BY WOLFGANG P. HIRCZY DE MINO                                                   
Click for Email                                                                                                                      

Note/Update: I wrote this article some years ago. Appellate court opinions are now available
through Google Scholar for all states and federal courts as well. Some appellate courts now also
post ebriefs. Other resources have disappeared: Altlaw is no more, wherefore I have deleted the
dead links. PreCYdent appears to be defunct too. Public.Resources.Org is still in business, but
no longer offers Texas cases. I left the hyperlink intact. Some of the search suggestions below
may still be useful. Good luck in researching Texas decisional law. - Wolfgang 6/7/11  

Proprietary case law databases and services for legal research require subscription and are
expensive to use. While certainly no substitute, case law research can be also done on the
Internet free of charge. This is because appellate court opinions are now routinely made
available online by the courts themselves and are in the public domain. The challenge consists
in how to find them. This article discusses some of the search strategies and techniques that can
be employed by solo practitioners, small firm lawyers, non-attorneys - indeed any interested
member of the general public - to identify, find, read, download or print Texas appellate court


Open access to appellate opinions. In principle, all recent appellate case opinions issued by
the Texas Courts of Appeals are now available online, and are thus much more accessible to the
public than was the case in the past. This is true regardless of whether they were designated "for
publication" (in the Southwester Reporter) or bear the notation "Do not publish." In some cases
the parties' names are replaced by initials to protect confidentiality, but accessibility is generally
not restricted. As a general rule, all cases are thus "published" - in the common sense of the
term. There are some exceptions to online availability, such as opinions that were subsequently
withdrawn by the court and replaced with a substitute opinion, or opinions that cannot be
accessed due to technical errors, such as bad links (resulting in 404 Error messages) or
incorrect hyperlinking (misdirecting the user to a different page upon click-through).

Accessibility of Texas appellate court opinions: Theory vs. practice. The problem in
taking advantage of this vast and open collection of case law is how to find the opinions relevant
to a question to which an answer is sought. Unless a visitor already has case-identifying
information (such as the style or appellate cause number), the courts' web sites are not very
user-friendly for legal research due to the limited functionality of the search tools on those sites.
Nor can the opinions stored on the court of appeals' servers easily be searched with Google.
The main reason appears to be that individual docket sheets and opinions have URL strings that
contain typographic symbols that search engines do not like. As a result, few pages get indexed,
and few appear in search results. Opinions in noteworthy cases get indexed by search engines
when powerful site link to them.

Access to Texas Supreme Court opinions. The Texas Supreme Court, whose opinions carry
much greater weight because they establish statewide precedent, is an exception, but even
Supreme Court opinions which are indexed by Google are not made available in optimal format.
The most glaring shortcoming is that the opinion documents on the Supreme Court's website do
not have the case style in the title tag. Instead they uniformly bear the title
, which is what appears in search engine results pages. This means that the
hundreds of opinion pages on the court's site are indistinguishable by title and appear under the
same header in Google search results. Nor are the unique URLs much help as they contain only
numbers and release dates, rather than the case style (i.e., the parties' names) in combination
with the docket number. The absence of the case-specific and thus identifying title tag also
means that the electronic original of the opinion on the Supreme Court web site does not
necessary rank 1 on search results page when one searches by case name. (e.g.,
Smith v. Defendant Soandso (Tex. 2008)

Accessing, reading, and downloading newly released Texas appellate opinions. Some
attorneys, law students, or members of the public may simply want to keep up with new cases as
they are released. That is best done by regularly visiting the Courts'
Proceedings page, which
allows access to lists of cases by release date (in reverse chronological order). The date-specific
pages lists civil and criminal cases separately and include hyper-links both to the opinions and to
the appellate docket sheets (see
example from the First Court of Appeals). An email alert
is also available (see Opinion Tracking in the Case Mail box in the right column of the
Court's home page), which will notify subscribers each time the court releases new opinions. In
addition, attorneys and interested parties can sign up on the court of appeal's websites to be
notified about any and all activity in individual cases (
Case Tracking). Some courts of appeals
now provide opinions both in HTML and PDF, either of which can be accessed through the
pages that show opinions released on a specific day (follow the
Released Orders/Opinons
), or by clicking the appropriate case event icon on the appellate docket sheet for the case in
question. See
example of appellate docket sheet.

