LECTURE NOTES FOR
AMERICAN LAW REPORTS
© Copyright 1999 by Suzanne Ehrenberg and Susan Valentine
A.L.R. 4th: Stack 921 and Stack 602
A.L.R. 5th: Stack 921
A.L.R. Fed: Stack 919 and Stack 601
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What are American Law Reports and How are They Useful in Legal Research?
American Law Reports, also known as A.L.R.'s, are unique because they include both the full text of actual court decisions and "annotations" that analyze the point of law found in the reported case. As a practical matter, however, lawyers don't go to an A.L.R volume to look up the text of a judicial decision; they go to the volume to read the annotation and a relevant A.L.R annotation can be extremely helpful.
What is it about this annotation that makes it so valuable in legal research? An A.L.R annotation can be tremendously useful because it often covers an extremely narrow point of law in depth, citing most (if not all) of the cases decided on that point of law from jurisdictions across the country. The issues covered in an A.L.R annotation are very fact-specific; for example, a typical annotation might be titled, Smoking as a Basis for Reduction of Damages in a Personal Injury Action. Although the coverage of the legal issues is descriptive rather than critical, an A.L.R annotation is one of the best places to begin a research project, particularly where you need to do a multi-state survey of the law.
American Law Reports is published in six series: A.L.R.; A.L.R.2d; A.L.R.3d; A.L.R.4th; A.L.R.5th; and A.L.R. Fed. The first five series are devoted primarily to common law. A.L.R. Fed. is devoted exclusively to federal law. The original series of A.L.R. covers the years 1919 through 1948 and is not very useful in modern legal research. Because the publisher periodically updates the old annotations in A.L.R with new ones, most of those in first series have been superseded.
Turn to the first page of an annotation that should be near and dear to your heart: an annotation title "Modern status of intentional infliction of mental distress as independent tort; `outrage'." The annotation follows the reported decision in all A.L.R. volumes, except as we'll see in a few minutes with the fifth series. The first thing you will see is a box labeled "Total Client-Service Library References." This section refers you to a variety of other related Lawyers Coop publications, such as Am. Jur. 2d and Am. Jur. Proof of Facts. On the next page, you will see both a Table of Contents and an Index for the annotation, either of which can be used to locate specific material within the article. Following the Index, you will find an extremely useful feature of that annotation - the "Table of Jurisdictions Represented." This Table identifies all the states whose decisions are cited in the annotation, along with the sections in which those cases are cited. By looking at the Jurisdiction Table, you can immediately find cases from the jurisdiction(s) in which you are primarily interested.
The actual text of the annotation begins with a "Scope Note," which briefly defines the issue to be discussed in the annotation. The section called "Related Matters" cites to related A.L.R annotations. Sometimes this section will identify a truly on-point annotation that you somehow managed to miss doing a traditional index search, so don't skip over it. For example, if your research issue involved whether an employer could be held liable for intentional infliction of emotional distress, you may be better off using the annotation that appears in 86 A.L.R. 3d 454. The "Background and Summary" section, as its title suggests, provides a summary of the annotation. As we'll discuss in a very minutes, some annotations also include a section called "Practice Pointers."
The actual body of the annotation catalogues cases that discuss every aspect of the issue that is the subject of the annotation. As we see in the Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress annotation, the annotation first discusses the view that intentional infliction of emotional distress constitutes an independent tort and then the annotation considers the jurisdictions that refuse to recognize the tort. It is common for A.L.R. annotations to outline splits of opinion among various jurisdictions.
Exactly how comprehensive are the case citations in an A.L.R. annotation? A.L.R certainly comes closer than any other secondary source to providing a complete reference to cases addressing a particular legal issue, but it does not always provide an exhaustive list of relevant cases. If you take the time to do your own supplementary research on the issue, you may come up with relevant cases which were not cited in the A.L.R. annotation. In particular, if you are working on an assignment for Legal Writing, you should not rely exclusively on an A.L.R. annotation to provide you with all relevant authority. For example, even using the tools for updating A.L.R.'s, if you relied exclusively on the emotional distress annotation, you would find Illinois cases only through 1996. In fact, there are scores of IIED cases that have been decided since 1996, but because the tort is now firmly recognized in Illinois, those cases do not appear in an annotation discussing the modern status of IIED.
