Digests are indexes for case opinions published in reports. With few exceptions, the reports provide only appellate decisions; therefore, the digests do not provide access to trial level records. (One notable exception to trial level reporting is selective opinion reporting for the United States District Courts.)
The digests most often used are those published by West Publishing Co. West's publishing philosophy is to report all of the opinions of all appellate level courts for state jurisdictions and to publish all opinions submitted to it by all levels of the federal courts. To access the opinions in its reporters, it developed the "key number" system which is an index and abstract system for locating relevant case law.
The researcher should also be aware that not all decisions from a court will be reported and subsequently digested. Courts issue many rulings and decisions that are never reproduced or otherwise indexed. These can be simple procedural orders or they may in fact be "opinions". Courts may designate opinions as not for publication in which case they will not be reproduced by West. The Washington State Court of Appeals and the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit both have rules governing the publication of their opinions; both courts issue most of their rulings as unpublished opinions or memorandum dispositions. Occasionally, a publisher other than West will pick up these "opinions" and publish them in a service; however, they will not be indexed in West's digests. Two computer assisted legal research services, Westlaw and Lexis, reproduce "opinions" on-line which have not been included in printed reports. In either case, the researcher should verify if the "opinion" is in fact designated by the court as one for publication. The researcher should study the court rules for any restrictions on citing to opinions designated as not for publication.
FINDING CASES BY TOPIC
FINDING DEFINITIONS/TERMS OF ART
If you are interested in a definition for a particular phrase or term of art, you may try looking in "Words and Phrases". Washington has its own volume of "Words and Phrases" which is part of the Digest. West also publishes a multi-jurisdictional set call Words and Phrases. If the term has been defined by the courts, the cite will follow the entry for the term.
If you just need a cite and if you know the names of the parties to a case, you can use the "Table of Cases" or the "Defendant-Plaintiff Tables". You will need the last name for each of the first named plaintiff and defendant; these tables do not cross index by more than one plaintiff or one defendant. Due to the fact that on appeal the order of the parties may switch, be sure to try both tables for the particular case.
FINDING ADDITIONAL AUTHORITY
If you have a particular case which is on point, but you would like to find others for further support, use the headnotes which are found at the beginning of your case. The headnotes refer to the key word and number under which West has indexed the case; use these to get back into the digest or to check any other West digest for similar cases.
The Washington Digest covers reported cases from Washington which are decided in the State Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, the United States District Courts for the Eastern and Western Districts of Washington, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the United States Supreme Court. Cases from the Ninth Circuit and the United States Supreme Court are included only if they originated in Washington State, either in state courts or the federal trial level courts, and if they involve questions of Washington law.
Other relevant digests for locating cases from Washington are: the United States Supreme Court Digest; the Federal Practice Digest series, which covers the United States Supreme Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and all other circuits, and the United States District Courts; the United States Claims Court Digest; the Pacific Digest series; and, the Bankruptcy Digest.