For instance, this database collects federal lawsuits against corporations.

Is there an equivalent one that collects state and local government initiated lawsuits?

  • 1
    Each state and local government will have their own database, either paper or online. – BlueDogRanch Feb 5 at 0:50
  • @BlueDogRanch I'm relatively new to this field. Do you mind giving me one example (one link)? Also, if local governments have such databases publicly available, then I would imagine some commercial vendor would have worked to put them together. – J Li Feb 5 at 0:51

Short Answer

Not really.

Long Answer

There are two kinds of court documents.

The ones primarily used by lawyers in cases other than the actual case being litigated are published court opinions in appeals, and sometimes of trial court rulings on motions or bench trials or legal issues. These cases are assembled by legal publication companies in what used to be long sequential series of hard bound books called "reports" although this is not predominantly done electronically.

But every court case produces a court file which is maintained by a court clerk. Historically this has usually been done at the trial court clerk level in each county, with appellate court filing that are not published maintained by court clerks for each appellate court.

The federal courts have modernized this into a single online record keeping system for non-sealed court documents available to the general public over the Internet for a modest charge known as PACER (there is a parallel system linked to it in which lawyers and parties and judges can file documents after getting an account in that system).

Some states have partially or fully consolidated state court files into on online system and there is considerable variation in the degree to which non-lawyer can access these files over the Internet (anyone can go to a court clerk's office and get copies of the non-sealed court files maintained by that clerk in paper form at a modest charge). But most state court records aren't searchable by members of the general public and aren't available to members of the general public over the Internet.

If there is an equivalent database to the one you mention that collects state- and local-government initiated lawsuits against corporations on a comprehensive basis, I've never seen it or heard about it.

If I wanted to, I could do a search of the court records of all of the post-digitized court cases brought by a particular governmental entity in Colorado's court records (except in municipal courts and the Denver County Court which are not part of the state record keeping system). I could likewise do a search of all post-digitized court cases brought against a particular corporation in Colorado's courts (with the same exceptions).

But I could not do a search of all records of all cases brought by any governmental entity (there are about 30,000 of them in the U.S.) against any corporation (there are several million corporations in the U.S.), and there really isn't an efficient way to compile such a list. It would take pure brute force pouring through case captions, without cooperation in a research agreement with the state court e-filing system administrator and a human subject committee review approval (which could probably both be obtained with enough work).

There are private companies, primarily credit reporting agencies for business debtors, such as Dun and Bradstreet, and Standard & Poors, that systemically pay for and process bulk downloads of all case fillings in almost every court at great expense to prepare a system of credit reports, and their data is available for a substantial fee, generally on a per party search basis, or on a subscription basis, which also isn't cheap. I had a subscription to D&B for a year or two since I had a case where this was necessary to finance the expense, and it wasn't crushingly expensive, but it wasn't cheap either.

Another private database is Lexis Nexus. It is best known for its legal search database, mostly of published and unpublished appellate court decisions that competes primarily with Westlaw, the other major online commercial database of published and unpublished court decisions. But Lexis Nexus also maintains a database of newspaper and magazine and scholarly research articles, and an appropriate search of that database would reveal lawsuits by governments against corporations that were reported upon, not only in the national news, but by local media sources and in industry journals. It isn't the most expensive of private sources, but it isn't the cheapest either, unless you have an academic subscription.

There is also a service called the jury verdict reporter the maintains as comprehensive a list of civil jury verdicts as it can, but that wouldn't be a great fit to the search criteria and would also be quite expensive to utilize outside paper copies in a law library.

It might be somewhat manageable for someone with a lawyer's access to the e-filing system to set out to list all lawsuits filed against 100 to 500 large publicly held corporations in a single state, and then to manually purge those lists by the governmental or non-governmental character of the plaintiffs, during the e-filing era, although it would still be an epic and expensive task. But there isn't any free source that has done it. Any publicly available databases are extremely fragmentary.

Another way to dramatically focus the search would be to limit the scope of government plaintiffs searched. There are roughly 30,000 state and local governments in the United States. But State governments would bring the lion's share of interesting lawsuits against publicly held corporations and there are only 50 of those (plus D.C. and territorial governments) to search. If you limited it to state criminal prosecutions against corporations (which are extremely rare), that would narrow your search even further, although it would still be cumbersome to winnow down.

After state government plaintiffs you'd want to focus on the county and municipal governments in the place where each corporation has its headquarters, on county and municipal governments in state capitols, and on county and municipal governments in places where each corporation has its largest operations other than its headquarters (especially central cities in major metropolitan areas).

For cases filed prior to the e-filing system, you would have even more work, realistically, having to go from court house to court house in every single county to review paper based indexes of court files (although at least you could sort cases based upon case names alone without reviewing the content of the files).

Finally, there is a non-court record source that is available for publicly held corporations, of which there are several thousand. This is EDGAR which is the databased of federal corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission that contains annual and quarterly reports from publicly held companies and also supplemental disclosures from those companies in some circumstances. Publicly held companies are required to mention in their SEC reports available on the Internet via EDGAR all material lawsuits against the company. So, if you wanted to develop a database of material lawsuits in all jurisdictions filed by governments against say, all corporations in the S&P 500, EDGAR reports would be a fairly efficient way to go about it, even though these reports also contain lots of non-lawsuit related information.

But closely held companies don't have to file reports with the SEC so an EDGAR search would not reveal lawsuits filed by governments against privately held corporations.

If you were primarily interested in criminal cases against corporations, select reports of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and a handful of U.S. states also have similar commissions that might sometimes discuss sentences for corporations as criminal defendants, although these would be quite rare.

There are also likely to be databases specific to suits commonly brought by governments against corporations, such as anti-trust cases, labor law cases, and environmental cases.

  • This is very helpful. Btw, I'm starting to wonder if you are the main responder in almost every question on this forum. Two quick follow up question: 1) does Lexis Nexus and/or West law contain structured (table form) information that is useful for statistical analysis? 2) what do legal due diligence professionals use when they need to find out all lawsuits against an entity? – J Li Feb 5 at 8:05
  • "I'm starting to wonder if you are the main responder in almost every question on this forum." I respond to what interests me when I have time, some subjects more than others. "1) does Lexis Nexus and/or West law contain structured (table form) information that is useful for statistical analysis?" No. "2) what do legal due diligence professionals use when they need to find out all lawsuits against an entity?" Searching one entity in a single state isn't too hard with e-filing systems. When more are at play lawyers band together is split the task usually. – ohwilleke Feb 5 at 21:06

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