Although all A.L.R annotations roughly follow the same format as that in A.L.R.4th, the annotations in A.L.R.5th have some unique features. Look at the annotation entitled "Smoking as Basis for Reduction of Damages in Personal Injury Action." In the A.L.R.5th series, you will see that there are some minor differences in format: the annotation precedes the case, it begins with a summary of the law, including a summary of the reported decision. It is followed by the Table of Contents and the Article Outline. The "Total Client Service Library" follows the Table of Contents. More important, however, the annotations in the fifth series contain a section called "Research Sources." This section identifies sources found to be helpful by the author of the annotation. Of particular interest are references to West digest key numbers and suggested computer word searches. Note that the "Research Sources" feature has been added to A.L.R.4th in its pocket parts. You'll also see an example of the Practice Pointers that I mentioned earlier. It is perhaps the only place in the annotation where you will find some critical insight on the part of the author. The author may identify strategic considerations which may be relevant to practicing attorneys or the author may identify ambiguities in the case law.
How Do I Find a Relevant A.L.R. Annotation?
The best way to find relevant A.L.R annotations is to use the A.L.R. Index, a tan-colored multi-volume set which is located to the right of the last volume of A.L.R.5th on the Ninth Floor. The A.L.R. Index is a very detailed, user-friendly index, which indexes all A.L.R series except the first series. In addition, the A.L.R. Index contains a vital tool called the "Annotation History Table." This Table enables you to determine whether the annotation you have identified in the Index has been supplemented or superseded by a later annotation. If the annotation has been superseded, then you need only read the superseding annotation. If the annotation has been supplemented, however, you must read both the original annotation and the one that supplements it. Always consult the Annotation History Table before looking up an A.L.R. annotation. In addition, be sure to look at the pocket part of the Index to make sure that you have identified references to the most recent annotations. You may also have noticed an orange-colored paperback volume called the A.L.R. Quick Index. As its title suggests, this is an abbreviated version of the multi-volume index. It may be quicker to use this index if you are fortunate enough to find your search terms listed there, but you have a better chance of finding your search terms in the multi-volume index.
Let's use the Smoking as a Basis for Reduction of Damages in Personal Injury Action annotation as an example. Assume that your supervising attorney told you to research this topic and told you that he thought there was an A.L.R. annotation that he saw several years ago that was directly on-point. (Usually if your supervising attorney tells you that he or she saw something on point, it means that you'll never find it, but here you are going to be lucky!) How might you look for such an annotation? Turn to the A.L.R. Index with a set of search terms. You might try "smoking," "damages," "reduction of damages," but these don't show up in the ALR Index. Try searching in the I through N volume using "Mitigation or Aggravation of Damages-Smoking" and you find our annotation in the pocket part to the A.L.R. Index.
Another method of locating A.L.R annotations is by the cross-references in other research sources. Recall from our discussion of encyclopedias that Am. Jur. (the Lawyers Coop Encyclopedia) provides cross-references to A.L.R. annotations. You may also find cross-references to annotations in other sources such as Restatements.
Finally, A.L.R publishes a finding tool called the A.L.R. Digest which is located on the bottom shelves to the left of the A.L.R. Index. The Digest consists of multiple volumes, arranged topically in alphabetical order, which provide references to a variety of sources discussing individual legal topics. Open up a volume and you will see that it not only provides citations to A.L.R. annotations, but provides digests of relevant cases and references to other Lawyers Coop materials. If all you want to do is locate a relevant A.L.R. annotation, however, using the digest can be cumbersome and inefficient.
How Do I Update an A.L.R. Annotation?
As we mentioned earlier, to make sure that the annotation you are working with has not been superseded by a more recent annotation, you must check the "Annotation History Table" in the A.L.R. Index. To update the third through fifth Series and A.L.R. Fed., you need only consult the pocket part for the volume in which your annotation is located. For example, to update the Smoking annotation that we've been looking at, turn to the pocket part of volume 25 to see if there are additional cases that are helpful. Remember, however, that the pocket part is only published once a year. You cannot rely on it to cite cases beyond the date of the pocket part.
To update annotations in the first series, you must consult a resource called the Blue Books of Supplemental Decisions (not to be confused with the citation form Bluebook). These volumes are located on the first shelf to the right of A.L.R.5th and they provide citations to cases relevant to annotations in the first series of A.L.R. To update annotations in A.L.R. 2d, you must consult a resource called Later Case Service. These volumes are located two shelves below the Blue Books. Browse through one and you will see that it provides not just citations to later cases, but brief descriptions of those cases, as well. To make sure that you have citations to the most recent cases related to A.L.R.2d annotations, you must be sure to consult the pocket part of the Later Case Service volume you are using.
Updating the cases relevant to your annotation can be a somewhat more complicated process. To update the cases that you find in an A.L.R. annotation, you must use one of the citator services that are available in print and on-line. We'll discuss citator services in our tour covering Shepard's and West's KeyCite.
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