Finding recent and older opinions using case identifiers. Older opinions are more difficult
to locate than newly released ones. It depends what information is available for that case. If a
Southwestern Reporter citation is available, it is useless for finding the original appellate opinion
on the court's web site  because the page and volume number in the Southwestern Reporter  
___S.W.3d___ will not have been known at the time of release. Unfortunately, conventional
SW3d citations do not include the decision date, which would make it easier to find the case on
the court's web site by going to the page that shown all opinions released on that date. The best
identifier is the complete
appellate cause number, which is unique for each case in Texas and
consists of the number of the court, the filing year (two digits) and the 5-digit appellate cause
number (including zeros if lower than 10000). These numerical elements are separated by
dashes and CV or CR is appended to the string to denote the case as civil or criminal. For
example: 03-07-00553-CV is the case number of a case filed in 2007 in the Third Court of
Appeals in Austin. See
docket sheet. Googling an appellate cause number will in most cases
only yield search results pertaining to that case. It is thus a very efficient search method.

Finding cases and opinions on the Texas Judiciary servers. If the appellate cause number
is known, the year, cause number, and case type can also be entered in the appropriate boxes
on the
Case Search page of the relevant court, which will then bring up the appellate docket
sheet for that case. It will show status information and the entire procedural history in the court of
appeals. It will also provide links through which the opinion (or opinions) issued by that court can
be accessed. In addition, the appellate docket sheet will indicate whether a petition for review
was filed in the Texas Supreme Court. Currently the docket sheets on the intermediate court of
appeals' websites do not link to the Supreme Court, although the filing of a petition for review
and other event information will be noted on the court of appeals' docket sheet for that case.
The Supreme Court, of course, assigns its own docket numbers. They consist of six digits. The
first two digits represent the filing year, the remainder is the consecutively assigned case
number, separated by a hyphen. For example: 08-0089.

Using Google to find Texas appellate opinions. The 9-digit appellate cause number can
also be googled. This is very likely to bring up relevant matches assuming that docket sheet or
opinion is being hosted on a mirror server for public records archive, such as
Public.Resource.Org (, The Public Library of Law (, or
PreCYdent . A search by appellate cause number will often also produce hits for pages on the
Texas Supreme Court web site, typically pages with procedural information (events pages in
RTF), an index page with links to electronic briefs submitted in the case, or the e-briefs filed in
the Supreme Court themselves (in pdf). Because the Supreme Court's web sites gets a lot of
traffic, ranks high with search engines, and is crawled by spiders with high frequently, it  is very
likely that such results will appear. Obviously, this is only true if a petition was filed in the
Supreme Court. While an earlier case may be cited in briefs filed in the Supreme Court in
another case, the prior case will typically not be referenced with the 9-digit appellate number, but
by the Southwestern Reporter or Westlaw citation instead. To identify those subsequent related
cases, it is thus advisable to use the proper citation, if known, or the case style (
Name of
Petitioner v. Name of Respondent
) in combination with Tex. App. if the SW3d citation is not
known, or if the case was not published in the Southwestern Reporter.

Searching and finding cases by party name. Texas appellate cases involving specific parties
can be identified by using the
Case Search feature on the appeals court's web sites. This will
generally bring up the docket sheet of the target case (if there is only one), or a list of cases in
reverse chronological order of filing date. However, to achieve statewide coverage, the search
would have to be repeated individually for each of the
fourteen court of appeals. Because of the
complexities of forum selection clauses and venue rules, and because appellate causes are
sometimes transferred from one court of appeals to another, appeals involving a specific party
(e.g., a specific business, governmental entity, or corporate defendant), may not necessarily be
heard by court of appeals that appears to be the most logical one, given the location of the
party's residence or office and the geographic jurisdiction of the appeals court. Note also that
the First and Fourteenth Court of Appeals have overlapping jurisdictions and have cases from
the same set of counties assigned to them randomly. A search for Houston case law and
precedents thus must always encompass both courts of appeals. Sometimes these sister courts
even render contradictory rulings on the same legal question, a conflict that may have to be
resolved by the Texas Supreme Court.

