do not have a citation to a case, you can search dockets and court documents directly using Dockets Search:

The Dockets Search form allows you to search by keyword, court, party, judge, docket number, and date. Under More Options, you can also search by attorney/firm, case number, and case status. Keep in mind:

  • When filtering by court, click the i symbol next to a court's name to see the dates of coverage for the court. Often, if you can't find a docket, it's because Bloomberg has only limited coverage for that court.
  • When searching an individual party, judge, or attorney's name, place /3 between their first and last name to retrieve cases that use their middle name (ex. Mark /3 Lastname). You may also want to place quotes around law firm or company names to search for only that exact name.
  • When searching by docket number if you have one, beware of your formatting as Bloomberg can be very picky on this.  If you have a Docket Number but no case is popping up, try searching by party name in the correct court, with a date range.

The form ends with options customized to specific courts. For example:

  • The U.S. District & Appellate Options section allows you to search by Cause of Action (i.e. Nature of Suit code)
  • The U.S. Bankruptcy Courts Options section allows you to search by type of bankruptcy (e.g. Chapter 9, Chapter 11)

Once you have accessed a docket on Bloomberg through Related Docket(s) or Dockets Search, you can view or request some or all of the court documents listed on the docket.

Click "Request" next to any document to ask Bloomberg to retrieve it.  

  • If the document is available on the federal PACER system, Bloomberg will automatically retrieve it, usually within minutes.
  • If the document is available on a state e-filing system, Bloomberg help desk staff will sometimes retrieve it manually, usually within an hour. However, state e-filing systems are generally more expensive than PACER, so help desk staff may reject your request if it will cost Bloomberg too much money or if you have made too many previous requests.
  • If you are using a law firm account, Bloomberg will pass the retrieval fees on to you! In contrast, if you are using a law school account, Bloomberg will never pass the fees on to you- its staff will either pay the fees or reject your request. Make sure you understand your employer's subscription before accepting fees on their behalf.

Click "View" next to any document to view it instantly. Bloomberg allows you to instantly view any document that any user has previously requested, whether they requested it through PACER, a state e-filing system, or by paying Bloomberg's couriers to visit the court in person and retrieve it manually. 

  • Each docket has a "Docket Currency" sidebar, where Bloomberg indicates the date the docket was last updated on Bloomberg.
  • To update the docket, click "Update Docket" in the Docket Currency sidebar or at the top of the screen.
  • If you are using a law school account, Bloomberg will pay to update the docket but, if you are using a law firm account, Bloomberg will pass the fees for updating the docket on to you. To help reduce costs, the "Docket Currency" sidebar also lists "New Entries Since Last Update", so you can decide whether it's worth paying to update the docket. 

 

Searching Minnesota Cases

Minnesota Court Records Online (MCRO)

MCRO will eventually replace MPA Remote as the online platform for public access to district court records. MPA Remote will continue to be fully accessible to the public until all three phases of the MCRO rollout are complete.

During Phase 1, documents filed in a case became accessible when searching with the case number.

Currently, during Phase 2, there is a new Case Search tab that allows users to search for cases by person name, business name, attorney name, case number, citation number, or attorney bar number. Case Search provides access to a Register of Actions (case details) for each case, as well as public documents filed in each case. The Document Search tab continues to be available, where users can search by case number to find documents in cases that are available online. While there is no charge for documents at this time, when MCRO is fully implemented, there will be a charge per document.  

Not Finding What You Need? Go to the Courthouse

Each Minnesota district courthouse offers electronic access to statewide public case records through public access terminals. Each district courthouse also offers in-person counter access to locally-stored, public case records in paper form. Courthouse public access terminals provide the most complete access to electronic district court case records.

Access Court of Appeals and Supreme Court Case Records

The Minnesota Supreme Court and Court of Appeals offer online access to court opinions and case records through the public view of the Minnesota Appellate Courts Case Management System (P-MACS)