Posted below are explanations of library research assignments on statutes, common law, and secondary sources. Where practical I’ve linked to Westlaw or LexisNexis. (You’ll have to enter your Westlaw or LexisNexis password to view the link.) Your secondary sources grade will be available by next week. If you have any questions or comments please do not hesitate to contact librarians Tom Hemstock (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Anthony Aycock (email@example.com).
I. Statutory Research Assignment
You are a summer associate working for the law firm of Coleridge Byron & Shelley. One day, your daughter comes home from school and says that Justin Needlewick—a kid nobody likes—told her that the law says that the United States flag is supposed to have only 48 stars on it, not 50. “Is Justin right?” your daughter asks you.
- Where in the U.S.C.S. or U.S.C.A. do you start (e.g., table of contents, index, Popular Name Table)?
General Index. At the end of both the USCS and the USCA, published by LexisNexis and West respectively, there is a multi volume index that covers the entire code. Generally searching for a narrow term and gradually expanding your search is a good pattern for finding the information you are looking for.
- What subject terms will lead you to the relevant statute section?
Flags è proportions, sizes and positions of starts
Flag è stars and stripes, generally
Both the USCA and the USCS are indexed independently and slightly differently as this example illustrates. If you are having trouble finding your term in one index try using the other index. LexisNexis features a searchable table of contents and Westlaw features a searchable index.
- Turn to this statute section. How many stars are supposed to be on the United States flag?
Remember that context matters. Instantly one realizes that this section can’t be right because we know the flag has 50 not 48 stars. Even though this language is clear we need to look at the context. For example by looking at the date of the statute and the surrounding context we can see that the statute’s meaning is altered by the next section.
- On what date was the statute passed?
July 30, 1947
This information is found after the text of the statute in the history section. The history section lists when the statute was originally passed, and when amendments were passed. Why does this matter? In practice the date of the statute can be critical. For example a tax case that interprets the statute as it was in 1980 or 1990 instead of 2008. By looking at the amendments one can see the law as it was in the year of the tax matter.
- Turn the page(s) to the next section of the statute. How does this affect the previous section? Is Justin Needlewick right?
For each new state, add one star. Justin is only partially right.
While excavating a koi pond in your backyard you discover a strangely shaped small stone. Upon further inspection you believe that this is a Native American arrowhead. While your first impulse is exclaim “Neat!” and pocket the arrowhead, you wonder if there are any North Carolina statutes discussing this issue.
1. How would you use the statutes to find the answer to this question? (version of the general statutes used, terms used, electronic search terms used, cross references found, etc.)
Using West’s NC General Statutes Annotated
Numerous different ways to get into the material. Archaeology à Indian Antiquities or Indians à Antiquities or Artifacts. “Native Americans” cross-references to “Indians”. There is no reference to arrowhead.
Using General Statutes of North Carolina (Lexis)
Lexis’ index differs slightly from West. There is no entry for archaeology.
Indians à Antiquities à Possessors of relics urged to commit them to custody of state agencies. Or Indians à Antiquities à Burial Grounds à Relics generally.
Like West there is no reference to the term “arrowhead”.
“Native Americans” cross references to “Indians”.
1. Browsing (or searching) the table contents of any of the above sources shows that Chapter 70 is titled “INDIAN ANTIQUITIES, ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESOURCES AND UNMARKED HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS PROTECTION”.
2. Westlaw or LexisNexis
Remember LexisNexis features a searchable table of contents and Westlaw features a searchable index.
Creating a Search
First step: Find the appropriate database. Both LexisNexis and Westlaw contain the North Carolina General Statutes. The easiest way to pull up this database is to create a North Carolina tab. Alternatively you could use the Find a Database Tab (Lexis) or Search for a Database (on the left side of Westlaw’s Law School tab.)
Second step: Use a full text search or use the index online. Using the index online follows the same process as in print. Sometimes searching full text can be difficult, for example here the term “arrowhead” doesn’t show up in the text or case annotations to the text. Some searches that do work include:
Indians /s artifact
Having trouble thinking up terms? Try typing in terms that you do know and then clicking on Thesaurus to generate additional terms.
Third step: Review the results of your search. Terms that you searched for will be noted in the text.
2. What is the North Carolina statute that discusses this topic? Can I keep the arrow head?
N.C. Gen. Stat. § 70-2 (2005) or N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 70-2 (West 2000)
Yes, the arrowhead may be kept, but one is urged to commit them (relics) to custody of State agencies if there is a danger of loss or destruction.
