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Court Records and Briefs in the Law Library

Research Guide about finding court records and briefs in the law library.

Federal Courts

Records and briefs from the Federal Court system are generally accessible online for cases filed since 2000. Records and briefs for cases filed before that time have been selectively digitized and are sometimes only available in print or microform from the courts themselves or from the National Archives.

The Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system is the official Federal portal for online access to court dockets, records, and briefs for U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal, U.S. District Courts, and U.S. Bankruptcy Courts. Electronic docket information, records, and briefs are generally available for cases from 2000 to present.

If you are a law student and need to use PACER as a part of your research for a journal or class, or for a faculty-approved project, please visit the reference desk. Because there is a cost associated with PACER use, the library will only run PACER searches for limited academically approved searches for law students and faculty. In most cases, it is quicker and easier to use one of the commercial databases (listed below) that make available all PACER content to subscribers.

  • If you need to set up your own PACER account, you can use the PACER online registration form. You must provide your name, address, phone number and email address. You can register either using a credit card and receive your login by email, or by other payment methods and receive your login and pasword by U.S. Mail.
  • PACER currently charges $0.10 per page, with the first $15.00 of usage per quarter accruing no charges
  • You can also visit a federal courthouse to use PACER without registering for an account.
  • PACER maintains a helpful online guide to using the system

Because UNC Law users already have access to records and briefs through Bloomberg Law, Westlaw, and LexisNexis, we encourage those users to access federal court dockets through those databases. Bloomberg Law maintains access to the full set of materials on PACER, and Westlaw and LexisNexis provide access to select materials. They also have enhanced search features and do not require separate billing. Additionally, Westlaw provides selective coverage of some U.S. Courts of Appeals briefs dating back to 1972. See the Compiled Records and Briefs Online page of this research guide for more information.

For finding older federal court records and briefs, see the Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and State (available online to UNC users, in print in the law library at KF105.9 .W49 1998, 2nd Floor) which lists libraries and archives that hold print and microfilm copies of records and briefs. 

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

In addition to electronic access for recent cases, discussed above, the Law Library has copies of records and briefs for many cases heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. This court hears cases on appeal from U.S. district courts in North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina and Virginia. Earlier case records and briefs are indexed by docket number rather than case citation.

1892-1987: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Briefs and Records (KF 112.9 4th .A3, 1st floor)

  • Print volumes containing the briefs and records for cases docketed in the Fourth Circuit from 1892 to 1987.
  • Index: The Law Library has an index to Fourth Circuit briefs and records available at the reference desk on the 4th floor. Briefs and records are indexed in chronological order by court docket number or reporter citation. The index indicates which briefs, records and other papers from each case are available in the bound volumes located on the first floor of the library.
  • If you only have the citation for an early case or only know the approximate year and party names, you can find the court docket number by looking the case up on Lexis' Academic Universe product, or on Lexis or Westlaw. Once you have a docket number, you can use the index to determine if the library has copies of the briefs and record.
  • In addition to the bound volumes listed above, the library has duplicate copies of the Fourth Circuit briefs and records for the years 1892-1974 on microfilm (KF112.9 4th .A3, 2nd floor).

1986-2008: U.S.Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Records and Briefs (Microform: KF112.9 .A3 1st floor)

  • The Law Library has the more recent Fourth Circuit materials in microfiche.
  • This printed index is located above the microfiche cabinets on the 1st floor