One of the most common research questions lawyers ask law librarians is, “Can you search for all litigation against this company in Texas?”
Locating case filings in the Texas federal courts is straightforward. PACER, Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis’ CourtLink and Westlaw all have these dockets.
But searching in the Texas district and county courts is not as simple. Each of Texas’ 254 counties has a separate system for making dockets and information available. Most courts do not have online access. To access the ones that do, the databases listed below are essential.
• Bloomberg Law. Searchable state district courts in Texas include Bexar, Collin, Dallas, Denton, Grayson, Gregg, Guadalupe, Harris, Henderson, Montgomery, Nueces, Tarrant, Travis and Williamson counties. It’s possible to search selected county-level courts: Grayson, Gregg, Guadalupe, Henderson, Lamar, Montgomery, and Williamson. The Texas Supreme Court and the intermediate courts of appeals are also available.
Bloomberg Law has federal appellate, bankruptcy and district court dockets. Cases may be searched by case number, case name, judge, attorney name, nature of suit, date, ticker or patent number.
Another nice feature of Bloomberg is the ability to search in the text of selected federal and state case filings. If another user has opened it, it was scanned and can be searched.
Lawyers or librarians also can use Bloomberg to search new case filings and track daily developments in ongoing cases. The “Breaking Complaints” area includes new pleadings filed in larger metropolitan areas. The only coverage for Texas is Travis County district court, but more are in the works.
Users also must be mindful that new case filings are available, but updating the docket (and paying an additional charge) is necessary to see the most current filings. The docket sheet includes only what was originally filed only (parties, plaintiff’s counsel) unless previous users have updated it.
• iDocket: iDocket is a database with access to almost 70 Texas district and county courts. Coverage includes Angelina, Aransas, Bandera, Bee, Brazoria, Bexar, Brooks, Brown, Calhoun, Callahan, Cameron, Cherokee, Clay, Coleman, Coryell, Dallas, Eastland, Ector, El Paso, Floyd, Freestone, Goliad, Hale, Harris, Hays, Hidalgo, Hill, Hopkins, Houston, Howard, Hunt, Hutchinson, Jack, Jefferson, Jim Wells, Johnson, Kleberg, Maverick, McLennan, Montgomery, Morris, Nacogdoches, Navarro, Ochiltree, Oldham, Parmer, Polk, Potter, Presidio, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Titus, Tom Green, Travis, Trinity, Tyler, Upton, Val Verde, Victoria, Washington, Webb, Wharton, Willacy, Young and Zapata counties.
Users can search by name, attorney name or bar number, date, county, and case type. Usually only the docket sheet is available, but occasionally documents are provided. Coverage varies by year, so be sure and look at the court listings to know exactly what is being searched. Most courts have district and county courts, but again it’s helpful to check the court listings. More courts are in the testing stage and will be added in the near future (Hudspeth, Gillespie, Liberty, Orange, Camp, Randall, Waller, Yoakum and Medina).
Users may set up Case Tracks to be notified when documents are filed.
• CourtLink (LexisNexis). Courtlink’s Texas coverage includes Bexar, Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Fort Bend, Harris, Nueces, Smith, Williamson (all with district and/or county coverage) plus the Texas Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and intermediate courts of appeals.
CourtLink searches federal courts including district (civil and criminal), bankruptcy and appellate cases. Users may search by name, date, attorney or firm, judge and nature of suit. They also can search by keyword in the entries on the docket sheet (in federal cases only).
CourtLink offers a “Single Search” feature that allows users to search in all dockets and documents on the CourtLink system, including briefs, pleadings and motions that are on Lexis. Like Bloomberg Law, only documents previously retrieved/opened by customers will be searched.
CourtLink also tracks new case filings and case developments. CourtLink differs from Bloomberg Law in that all of its docket sheets in federal court are updated automatically.
• Westlaw.State courts include Bexar, Brazoria, Collin, Dallas, Denton, El Paso, Gregg, Harris, Nueces, Parker, Smith, Tom Green and Travis counties, along with the Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals and intermediate courts of appeals.
Westlaw also has U.S. district, bankruptcy and appellate dockets. Users may search by name, docket number, nature of suit code, attorney or firm, judge, and keyword—what the clerk has noted on the docket sheet.
Users also may set up alerts for new cases and track any ongoing cases with daily updates.
As with Bloomberg, users must request that a docket be updated. At this time, there is not an option to search the text of pleadings when searching dockets.
Westlaw’s CourtWire service adds a few counties not covered by Westlaw dockets: Hardin, Jefferson, Orange and Tarrant. CourtWire’s main function is as an alert service for new cases, but complaints are available to subscribers.
• PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records): PACER offers comprehensive access to all federal court filings. It’s also inexpensive, at 10 cents per page.
Search options are limited, however. Users may search by party name or case number, and they can narrow the search by date or by a code for the nature of suit. PACER started adding images of documents in the early 2000s, and, if they are not available, users must contact the court to retrieve them from archives (which can take a couple of weeks).
There are two kinds of PACER access: a password for searching and a password issued to attorneys by the court for electronic filing. Users can search all courts with the “Pacer Case Locator” search.
• Courthouse News Service.CNS is a subscription service that tracks new cases in various courts in every state. It does not have dockets available, but CNS is handy for locating complaints from federal courts, larger state courts and smaller rural counties. It is a yearly subscription, and individual complaints range in price from free to $50.
Users can set up “dingers” and “trackers” to notify them of new developments.
• Searching native sites.Some state courts offer search capabilities through their web sites.
Harris County: This user-friendly site makes dockets and documents available. Users must register for a username and password, but there is no fee and only a small charge for certified copies.
Dallas County: Users can access case information and also download documents for free.
Travis County: Only attorneys may register, search the court records and download documents.
Tarrant County: Users must register and pay $35 per month to subscribe.
Sometimes the search feature at a court web site is well hidden (or new), so, if in doubt, call the clerk to verify.
• Texas Judiciary Online.This state site has dockets and opinions for the Texas Supreme Court (also has audio and video of oral arguments), Court of Criminal Appeals and the intermediate appellate courts. Users can search by case name, attorney, case number and date. The CaseMail service lets users track a particular case.
• Obtaining documents from courier services and courts. Westlaw Court Express, Bloomberg Law and LexisNexis all offer a courier-service option. They will go to the court and make copies of any dockets or pleadings not available online. They offer speedy service, but it is usually expensive.
A less expensive option is to contact the courts directly. If a court has no online search, a user usually must mail a written request and enclose a check for $5-$10. If pleadings are needed also, clerks can almost always make copies of documents (usually $1 per page).
However, turnaround can take weeks, and payment usually needs to be mailed in advance. Some clerks take credit cards over the phone. This option works if users are not in a hurry (does that ever happen?).
The court coverage is always in a state of flux, so these are the counties covered as of the date of this writing.
Searching this patchwork of dockets is never a simple process. That’s why law librarians sigh deeply when asked about a comprehensive search in Texas courts. We look forward to the time when courts are required to accommodate efiling and more search capabilities are provided.