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Circuit Riders: Finding South Carolina Cases

Basic Legal Research Guide

Finding South Carolina Cases in Print

West publishes South Carolina cases in chronological order in both the South Carolina Reports and the South Eastern Reporters. It also publishes the South Carolina and South Eastern digests to help you find cases published in these reportersIf you have access to print reporters and digests, there are five key methods for finding South Carolina cases:

1. by citation;

2. by party name;

3. by word or phrase; 

4. by subject using an index; and

5. by West Topic & Key Numbers.

1. Citation
The easiest way to locate a court opinion is by citation.

You may have the cite 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 annotations to a statute.

Case citations contain the case name, volume, reporter, and page number where the case begins. Once you have the citation for that case, you can locate it by the designated volume and page number of either the official South Carolina Reports (S.C.) or the South Eastern Reporter 2d Series (S.E.2d).

SC Reports and South Eastern Reporter volumes.

For example, the Russell v. Wachovia Bank, N.A. South Carolina Supreme Court opinion can be found in print in either volume 353 of the South Carolina Reports (S.C.) on page 208 or volume 578 of the South Eastern Reporter 2d Series (S.E.2d) on page 329.

Russell v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 353 S.C. 208, 578 S.E.2d 329 (2003).

The Howard v. Nasser South Carolina Court of Appeals opinion can be found in print in either volume 364 of the South Carolina Reports (S.C.) on page 279 or volume 613 of the South Eastern Reporter 2d Series (S.E.2d) on page 64.

Howard v. Nasser, 364 S.C. 279, 613 S.E.2d 64 (Ct. App. 2005).

2. Party Name

You may know the name of a South Carolina case, but not it's citation.


If you are using print resources, you can find a South Carolina case by party name using the Table of Cases volumes of the South Carolina Digest where case citations are listed by both the name of the plaintiff (Howard) and the name of the defendant (Nasser). 








3. Word or Phrase
The South Carolina Digest also includes Words and Phrases volumes that list words and phrases alphabetically, along with citations and summaries of South Carolina cases that interpret their meaning or application.

For example, the Russell and Howard cases cited above both involve family members contesting a will based on a claim of undue influence. You might find either or both of these cases listed in the Words and Phrases volume of the South Carolina Digest under the phrase "undue influence."

4. Subject Using an Index

West summarizes the issues in each case published in its reporters and assigns each summary, called a headnote, at least one topic and key number (subtopic). West adds these headnotes to the beginning of the official opinions (see the Matter of Estate of Smith case below) and publishes them by topic and key number in West digests like the South Carolina Digest and the South Eastern Digest.

All print digests include Descriptive Word Index volumes to help you find cases by subject. Under the topic "Wills" in the Descriptive Word Index to the South Carolina Digest you will find the subtopic "undue influence." That subtopic will be assigned a key number. You can then consult the digest volume that contains the topic (Wills) and key number assigned to the subtopic "undue influence" to find headnotes with citations to South Carolina cases addressing will contests and undue influence.

5. West Topic & Key Numbers

In addition to using a digest's Descriptive Word Index, you may also use the headnotes in one good case to find West Topics & Key Numbers assigned to your legal issue (e.g., wills and undue influence). Perhaps you find a case cited in an article or book, the annotations to a statute, or in another case.  Once you identify a topic and key number from that case, you can go directly to that topic and key number in the South Carolina Digest to find more cases on that legal issue.

For example, in the Matter of Estate of Smith case below headnotes 1 though 4 are assigned the topic Wills and different key numbers for the subtopics they represent. Headnote number 2 reads:

For a will to be invalidated for "undue influence," the influence must be the kind of mental coercion which destroys the free agency of the creator and constrains him to do things which are against his free will, and that he would not have done if he had been left to his own judgment and volition. 

To read more South Carolina cases on this test for invalidating a will due to "undue influence," you can consult the South Carolina Digest under the topic Wills, key number 155.1.

First page showing headnote number 2 in the Matter of Estate of Smith case.

Finding South Carolina Cases for Free Online

State appellate courts may provide several years of opinions on their websites to browse and search for free, but without editorial enhancements like case summaries and headnotes added by publishers like West and LexisNexis.  

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 Department website at www.sccourts.orgTo search these opinions, click on the Opinion Search link using the "Legal Community" tab, or the Opinion Search link using the "Opinions/Orders" dropdown at the top of the home page. 


South Carolina Judicial Department's home page.

There are five search options: 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 text search of all published opinions, which could include the case name. 
Search box for Search #5: Text Search of All Published Opinions.

Google Scholar is another free resource for searching South Carolina appellate court opinions, including older South Carolina cases as far back as 1940.

Google Scholar website.

Finding Other State Cases for Free Online

Map of the United States; indicating state coverage of West Regional Reporters.


States typically provide access to several years of appellate court opinions on their judicial system websites. The National Center for State Courts maintains a State Court Web sites page.

Free nongovernmental sites also provide access to all state court opinions, including Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute's Listing by Jurisdiction; FindLaw’s Cases and Codes; Fastcase’s Public Library of Law; Google Scholar; and JUSTIA.

Free websites may allow you to choose a single state, search multiple states or search all state case law at once. Some free websites provide many years of state court opinions; however, free websites do not include headnotes and other enhancements to cases available through paid subscription databases.

The law school library maintains current versions of West regional reporters for access to all states' case law in print, which include headnotes.

Finding South Carolina Cases Using Subscription Databases

South Carolina colleges and universities and public libraries may provide access to South Carolina and all other state cases through subscriptions to Westlaw or LexisNexis.

Some public library systems in South Carolina offer public access to Westlaw for its members. The University of South Carolina subscribes to NexisUni™ (formerly LexisNexis Academic).

With access to Westlaw or NexisUni, you can search for South Carolina cases by citation, by party name, by keyword search and using the headnotes from one good case. Westlaw uses West topics and key numbers, while NexisUni uses LexisNexis headnote topics.