Many readers already know the Court of Appeals’ schedule for release of opinions–the first and third Tuesday of every month, at 8:30 A.M. And many know that the Supreme Court issues opinions about eight times per year, usually on a Thursday or Friday, but without a discernible regular schedule. Staying current on both sets of opinions required a practitioner to check the court’s website periodically and hope to get lucky, or to just wait for N.C. Lawyers Weekly to report on the latest batch.
With its new opinions website, the court makes it easy to stay on top of precedent. Accessible through a new URL, appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/, the page collects all Court of Appeals and Supreme Court opinions since 1998 in a user-friendly format. At the top of the page, you can also enter your email address to receive automatic notification every time new opinions are filed.
Even better, the site now has a search function that can be used to scour appellate decisions for keywords without incurring the fees of subscription databases. The search function appears to cover both Court of Appeals and Supreme Court opinions, both published and unpublished. The search is powered by an open-source (read: free) search engine called “Sphider.” Though I could not find instructions on the courts’ webpage, Sphider appears to allow Boolean and other complex searches. Here’s what I discovered, from reviewing Sphider’s literature (http://www.sphider.eu/about.php) and experimenting with the Court’s webpage:
- You can use quotation marks to search for a string of text. E.g.: “tortious interference”
- You can use “AND” and “OR” to connect search terms. E.g.: negligence AND “products liability”
- The engine will find words with suffixes, but not words where the root changes. That is, a search for “negligent” will return hits for “negligently,” but not “negligence.”
- You can search for two terms within the same sentence using a “-s” operator. E.g.: interlocutory -s appeal
The search feature may not be as robust as what a frequent user of Westlaw, Lexis, or Loislaw is accustomed to, but it is certainly helpful. Note that the results are returned in what appears to be an order of relevance, and not chronological order.