Conscientious searchers know that an exhaustive pre-funding due diligence investigation will include a search of court records for civil litigation involving their prospect. Not being attorneys however, many are unsure of what to order or what information they will need to provide to get the ball rolling.
In addition to the search name, there are five basic pieces of information you will need to supply in order to secure a relevant and fruitful result. Here is a brief discussion of what information you should be prepared to provide.
1. What Court?
The U.S. Court system contains hundreds of courts, each fulfilling a specific purpose and a serving a defined region of the country. You will need to indicate to your searcher in what court you would like them to search for cases involving your party. What court you elect to search will depend upon where your party resides and the type of cases you are interested in turning up.
For information on what types of cases are heard at which court, please visit the U.S. Courts website at http://www.uscourts.gov/Home.aspx
2. Plaintiff or Defendant?
Are you looking only for cases where your party is listed as defendant in order to learn if they have had suit filed against them or are you also interested to in cases brought about by your party as plaintiff? Or maybe both? Your searcher will be looking to you to advise in what role they should search for your party name.
3. Open and Closed Cases?
Cases remain on a court’s searchable index even after they have been closed. Let your searcher know if you are looking for open cases only (sometime referred to as pending) or if you’d like closed cases reported as well. It is a good idea to work with your searcher up front to clearly define these terms; case status can sometimes be confusing.
4. How many years?
It is also useful to communicate to your searcher how far back you want them to query. The given court’s index may reach back 50 years or more! If very old cases are not pertinent to your transaction, let your searcher know that by asking them to report cases with a more recent file date; a 10 year search is particularly common.
5. Copies of?
Lastly, if any cases are found that match your search parameters, what documents would you like to see from the case? Keep in mind that case files are often large and copies are typically billed at a per page rate. Many people choose to order a certain set of documents from cases that will provide them an overview of what transpired. One frequent copy package includes the docket, complaint and judgment for any cases that were located.
And remember, effective litigation research is a painstaking process that requires a great deal of concentration and expertise. Communicating clear search parameters to your searcher enables them to swiftly and accurately identify cases that are of interest to you.