Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

New York Research In-Depth

This guide explains the process of making laws and regulations in the state of New York.

1. COURT SYSTEM

As shown in two charts provided by the New York State Unified Court System, the New York judicial system has three levels:

The structure of the courts and appeal procedures have not changed since the last judiciary amendment of 1962. Although there have been proposals to simplify the court system in 1986 and again in 2002, changes are still not on the horizon. The proposed court reorganization of 2002 is quite extensive and would require an amendment of the New York Constitution.

Court of Appeals

"The Court of Appeals, New York State's highest court, is composed of a Chief Judge and six Associate Judges, each appointed to a 14-year term. New York's highest appellate court was established to articulate statewide principles of law in the context of deciding particular lawsuits. The Court thus generally focuses on broad issues of law as distinguished from individual factual disputes. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties." (As described on the Court of Appeals website.) The Court of Appeals also promulgates rules of the court; links to the full text of rules are available on its home page.

Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court 

"There are four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, one in each of the State's four Judicial Departments (geographical divisions). These Courts resolve appeals from judgments or orders of the superior courts of original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, and review civil appeals taken from the Appellate Terms and the County Courts acting as appellate courts." (As described on the New York State Unified Court System website.) New York County and Bronx belong to the First Judicial Department, while Kings, Queens, and Richmond Counties belong to the Second Judicial Department.

Trial Courts

"The Supreme Court is the trial court of unlimited original jurisdiction; but generally hears cases that are outside the jurisdiction of other trial courts of more limited jurisdiction.

"The County Court is established in each county outside New York City. It is authorized to handle the prosecution of all crimes committed within the County. The County Court also has limited jurisdiction in civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000.

"City Courts outside New York City exist in 61 cities and have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000. Some City Courts have separate parts to handle Small claims (up to $5,000), or housing matters. City Court judges act as arraigning magistrates and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases.

"District Courts exist in Nassau Count and in the five western towns of Suffolk County. District Courts have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses, and also conduct arraignments in felony cases. They have civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000 and small claims matters not in excess of $5,000.

"Town and Village Courts have criminal jurisdiction over violations and misdemeanors, and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $3,000. As magistrates, Town and Village Court justices hold arraignments and preliminary hearings for those charged with more serious crimes. Traffic infractions also are heard in these courts." (As described in the New York State Unified Court website.)

2. COURT OPINIONS

Official Reporters

  • New York Reports includes cases decided in the Court of Appeals of the state of New York from 1847. 1st series (N.Y.Rep.): 1847-1955; 2nd series (N.Y.Rep.2d): 1956-2003; 3rd series (N.Y.Rep.3d) 2003-present.
  • Appellate Division Reports includes cases decided in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, State of New York from 1896. 1st series (A.D.): 1896-1955; 2d series (A.D.2d): 1956-2003; 3d series (A.D.3d): 2004-present.
  • Miscellaneous Reports includes cases decided in courts of the State of New York other than the Court of Appeals and the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court from 1893. 1st series (Misc.Rep.): 1893-1955; 2nd series (Misc.Rep.2d): 1956-2003; and 3rd series (Misc.Rep.3d): 2004-present.

Unofficial Reporters

  • West's New York Supplement includes cases argued and determined in the Court of Appeals, Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, as well as the Supreme Court and other courts. 1st series (N.Y.S.): 1888-1938, 2nd series (N.Y.S.2d): 1938-present.
  • North Eastern Reporter (also known as West's North Eastern Reporter) includes cases argued and determined in the courts of Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York (Court of Appeals only), and Ohio. The original Northeastern Reporter (N.E.) covers 1885-1936. 2nd series (N.E.2d): 1936-present.
  • New York Law Journal publishes some unpublished opinions. Recent paper issues are available at the Circulation Desk until the microfiche version arrives.

Where to Find New York Court of Appeals Decisions

Where to find New York Appellate Division Decisions 

Where to Find New York Trial-Level Court Decisions 

How to Find Cases on a Topic 

  • New York Digest, (cancelled in print after 2002; for most current, use Topics and Key Number headnotes system on Westlaw for searching). "[C]ontains all headnotes, classified according to West's Key Number System, for New York state and federal court decisions [from 1961 to date (3d and 4th Series)]. The topics are listed in alphabetical order. The Key Numbers within those topics are listed in numerical order. Each topic begins with scope notes about subjects included and subjects excluded and covered by other topics." Each volume is supplemented by a pocket part and the full set is also supplemented by interim pamphlets. Includes Descriptive Word Index, Words and Phrases, and Table of Cases which provides citations, subsequent case history, and Key Numbers classifying each point of law.

Where to Find Information about Pending Cases in New York State Courts

  • Bloomberg Law. Open the Dockets & Litigation tab. Choose to search a particular New York state court or all New York state courts by typing "New York" into the Courts search box and choosing the relevant courts. Then use a terms and connectors search in the keywords search box.
  • WebCivil Supreme, New York State Unified Court System. Provides access to information about open court cases for any Civil Supreme Court case in 62 Counties, such as name of plaintiff, defendant, judge, attorney, and law firm; appearance date and type of action; decisions are available for some cases. Searchable by firm or attorney name, index number, plaintiff, and defendant. (1998 - present)
  • New York State Courts E-Filing (NYCSEF), New York State Unified Court System. Provides access to legal papers (PDF) in civil lawsuits filed electronically, except for those sealed by court order. Searchable by claim/index number, party name, or attorney name. The system currently accepts electronic filing of commercial, tort and tax certiorari cases in the Supreme Court in Albany, Bronx, Erie, Essex, Kings, Monroe, Nassau, New York, Niagara, Onodaga, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Sullivan and Westchester Counties. (2003 - present)
  • WebCrims, New York State Unified Court System. "[E]nables you to view pending criminal cases in local and superior courts in 13 counties and summons cases for all of New York City. You may search for cases by Case Number or Party Name and produce calendars by County and Part or Judge." Also displays universal summons case information for the five counties of New York City. You can search by docket number or the name of defendant. (only cases with future court dates)
  • WebHousing, New York State Unified Court System. "[O]ffers information on pending Landlord/Tenant cases in the Housing Part of New York City Civil Court (Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens and Richmond Counties) as well as the Buffalo City Court in Erie County. You may search for cases by Index Number or Party Name and produce calendars by County and Court Part." (only cases with future court dates)