Researching appellate litigation records with Google. Another option, less systematic, to
be sure, is to google the name of the party with  
Tex.App. appended to the name (or Tex.App. -
[city of court of appeals] to make the search specific to an appellate district). To narrow the
scope of the search, the year can also be added. The rationale for using
Tex. App. is that, no
matter whether an appellate opinion is cited in the Southwestern Reporter and how it is cited, it
will have the element Tex.App. in it. Equally important, the additional search term
Tex.App. will
eliminate many other pages that would otherwise clutter up the search results page but are not
law-related. This type of search will also produce hits for law firm sites because pages on those
sites that feature substantive content often cite cases the firm was involved in or case law
relevant to a legal topic.

Other search strategies to find cases in which a company, entity, or person was
Some Internet users research litigation history of specific defendants (or plaintiffs) by
lawsuits against ... (or by) followed by the name of the targeted company/individual in
the search box. This may turn up news coverage, but is not likely to return many appellate cases
because the search terms are typically not found in the documents to be identified, or do not
appear in that form. Appellate opinion use a multitude of phrases to recount the procedural
history of a case, such as "
[Plaintiff] filed suit against [Defendant]" , [Plaintiff ] "brought
an action for [type of claim] against  [Defendant]
" etc. If this type of search query is
nevertheless used, the search terminology should be varied to find a higher percentage of the
targeted class of cases in multiple searches. The effectiveness of this search methods may  
further be limited because the key terms / phrases are typically found in the body of the target
documents, rather than in page titles or in headers, which makes them less salient to search
engines, and will thus result in a lower rank on search results pages.

How to find out who sued who and who is being sued by whom. A better strategy to
identify appellate cases and opinions  involving a specific party is to use  "
v." or "vs." either in
front or after the party name and do an exact-match search by putting the string between
quotation marks.
Example: "v. Harris County" or "vs. Harris County" for suits against the
county, and
"Harris County v." and "Harris County vs." for lawsuits by the county against
unknown individuals or entities. While this may or may not be effective in locating the actual
appellate opinion or opinions in the case to which the target was a party, it is very likely to
generate pages that reference or relate to the relevant case or cases. The most systematic way
to obtain a history of appellate litigation, of course, is to research party names on the relevant
appellate court web sites. Note also that a search on Google will not limit results to cases Texas
state courts, but will often yield results for the Fifth Circuit and for the U.S. Supreme Court, if a
cert petition was filed.

In researching appeals involving Harris County example, the best and most systematic way to identify the cases,
access the appellate dockets and the links to the opinions would be to use the
case search feature on the web
sites of the First and Fourteenth Court of Appeals, which hear most cases from Harris County. In order to assure
complete statewide coverage, one would have to repeat the search on the web sites of the other appellate
courts to identify cases involving Harris County that were either transferred to another county at the trial level or to
another appellate district by the Supreme Court in a subsequent appeal.

Finding case law on legal issues and topics or appellate decisions in specific types of
cases or areas of law.

Most legal research involves a search for controlling case law on an issue, or for similar
that may be relevant to the case or issue an Internet user, whether lawyer or party, is
confronted with. In most cases, the identifying information for the case will not be known, at least  
not initially.

The search for relevant case law on a topic can be conducted in similar fashion as the search for
cases involving identified parties. On the web sites of the Texas Courts of Appeals, the two
available search tools allows for key term searches of the court site and of the opinions. The site
search covers pages other than the full text of opinions. Unfortunately the results are delivered
either as a list of cases (in dozens or more) with no indication as to their relevance (thus
requiring a tedious review of each opinion), or as a results lists with snippets of text as one would
get with a search engine, but not ranked by relevance based on a Google-like algorism and
often not showing the relevant text portions as snippets, which would allow for easy scanning to
determine whether they are worth a closer look.

