civil court lawsuits
Each court will have a civil court clerk's office that keeps an alphabetical index of the names of people, businesses and organizations that have filed lawsuits or have had lawsuits filed against them in that court.
Thus there will be one index of lawsuits filed in each small claims court, another index in each county superior court, and still other indexes for federal courts and for the various state and federal appellate courts.
You need to check each index at each court to find all the legal actions in which a person or company might be involved. There is no publicly available master index of all the legal actions in all the different courts.
As a general rule, most reporters will first check the index for a county superior court, because that is where lawsuits involving significant financial disputes are most often filed.
The superior court lawsuits also include divorce actions.
A separate index sometimes is kept for probate actions concerning people who have died (such as dividing up the deceased person's estate).
At each court, the indexes usually are on computer terminals. But for older cases, there may be sets of microfiche covering different periods of time in which lawsuits were filed.
The alphabetical name index on the computer terminal or microfiche will usually include the names of the plaintiffs (the parties filing lawsuits) and the defendants (the parties being sued) in a single index. So there won't be a separate index for looking up plaintiffs, and a separate index for looking up defendants - they'll all be in the same index.
Sample name index:
(click on the Name Search Query link and then type in a name to see what information is available in the index)
Each listing for a case in the index usually will include:
- the names of the two main parties - plaintiff and defendant - involved in the lawsuit
- a notation as to which party is the plaintiff and which party is the defendant (such as p and d, or plt and def)
- the date the lawsuit was filed
- an abbreviation for the general legal description of the type of lawsuit (personal injury, breach of contract, dissolution of marriage, etc.)
- the case number for each lawsuit
Some courts now have electronic copies of the court documents, and you can view the records on a computer terminal at the clerk's office. In some instances, the documents will be on the same computer as the index of lawsuits, and the index will link to those documents.
In other courts, you'll need to copy down the case number and present it to a clerk, who usually will ask you to fill out an order form in order to retrieve the case file.
When you view a case file, the documents in it usually will be in reverse chronological order, with the most current document at the top or beginning of the file. A file for a complex cases probably will have multiple volumes of documents, also in reverse chronological order.