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Dockets, Court Documents, Transcripts, and Recordings

Using and Understanding Docket Numbers

Courts assign each case case a docket number to make it easier to track. Usually, it's not necessary to understand how docket numbers are assigned to use them to retrieve cases. However, understanding how docket numbers are constructed can be helpful for correcting mistyped docket numbers and determining where and when a case was filed.

Each court generally has its own system for assigning docket numbers, which may include some or all of the following:

  • The year the case was filed, in two or four digit format.
  • The court the case was filed in, represented by a letter or number.
  • The type of case (e.g. civil, criminal, bankruptcy).
  • A sequence number, randomly assigned to each case as it is filed. 

To learn how a specific court assigns docket numbers, check:

  • The court's website
  • Westlaw's source information for the court, which generally explains how the court assigns docket numbers. To view this information, navigate to the court's page in Westlaw's Dockets section and then click the i symbol beneath the court's name.

Common sources of confusion include:

  • Skipping or altering punctuation (2:14-ap-123456 vs. 214ap123456)
  • Skipping or adding leading zeros (7-4771 vs. 07-04771).
  • Skipping or altering parts of the docket number. In particular:
    • Letters indicating case type are often skipped (2:14-ap-123456 vs. 2:14-123456; C-07-04771 vs. 07-04771)
    • Letters at the end of the number are usually local notes such as, e.g. the judge's initials, and are commonly skipped (2:14-cv-123456-ABC-RZ vs. 2:14-cv-123456).

California Docket Numbers

California Supreme and Appeals Court docket numbers are assigned uniformly throughout the state, but each county has its own system for assigning docket numbers and the formats vary widely.

Check the individual county court website or Westlaw for details on how counties outside of LA assign their docket numbers.

By consulting the California Courts of Appeals case number prefixes, we can tell that the above docket is a second district Court of Appeals case with the sequence number 12345. California Courts of Appeals cases are given prefixes A through G, while California Supreme Court cases are given the prefix S.

By consulting the LA County Superior Court's case number prefix matrix, we can tell the above docket is in the central district (B) is a civil case (C) and has the sequence number 123456.

Federal Docket Numbers

Each circuit and district assigns docket numbers independently but uses the same basic format. As a result, the same docket number may be assigned to different cases in different courts. For example:

  • The docket number 14-1234 might refer to a 2014 appellate case filed in any of the circuits or the Supreme Court.
  • The docket number 2:14-cv-123456 may refer to a case filed in Los Angeles (court 2 in the Central District of California), Memphis (court 2 in the Western District of Tennessee), Phoenix (court 2 in the District of Arizona), or any other court assigned the number 2 within its district.

The docket number above tells us that this case was filed in 2014, with the sequence number 12345. It might be from the Supreme Court or from any Court of Appeals- based on the docket number alone there is no way to tell.

The docket number above tells us that the case is from a district court that has been assigned the number 2 within its district, was filed in 2014, and is an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court, with the sequence number 123456. It might be from a court in any district- based on the docket number alone there is no way to tell. 

Common case types include:

  • cv for civil
  • cr for criminal
  • br for bankruptcy

When searching for a docket, skip any letters or numbers after the sequence number. These are not officially part of the docket number but simply local notes, typically the judge's initials and sometimes information about the type of case. For example:

  • VZ for Judge Vincent Zurzolo
  • ABC-RZ for Judge Audrey B. Collins and Magistrate Judge Ralph Zarefsky
  • UA-DUTY for unassigned judge and on duty magistrate
  • TOM13 for Judge Tamara O. Mitchell and Chapter 13 bankruptcy

For details on court numbers, case type abbreviations, and local notes, check the court's website, such as the California Central District's district court website (scroll down to Case Naming Conventions) and the bankruptcy court website.