Unfortunately the Texas Judiciary, unlike the
Texas Attorney General, has not (or not yet)
adopted Google (or a comparable search engine) for site search purposes.  In the absence of
user-friendly and efficient site search-engines on the appellate court web sites (with the possible
exception of the Dallas Court of Appeals, which uses different software to manage its site), the
best alternative method to research case law by topic is to utilize the standard and
search features offered by Google, including partial or complete "exact-match" searches with
legal terms, concepts, or phrases.

To limit search results to those pertaining to Texas and Texas case law, the search string
Tex.App. can be included in the search. This will likely lead the searcher to duplicate copies of
Texas Court of Appeals opinions hosted by and other online repositories that
are relevant to the query. Depending on the nature and particularity of the search term or
phrase, Google may yield many additional results from any and all Texas Courts of Appeals on
the same site. A list of links and text snippets  can be displayed by clicking the
More results
from ...
link on the bottom of the second (indented) item from identified by
Google as a good match for the query. Note that all of the opinions will have the word string
Texas Judiciary Online - HTML Opinion as their title, because they were taken off the
judiciary server in that form and not altered. As mentioned above, the courts do not put the style
of the case in the title tag when they post the opinions.

Finding case notes and commentary on appellate decisions. The search strategies
discussed above may also yield discussions of case opinions and news coverage. In addition,
however, it may be worthwhile to repeat a search of blogs only. Many appellate decisions, even
those of the Texas Supreme Court, do not receive coverage by mainstream news outlets, or
even by the legal press. Informative commentary on less prominent cases is mostly likely found
on law blog (also known as blawgs). Blog searches can be conducted by selecting
BLOGS from
the pull-down menu that appears when one clicks on the
more... button, which is located above
the search box on the Google homepage. Since law professors and interest groups distribute
commentary on cases of interest to them via this medium, the quality and usefulness of the
material can be quite impressive. Blog (Blawg) searches are best used to obtain second opinions
on recent court opinions, i.e. reactions from knowledgeable court watchers and commentators,
and as a source of background information on cases that is not contained in the opinions
themselves, and cannot be gleaned from sparse docket sheets either. Another option for
targeted search of legal material on blogs is
BlawgSearch, but it does not appear to be
comprehensive in its scope.

Blog-only Searches. Since the worldwide volume of blog pages is much smaller than the
Internet as a whole, relevant blog posts (assuming there are any) may more easily be found than
on-point pages in a general search of the worldwide web.
Texas cases, for examples, turns up
2,790,000 hits in a Google web search, but only 271,287 Blog results. The competition is much
less severe. It also appears that blog searches are much more sensitive to title tags and to
recently posted material, which may be an advantage in researching recent case law
developments. Of course, much of what blog searches yield is garbage (spam). Pending
development of better filters to eliminate that problem - the junk is at least easily identified as
Judiciary Online (Texas Court System Homepage)
with links to all fourteen courts of appeals: 1st - Houston | 2nd -Fort
Worth | 3rd - Austin |  4th - San Antonio | 5th - Dallas | 6th - Texarkana |
7th - Amarillo | 8th - El Paso | 9th  - Beaumont  |  10th - Waco |
11th - Eastland | 12th -Tyler | 13th - Corpus Christi & Edinburg |
14th Court of Appeals - Houston |
Texas Supreme Court Opinion Search Page  
Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Opinion Search Page
Dallas Court of Appeals Full-Text Opinion Search Page  
(some have portal page with site search engine)
Public.Resource.Org (
Texas cases apparently no longer online or not accessible through
The Public Library of Law ( (
According to Wikipedia, on May 3, 2010, AltLaw announced that it had
shut down permanently, citing the fact that Google had recently begun
providing court documents through Google Scholar.
PreCYdent (
Not operational as of June 7, 2011
Google Scholar (legal opinions and journals).
Custom searches possible by state and by recency through
Advanced Scholar Search option

Last updated: 6/7/11