Like most court systems, California courts are organized into three tiers:
For more information about the California court system, visit the court website.
Use the Westlaw Key Numbers to find cases by topic:
Digests are books that organize cases by topic. You can likely find them in your law firm or court library, or a local public law library. For more information about using digests to find California cases by topic, see this guide:
In general, only published opinions from the California Courts of Appeal can be cited as authority. Other types of opinions you may come across include:
Unpublished: Opinions the court chose not to publish. Unpublished opinions are available in Westlaw, Lexis, and on the court's website, even though they should not be cited as authority.
Partial publication: The court may certify only part of an opinion for publication. Unpublished portions should not be cited as authority.
Superseded: When the California Supreme Court grants review, the appellate court opinion is automatically superseded and no longer considered published. After granting review, the supreme court may order publication of the appellate court opinion in whole or in part.
Depublished: The California Supreme Court can decide to depublish an appellate court opinion at any time.
Limited exceptions to the rule against citing unpublished or depublished opinions are set forth in Rule 8.1115, in the California Rules of Court.
For more information about the publication of and citation to appellate opinions, see Rules 8.1100 - 8.1125 in the California Rules of Court.
Judicial opinions are published in books called reporters. Official reporters are authorized by the government, and contain the official version of the opinion. Unofficial reporters are published by private publishers, and often contain the opinion plus annotations or other research aids.
You probably won't need to find or look up cases in print reporters. Case citations are based on these print reporters, however, so understanding the differences can be useful for interpreting citations. Citation rules usually specify which reporter you should cite to.
Opinions from the California Supreme Court, from 1850 - present.
Bluebook abbreviations: Cal., Cal. 2d, Cal. 3d, Cal. 4th.
Sample citation: People v. Harris, 57 Cal. 4th 804 (2013).
California Appellate Reports
Opinions from the California Courts of Appeal and Appellate Department of the Superior Courts, from 1905 - present.
Bluebook abbreviations: Cal. App., Cal. App. 2d, Cal. App. 3d, Cal. App. 4th.
Sample citation: McMullen v. Superior Court, 6 Cal. App. 3d 224 (1970).
West's Pacific Reporter
Regional reporter of annotated opinions from courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming, from 1883 - present.
Bluebook abbreviations: P., P.2d, P.3d
Sample citation: People v. Harris, 306 P.3d 1195 (Cal. 2013).
West's California Reporter
Annotated opinions from the California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeals, from 1959 - present.
Bluebook abbreviations: Cap. Rptr., Cal. Rptr. 2d, Cal. Rptr. 3d.
Sample citation: People v. Harris, 161 Cal. Rptr. 3d 364 (2013).