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Civil Procedure: Primary Sources

This research guide is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather will list some of the major sources of law in the area and a variety of tools for the researcher to use when confronted with questions involving civil procedure.

Primary Sources

There is an unresolved debate over whether regulation of the courts and civil procedure is within the province of the legislative or judicial branch. Because of this, the area is governed by both statute and court rule, with cases interpreting each.

At the federal level, United States Code (USC), shelved on Range 2C at Reference, encompasses the judiciary and judicial procedure. Because of superior updating, a researcher is advised to use one of the annotated versions of the code, either the United States Code Annotated (USCA) or United States Code Service (USCS), both shelved on Range 2B at Reference. These versions of the code also contain references to cases, law review articles, and other resources that may be useful to the researcher.

In addition to the United States Code, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) (online version from Legal Information Institute at Cornell) also govern civil actions in federal courts. West Publishing annually publishes a volume called Federal Civil Judicial Procedure and Rules, KF8816.A193 at Reserve, that includes the current FRCP. Annotations to the Federal rules can be located in both the USCA (in appendices to Title 28) and the USCS (in separate volumes shelved after the numbered titles of the code).

With respect to "legislative" history of the court rules, there are two organizations whose publications can be useful in interpreting the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and, consequently, any state rules based on the Federal Rules. The Advisory Committee to the Federal Rules was created in 1935 to prepare and submit a set of draft rules to the United States Supreme Court. Their discussions and explanations offer aid in understanding the Rules. Even after adoption of the Rules, the Advisory Committee continued to review their operation and recommend amendments.

The Advisory Committee was discharged in 1956 and almost immediately the need for a similar body was recognized. In response, the Judicial Conference of the United States was given the responsibility in 1958 to study operation of the Federal Rules and suggest amendments. The Judicial Conference has delegated most of these functions to its Standing Committee on Rules of Practice and Procedure. The Standing Committee consists of judges, lawyers and law professors. The Standing Committee in turn delegates its power to the Advisory Committee on the Civil Rules and the Advisory Committee on the Appellate rules but retains its authority to review and amend the recommendations of these committees before they are transmitted back to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Standing Committee and Advisory committee deliberations are open to the public and their final recommendations to the U.S. Supreme Court are of public record. Because of this, the notes of the Judicial Conference and its Committees are useful in discerning the intent behind the language in court rules. Committee commentary is published in the annotated versions of the FRCP as well as in the multivolume treatises (cited below under secondary sources).

At the state level, Title 4 of the Revised Code of Washington (RCW), located at Reference, Reserve, and 3rd Floor, governs Civil Procedure. Annotations to its sections can be located in both the Revised Code of Washington Annotated (RCWA) and Annotated Revised Code of Washington (ARCW). Superior Court Civil Rules (online version from the Washington Courts) created by the Washington Supreme Court, are the state equivalent of the FRCP. They are heavily based on the Federal Rules even to the point of adopting similar numbering of the rules. They are not, however, verbatim adaptations of the Federal Rules. The State's Civil Rules are abbreviated "CR" in state decisions (differing from Bluebook citation form). The Washington Court Rules (including the Civil Rules) are published annually in Washington Court Rules-State, KFW529.A317A2 at Reserve. Annotations to all state court rules are located in Washington Court Rules Annotated, KFW529.A2 at Reserve.

As is true with the Federal Rules, Washington rules were promulgated with the help of an Advisory Committee. The Committee's comments can be useful in rule interpretation, particularly when the Washington rules vary from its federal counterpart. Advisory Committee Notes are found in Washington Court Rules Annotated and in the Rules Practice volumes 3A, 4 and 4B of the Washington Practice Series.

Supplementing the federal and state rules of civil procedure, there are often local Court Rules that govern practice within specific courts. Local rules concern minor procedural matters such as docketing and format of pleadings (e.g., margin width and page limits). Thus, there are Ninth Circuit Local Rules and Federal District Court Local Rules for each District in Washington. They can be found in Federal Local Court Rules. At the state level, there are local rules for each county. They can be found in Washington Court Rules-Local Rules. In addition, some individual judges have standing orders governing procedure in their particular courtrooms.

Case law on the topic of civil procedure is usually found through the annotated codes and rules listed above or as footnotes in secondary sources (discussed below). As an alternative, cases on the subject can also be found using the applicable Digest: Federal Practice Digest, located at Range 3B on the Third Floor of the Library, or Washington Digest, located in Reference and on the 3rd Floor at Range 3B. There is not a Digest Topic for the general subject of "Civil Procedure." Instead, there are numerous Digest Topics that cover issues touching on civil procedure. Examples include: "Federal Civil Procedure," "Pretrial Procedure," "Process," and "Courts." Probably the most effective way to find the appropriate Topic and Key Number in a particular instance is by using the Descriptive Work Index to the Digest (the volumes are near the end of the set). Many of the citations in the Digest will be to Federal Rules Decisions, Range 3C on Third Floor of the Library. Federal Rules Decisions is a component of the West Reporting system that reports cases interpreting the federal rules. The reporter also contains rules proposals and articles on issues involving federal rules. The articles in Federal Rules Decisions are also available on Westlaw (database: FEDRDTP) as are the decisions themselves (although not as a standalone database).

Federal Rules Service, KF8830.F4, provides an alternative source for locating cases about federal civil procedure (particularly rules-based issues). The set contains a unique digest system similar to West Key numbers. This digest system is based on FRCP numbers. A researcher can determine the precise digest number from the "findex," or alternatively, the researcher can browse the volume of the Digest component that covers the rule (listed on the spine of each Digest volume). The entries in the Digest volumes summarize citations to cases. In addition to the standard citations, Federal Rules Service also cites to its own reporter volumes (part of the entire set).

Finally, cases can also be found online using Lexis, Westlaw, or other case databases. Among other methods, cases can be found by full-text search or by combining citations to known authority with key words.

Primary Sources Books

Primary Sources Books