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California Case Materials Checklist: Introduction to California Cases

This guide is intended to familiarize the user with the California Court structure, publication of California decisions, and resources for finding the text of California cases. Primary sources are listed as well as important Internet links.
URL: http://libguides.law.ucla.edu/californiacases

Court Structure

California courts are arranged in three tiers. Trial level courts are called Superior Courts and cases are appealed in either the Appellate Department of Superior Courts or the Courts of Appeal, depending on the type of case and amount in controversy. The highest court is the California Supreme Court. The Judicial Council of California provides descriptive information about the California courts (see http://www.courts.ca.gov/courts.htm).

Publication of Decisions

Only opinions ordered officially published can be cited as authority before California courts (see California Rules of Court, Rules 976 et seq.).  All California Supreme Court decisions are published, while less than 10% of Courts of Appeal decisions meet the criteria for publication.  Superior (trial) court decisions are considered non-precedential and, although binding on the parties to the case, are generally not published.  However, selected opinions of the Appellate Departments of the Superior Court are certified for publication.  Unpublished cases (usually appellate-level decisions) can sometimes be found on the California Courts website, Lexis or Westlaw or may be reproduced in topical looseleaf services.

Review of Decisions

A party to a Courts of Appeal (appellate) level case may request review of the decision by the California Supreme Court. Once review has been granted, the opinion rendered in the Courts of Appeal is generally superseded (it cannot be cited for precedent), unless the Supreme Court specifies otherwise.  The Supreme Court may also choose to depublish or partially publish a decision from the Courts of Appeal.  To find out the status of a case for which review has been requested, consult the History Tables in the advance sheets of either the Official California Reports or West’s California Reporter (for more information, see the Law Library Research Guide on Depublication of California Court of Appeal Decisions). Subsequent history is noted in Westlaw’s KeyCite and Lexis Shepard’s citators.