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Legal Research

Fundamentals of Legal Research

Case law comes from the court systems

Only courts create case law. (And only legislatures create statutes.)

CASE LAW is PRIMARY law made by the courts.

Court systems

In the United States, the federal and state court systems are comprised of trial courtsintermediate courts of appeal, and a supreme court of last resort. BEWARE! Most state cases cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Only state cases involving federal questions or diversity of citizenship may be appealed from a state's highest court to the federal system. You'll learn more about this in Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure.

Maine Courts

The Maine judicial system consists of three divisions - appellate, superior, and district courts.

The appellate division is the Supreme Judicial Court which hears appeals from trial courts. The Supreme Judicial Court is also called "Maine Law Court."

Maine does not have an intermediate appellate court.

Both the District and Superior divisions are trial divisions. Superior Courts have original jurisdiction over cases involving criminal actions and larger sums of money. The district courts and probate courts have limited jurisdiction over lesser criminal offenses, civil actions, and family law matters. For more detailed information, head over to the Maine Court System website

Federal court map

Interactive court locator: Find Federal Circuit (intermediate appellate) and District (trial) courts