Is there a free, online database of lawsuits filed in the US?
March 13, 2005 10:17 PM   Subscribe

Is there a free, online database of lawsuits filed in the US? My Google-fu is no match for awesome super-powerful search engine spam...

I would like to find an online database of all lawsuits filed in the US - preferably from a free or public source. This database should be able to let me search by company being sued and by legal firm representing the plaintiff.

Unfortunately, my searches on Google lead to tons of search engine spam interspersed with paid lawsuit databases that cost hundreds of dollars for full access.

Is there no public, online record of lawsuits filed? If the answer is no, what is the best (in terms of price and performance) lawsuit database you know of?

MeFi lawyers or soon-to-be-lawyers, please hope me!
posted by stringbean to Law & Government (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No free one that I know of (they're maintained in independent databases and books, although they're public -- it'd take a bazillion years to do a comprehensive search.) ... Lexis Nexis is considered to be the gold, trusted standard.

Some university and public libraries will offer free LexisNexis access for members or students.
posted by SpecialK at 11:40 PM on March 13, 2005

Is this of help?
posted by peacay at 12:12 AM on March 14, 2005


Thank you for the excellent information!

LexisNexis looks awesome! Unfortunately, I don't think I will be able to get free access from a university or library (location problem). If I decide to go for a paid option, Lexis Nexis is now my first (and only) choice but I am still hoping for a free option.

Again, thank you.



Thank you for your suggestion.

I visited FindLaw before posting this. The site may be useful for finding a lawyer in one's area or getting general legal information but, unless I missed something, it did not offer any specific information about cases filed.

Of course, this does not change the fact that you took time out of your day to help me. For this, I am very grateful.

Thank you!
posted by stringbean at 2:36 AM on March 14, 2005

Unfortunately, there is definitely nothing that will do this for free. Aside from Lexis or Westlaw, there are some other resources, ranging from the cheap to the insanely expensive. For a really tiny fee, you can search all U.S. district court cases on Pacer. Of course, this is only one tiny piece of the court system.

CourtExpress is a great comprehensive database for most state courts and some federal courts. You have to open an account to use the database, and if you're just searching without downloading documents, the fee isn't too steep. This you can search by company name, attorney, law firm, jurisdiction, and type of case. If you start requesting documents from them, watch out, as I regularly rack up fees in the hundreds of dollars with them at work.

Finally, many state courts have their own web sites with some sort of free database for searching by party name. For example: Mass.. Many of these sites allow free searching, but most don't go terribly far back in time.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 4:20 AM on March 14, 2005

I almost forgot LexisOne, which has some free case searching. It's not as comprehensive as the fee-based service, but it's a good start.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 5:28 AM on March 14, 2005

The big competitor to LexisNexis, and the one I prefer, is WestLaw, which is also very much not free.
posted by falconred at 6:15 AM on March 14, 2005

stringbean, if you want the whole database accessible for free, you're out of luck. There's a reason that companies (and lawyers) charge you for that information.

If you want a few particular cases, I'd be happy to get them for you--as a law student, I get free, unlimited access to Lexis and Westlaw. My e-mail's in my profile. And if you want a few articles on an ongoing basis, Lexis will deliver articles to you for a small fee per case ($9 or under, I think).

Lastly, law libraries have cases in books. They're more annoying to find that way, but if you can get to such a library, they're pretty cheap to copy.
posted by equipoise at 7:14 AM on March 14, 2005

But, when stringbean asks for "all lawsuits filed in the US," he's asking for something that isn't on LEXIS, Westlaw, or PACER.

The vast bulk of lawsuits filed in the US are filed in state trial courts in really busy and underfunded courthouses like the Circuit Court of Cook County (Chicago) and similar places in NYC and LA. I am pretty certain that there there is no centralized database that tracks the thousands of complaints filed every month in those courts. There are pay services that track individual courthouses, but nothing that aggregates it all.
posted by Mid at 7:22 AM on March 14, 2005

Have you tried It limits google searches to U.S. federal and state government documents. That may help you refine your search.

I doubt that you'll find a publicly available clearinghouse with lawsuit filing statistics. Many states (and maybe the fed as well) report their own statistics, though. You may want to try state or federal courts websites and see what they have. (I admit that this is a tedious way to get the information you want.)

equipoise-- Be careful! I would assume that some employee of Lexis or Westlaw reads this stuff. You don't want to be on the hook. And they take access very seriously.
posted by Scooter at 7:23 AM on March 14, 2005

In addition to the sources discussed above, there are a few subject-matter-specific databases of lawsuits and decisions available. One of these is the Stanford Securities Class Action Clearinghouse, which provides detailed information relating to the prosecution, defense, and settlement of federal class action securities fraud litigation. It's a free resource, and as the name implies, is run by Stanford Law School. Additionally, Widener Law School runs the Delaware Corporate Law Clearinghouse, which serves a similar purpose for corporate and other business litigation in the Delaware Court of Chancery. Given that most large corporations, and many small ones, are incorporated in Delaware, this resource is more useful than you might otherwise think.

stringbean, if you could give us a little more detail about what you plan on doing with the information, we might be able to point you towards a more useful database.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 7:25 AM on March 14, 2005

Hey Scooter, thanks for the warning. I've been wondering if I'm bound by any limitations for my Lexis and Westlaw usage? As far as I know, I get unlimited access, and I don't remember being told that it's verboten to use their services for a friend. They cut off our access over the summer when they assume that our employers should pay for it, but otherwise, they don't comment on how we use the services. Of course, I didn't listen that closely to their training if anyone knows, please lemme know!
posted by equipoise at 9:18 AM on March 14, 2005

I would like to find an online database of all lawsuits filed in the US - preferably from a free or public source.

There is no such thing. At most, there could (in theory) be one database for federal cases and one database for each state. States don't share information. In many states, there isn't even a single database (for example, municipal courts often aren't linked to state data collection in any way). The US federal government cannot legally require states to share such information, and has made no efforts (that I'm aware of) to facilitate this being done voluntarily.

In short, the best you can hope for is a paid service that has reasonably widespread data collection.

This database should be able to let me search by company being sued and by legal firm representing the plaintiff.

The reason that public organizations have not taken on the task of building such a database is that the companies being sued, and the law firms representing them, know who they are. For the rest - folks like you - there really isn't any overwhelming demand that taxpayer dollars be spent creating a US-wide database of this type.
posted by WestCoaster at 11:15 AM on March 14, 2005

Apologies, this is off topic:

equipoise: I'm certain that you can't use student access to Lexis or Westlaw for private use or for a for-profit concern. (Not that this rule doesn't get bent, and badly.) I think the rules vary somewhat if you're participating in a school-related clinic or externship, or if you're working for a nonprofit.

Also one anecdotal story: A student attorney shows up in court with a Westlaw printout of a case, argues that it applies, and submits it to the judge. The judge reads the very first line, "For Educational Use Only," and promptly excoriates the student for misappropriation of resources!
posted by Scooter at 1:03 PM on March 14, 2005

If you're willing to pay for it, Courthouse News may be a source, but that is two tons of courthouses, 3 x two tons of lawsuits, plus many aren't online. What you're asking isn't realistic (yet).
posted by goofyfoot at 3:40 PM on March 14, 2005

...and by the by.....stringbean, you have exemplary manners.....take a gold star from petty cash.......but I actually enjoy googling around on other's's like google-jeopardy!
posted by peacay at 6:20 AM on March 15, 2005

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