3. When was the statute originally passed? Where would one find the original language of the statute?
Westlaw and West’s Annotated statutes both list the date the statute was amended: 1973. However, Lexis and Lexis-Nexis both list the date of the original statute – 1935.
The language of the 1935 statute would be found in the North Carolina Session Laws. The North Carolina session laws are the equivalent to the federal Statutes at Large. These volumes contain the original text of the statute before subsequent amendments are added. In LP II next semester this information will be researched further in legislative history.
II. Common Law Research Assignment
Please use only print resources for this problem.
It’s 5:58 on a Friday afternoon, and you are reading your last assignment for your copyright law class: a U.S. Office of Legal Counsel opinion on fair use. The opinion cites a case, Salinger v. Random House, Inc, 811 F.2d 90, that you decide you want to read (instead of heading to Uptown for your usual Friday night shenanigans).
- Look up Salinger in the appropriate reporter. When was the case decided? How was the case decided?
January 29, 1987 & reversed and remanded. This information is all found directly below the title of the case. West is the only printer of the Federal Reporter 2d. Use Sloan or the Bluebook to determine what F.2d stands for if you are unsure of the abbreviation. 811 refers to the volume and 90 refers to the page number. In general citation will follow this format:
[Case or Title name][Volume][Abbreviation of Source] [Page number or section number].
- One of the points of law discussed in this case is that the author of a letter is entitled to copyright protection just as with any other literary work. Which West topic and key number corresponds to this point of law?
Topic: Copyrights and Intellectual Property
Key number: 5
West’s topic and key number system is a great time saver for finding relevant information in cases. In print the point of law (number 1, 2, 3, etc.) will correspond with a bracketed number (, ) in the case where the issue is discussed. On Westlaw these numbers are hyperlinked for easier access.
- You decide to find a more recent federal case that discusses this point of law. What series of books would you use to accomplish this?
West’s Federal Practice Digest 4d.
Every series of reporters has a digest that indexes cases. For example the North Carolina Digest indexes North Carolina cases, the South Carolina Digest indexes South Carolina cases and the Federal Digest indexes federal cases. Since “federal cases” covers a large number of cases the Digest is divided chronologically into four parts.
- Using this series of books, you discover Wright v. Warner Books, Inc., a 1991 case. What is the citation to this case?
953 F.2d 731. This is where the power of topics and key numbers is revealed. If you search West’s Federal Practice Digest 4d for the topic Copyrights and Intellectual Property and the key number 5 you will find additional cases on the same legal issues. As with all print products be sure to check if there is a pocket part with the newest cases.
5. Returning to Salinger, you focus on another point of law: the idea that a biography that copies portions of an author’s copyrighted, unpublished letters would probably impair the market for those letters. Using the same procedure from questions 3-4, you find a case, Bond v. Blum, that discusses the use of an unpublished manuscript in a child custody proceeding. What is the citation to this case?
317 F.3d 385. By reading the head notes in Salinger you can determine the topic and key number. (Intellectual Property & Copyright Intellectual Property 56). Then you can take this information and search in West’s Federal Practice Digest 4d for additional cases. (Remember to check the pocket part.)
For this set of questions assume that your office is located in New Jersey.
Your client, Randolph Carter, arrives in your office highly agitated and upset. He revises his will and bequeaths his modest estate to Miskatonic University. Six months following these events Mr. Carter is found dead; a police investigation determines he committed suicide. Mr. Carter’s relatives, understandably unhappy that they have been omitted from the new will, challenge his testamentary capacity based on his later suicide.
What search terms did you use in the Descriptive Word Index or database?
Wills, suicide, insanity, insane – all of these are helpful keywords to search in print or in Westlaw & LexisNexis. If you electronically searched for this information online (using New Jersey cases) searches such as:
“testamentary capacity” /s suicide
This is an example of a proximity search. “/s” searches for the terms in the same sentence. Using quotes searches for an exact phrase.
What topic and key number best fit this scenario? Is there a North Carolina case on this topic and key number?
Wills 55(8), no.
Reading the headnotes from the search uncovers this information. Remember that although the topic and key number system is universal there may not be cases on this point of law from all jurisdictions.
Will Mr. Carter’s heirs be able to successfully argue that a subsequent suicide is evidence of lack of mental capacity?
No. This information is found in the cases retrieved.