Best Practices

Litigation Searching

Searching for civil cases by party name as long been part of a comprehensive public records search, along with state and county lien searches. When determining the correct jurisdiction to search, the Uniform Commercial Code and IRS Code have offered significant guidance as to the proper place to record liens against entities and individuals. In contrast, lawsuits may be filed in numerous jurisdictions, making it much more cumbersome to identify which courts should be searched in order to uncover lawsuits.

Even when the proper court is searched, court indices are not straightforward and litigation can be difficult to locate solely by party name. For example, many courts will index only the first named Defendant and Plaintiff; additional parties not included in the title case are nearly impossible to discover.

Limiting the scope of the search to open cases can be perilous. Searching only open litigation may preclude the searcher from uncovering all judgments. It is a common misconception that all judgments rendered in court are simultaneously recorded as a lien. This is not a requirement in all states. Even when judgments are recorded, there is often a significant gap in the time between the case closing in the court, and the final judgment appearing in the judgment index or real property records. In addition to missing judgment liens, failing to review closed cases may leave the searcher unaware that a closed case has moved forward in the appeals process and is now an open case at the appeals court.

Unfortunately, some court search issues, such as incomplete indexing of party names, are out of the control of the searcher. However, when considering best practices for litigation searching, the searcher may increase the success of his due diligence by widening the jurisdictional scope of the search to include a review of closed-case dockets.