You may know the citation to a relevant case because someone gave it to you; you found it cited in another case; you found it cited in a secondary source; or you found it referenced in the Case Notes or Notes of Decisions included with a statute.
To find a case by citation you must know the:
The proper parallel citation for the Williams v. Smalls case is:
Williams v. Smalls, 390 S.C. 375, 701 S.E.2d 772 (Ct. App. 2010).
You can retrieve the Williams v. Smalls case in print by either locating page 375 in volume 390 of the official South Carolina Reports (S.C.) or page 772 in volume 701 of the South Eastern Reporter 2d Series (S.E.2d). The law library maintains copies of both.
You can also access the Williams v. Smalls case online using either its South Carolina Reports (390 S.C. 375) or South Eastern Reporter 2d (701 S.E. 2d 772) cite via free websites and subscription databases like Westlaw and Lexis.
If you know only the name (Williams v. Smalls) and jurisdiction (South Carolina) of a case, you can use the Table of Cases volumes of a print digest (discussed below) to find the case by party name. You can also search online by party name and jurisdiction using free websites and subscription databases like Westlaw Edge and Lexis+. See the videos in the next section on Finding South Carolina Cases Using Westlaw & Lexis.
West Topics & Key Numbers
State court opinions are published by West in chronological order in state and regional print reporters, without regard to the legal issues they address. To help researchers find these opinions by subject, West assigns a topic and key number to each legal issue in a case. Short summaries of these issues, along with their assigned topics and key numbers (representing sub-topics) are added to the official text of the opinions. These summaries are called headnotes. You may wish to refer back to the Anatomy of a Case tab to examine the headnotes.
The law library maintains copies of both digests. South Carolina Digest 2d and West's South Eastern Digest 2d (which indexes headnotes from all cases reported in its South Eastern Reporters (SC, NC, GA, VA, WV)).
You can also use these print digests to find South Carolina cases by Party Name using Table of Cases volumes and by subject using Words and Phrases volumes.
Westlaw's West Key Number System
The online equivalent to West print digests is the West Key Number System in Westlaw. The Key Numbers link on the home page of Westlaw takes you to the West Key Number System page where you can choose a jurisdiction and browse or search West topics and key numbers to find headnotes within cases relevant to your issue. Each headnote hyperlinks to the case it comes from.
Lexis assigns topics to the LexisNexis Headnotes it adds to the opinions in its database. You can use the Topics tab on the home page of Lexis to browse a list of topics, locate cases on a particular issue, and filter them by jurisdiction.
See the videos in the next section, Finding South Carolina Cases Using Westlaw & Lexis.
One Good Case
Below is the first page of the South Carolina Court of Appeals opinion in Williams v. Smalls affirming a Marion County Circuit Court's decision that S.C. Code Ann. § 47-7-110 did not impose strict liability upon Mr. Smalls when Ms. Williams's automobile collided with his escaped cows on the highway.
This specific issue is summarized in headnote number 1 of the Williams v. Smalls opinion. The number 1 tells you where in the opinion the court discusses this particular issue. In a print reporter, you turn to the part of the opinion assigned the number 1. In Westlaw, you either scroll down to number 1 in the opinion or select the link for number 1 next to the headnote, which takes you directly to where the court addresses the strict liability issue. Lexis uses a similar system of numbering and assigning topics to its LexisNexis Headnotes.
Now that you have one good case, you can use the West topic Automobiles, key number 289.5 assigned to headnote number 1 in the Williams v. Smalls opinion to find more South Carolina or other state cases on this legal issue.
In print, you locate the topic Automobiles and key number 289.5 in the appropriate digest volume.
In Westlaw, you select the link for key number 289.5 under the topic Automobiles in headnote number 1 of the Williams v. Smalls opinion and then filter to choose your jurisdiction.
In Lexis, you select the link to the relevant headnote topic above the headnote addressing this issue and then filter to choose your jurisdiction.
See videos in the next section on Finding South Carolina Cases Using Westlaw & Lexis.
The most efficient way to conduct a keyword search (also known as full-text search) online for case law is to first limit your search to the narrowest database possible before you type in your search terms. For example, search for South Carolina cases only, instead of all state and federal cases. The algorithm can search a smaller database more quickly than a larger one, and you will have fewer irrelevant results to sort through.
Your initial keyword search may help you find that "one good case" that will then allow you to find additional cases on that issue using the headnotes as described above.
Opinions from the South Carolina Court of Appeals and the South Carolina Supreme Court are available from 1997 to the present on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website.
To locate these opinions, click on the Opinion Search link using the "Legal Community" tab, or the "Opinions/Orders" link on the banner at the top of the home page.
There are five options for searching South Carolina appellate court opinions on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website: by case number, by court, by the appellate court judge who wrote the opinion, by the judge who decided the case at trial, and by a full text search of the opinion.
Google Scholar is a good resource for searching for cases on the South Carolina Judicial Branch website and for finding older South Carolina appellate court opinions. Google Scholar allows you to choose a jurisdiction and to research more than one jurisdiction in a single search. Our researchers have located South Carolina opinions on Google Scholar as far back as 1940.