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Property Law: Cases, Statutes and Regulations

Property Law, geared towards an audience of first year law students

Finding Cases

No matter the tool you use to find caselaw on property law, keep two things in mind while researching:

  • Secondary sources and annotated codes are a great source of cases.
  • Remember to think about jursidiction. The law in two different states can be quite different.

Finding Cases in Print - Digests

Digests arrange cases by topic. Most digests are published by Thomson Reuters, and use the West Topic and Key Number System. To make sense of the vast number of opinions courts produce in a year, West broke down  For instance, "Property" is a topic. Under that topic, there are many sub-topics, such as "Evidence as to Title." Sub-topics are arranged by their assigned Key Numbers. "Evidence as to Title" is Key Number #9.

There are around 400 topics in the West System, and many key numbers. Rather than searching by topic, the best way to use a digest is to use the Descriptive Word Index. Using this index, you can look up legal concepts, and find which topics cases might be under. 

For example, to find cases on joint tenancy, go to the Descriptive Word Index. You will see that the cases about the sale of joint property are under the Joint Tenancy topic heading (abbreviated Joint Ten) at Key Number 13. Cases about implied tenancy are under the Landlord and Tenant topic at Key Number 8, which shows that not everything that has to do with joint tenancies is under the Joint Tenancy topic heading.

There are different digests for different jurisdictions. For property cases, you may be most interested in a digest covering state cases, like the Atlantic Digest or the Massachusetts Digest. The Topic and Key Number System is constant across all jurisdictions. Once you have a key number, perhaps from a secondary source or a case you have already found, you can find cases in any jurisdicton on the same subject. 

Digests do get updated regularly, so check the back of the book for a pocket part, and check the shelf for a standalone supplement!

Once you have a case citation from a digest, you can fnd it in a print reporter or on Bloomberg, Lexis, or Westlaw. Google Scholar, a free service, has a growing number of cases as well. Citations to federal reporters will be consistant between whichever database you use.

Westlaw

In the Browse menu under the search box, you will find "Real Property" under the "Practice Areas" tab. You can use this to search just property cases. You can choose a jurisdiction before searching, or filter by jurisdiction after your search. 

When looking at an opinion, look at the Headnotes. You will see the same topics and key numbers you would see in the print digest.

 

Lexis Advance

When doing your initial search, use the dropdown menus under the red search box to specify the content to want (here, cases) and your jurisdiction. Optionally, you can also limit your search to the "Real Property Law" topic.

Lexis Topics