Legal Skills Guides: American Law Reports
American Law Reports
A major client's
son, who attends a public middle school, is being teased in a sexual manner by
one of his male classmates. The school says that because the teasing is
by a fellow male student, it can't constitute "sexual harassment," and that
"boys will be boys" and the son just needs to get a thicker skin. The
son is starting to dread going to school. Your job: to find some
useful law which will encourage the school to take this situation seriously.
Your helpful law librarian suggests James Rapp's excellent seven-volume set,
Education Law (Matthew Bender, 1984). But -- oh no! -- the volume
you need is out. Will you have to do some needle in a haystack Westlaw or
Lexis search to find a relevant case, which will turn out to be from Idaho in
1972? No! This is the time to go to
American Law Reports, or
"the ALRs," a series of reporters begun in 1919 (and now up to
its sixth "series") which contain "annotations" (really, they're like
very detailed law review articles) on over 27,000 legal topics.
What is an ALR annotation?
Each ALR annotation addresses a single legal issue. The author discusses the most important cases
and state or federal statutes governing that issue, and also points you to
places where the issue is discussed in other research and practice sources,
Corpus Juris Secundum,
L.Ed's Federal Procedure (which we don't have),
Am Jur Proof of Facts,
Pleading and Practice Forms, and the L.Ed and
ALR Digests. In
addition, annotations will usually include a list of law review articles on the
topic, and may even give you West Digest key numbers and sample Westlaw and
Lexis search queries, to help you find more cases. Finally, the
annotation will include a list of other, related annotations, which may help
you find one that is even more relevant to your issue.
The ALRs are all on the second floor, with the regional reporters and digests.
If you look at them you will find -- yikes! -- the original
as well as its successors,
Federal 2d, hundreds of books altogether.
Why does the library need this many different versions of the ALR (some
of them really ancient and out-of-date looking)?
Here's why: while most of the
early ALR annotations have been replaced, over time, with new and more
updated versions, some have not. For that reason, we still need to keep
the older editions of the ALRs. Also, the ALR Federal
discusses only federal laws and statutes (guessed that from its title, didn't
you?), whereas the
regular ALR discusses topics which are affected only by state law, or by
a combination of federal and state laws. Note, though, that a
topic which is affected by both state and federal law may be discussed in
both the regular ALR and the ALR Federal. One of those
annotations may be more comprehensive or up-to-date than the other, so you really
should find and read both.
How do I find any annotations on my topic?
The ALRs have a ridiculous number of indexes, tables and digests. Fortunately, the
indexes of many of the ALRs are combined,
and some are overlapping, so you won't have to look at everything.
If you are looking for information regarding a specific federal case,
go to the ALR Federal Table of Cases, a group of paperback books at the end of the
ALR Federal. Look up your
case in the tables, which will then direct you to the most recent annotation about
it in the
ALR Federal or
ALR Federal 2d.
If you are looking for information about a specific state case,
try looking in the
ALR 5th and 6th Table of Cases, a group of paperback volumes
located at the end of the
ALR 5th. Keep in mind, however,
that these books only include cases which are mentioned in annotations in the
ALR 5th and
6th, not the earlier ALRs. Just because you don't
find the case in this particular set of books doesn't mean that it isn't
discussed somewhere in the ALRs (particularly if it was decided well
before 1992, when the
ALR 5th was first issued), and you will need to try
to look it up by the area of law it addresses, as discussed below.
If you are looking for information on a topic which you know is governed entirely by federal law, but you don't know the specific statute or regulation
which may govern it, go to the soft-bound Quick Index at the end of the
ALR Federal 2d, and try to find the topic there. If you can't find it, then you will need to ...
... go to the
(huge) more detailed, combined ALR Index, which covers the
Federal 2d (the ALR Federals do not have their own
detailed index). Make sure you look in the pocket part at the back of
whatever index volume you are looking at, so that you will catch any annotations
which have been added since the bound volumes were issued -- for example,
annotations in the
ALR 6th and the
ALR Federal 2d, which aren't
included in the main volumes at all (unless the index has been reissued since this
guide was written).
If you are looking for information regarding a specific state or federal
regulation, a uniform or model law (like the Uniform Probate Code), a
Restatement section or a code of ethics (like the old Code of Professional
Conduct), go to the
Table of Laws, Rules and Regulations for the
This is one hardbound volume at the end of the combined ALR Index,
at the very end of the whole set of ALR books. This book contains
a collection of tables where you can look up your statute or regulation
and be directed to the most recent annotation about it in the
Federal 2d. Again, don't forget to look in the pocket part
of whatever index volume you are looking at, or you could miss the perfect
If you have no idea what laws cover your topic, or even if there IS any law
covering the topic, first
check the Quick Indexes for both the regular
ALR and for the ALR Federal.
If you don't find anything in either of these indexes, then go to the
big combined ALR Index for the
last resort, if the issue is very venerable (that is, REALLY OLD), and
not some developing area of law, look in the
Quick Index and four volume
Index of the original ALR. These indexes are
located before the newer detailed indexes and tables, at the end of the
If you happen to have a West "key" (or headnote) number related to your
issue, go to the
ALR Digest. This is a set of books which classifies all the ALR
annotations using the West topic and key number system. This system is
discussed in detail in our Legal Skills Guide "Using the West Digest System."
In the "Problem" above, you
probably don't know whether the situation is governed by state law,
federal law, or both. So first, you'll want to take a look at the Quick Index at the end of the
ALR Federal 2d.
The heading "Schools and Education -- Sex and sexual matters -- harassment -- student's peer" (ah ha!), sends you to
141 ALR Fed 407. That is, volume 141 of the original
ALR Federal, at page 407. This turns out to be
a 37 page annotation entitled "Right of Action Under Title IX of Education Amendments Act of 1972 (20 U.S.C.S. secs. 1681 et seq.)
Against School or School District for Sexual Harassment of Student by Student's Peer," by Belinda Bean, J.D.
(Great name!). But what if this issue is governed by state laws, too? Best to check the
ALR Quick Index at
the end of the
6th. Keep in mind that this index covers
only the regular ALRs, and not the ALR Federals. Interestingly, this index does
not have the precise heading "Schools and Education -- Sex and sexual matters --
harassment -- student's peer," which you found in the Quick Index for the ALR
Federal, but under the more general heading "Schools and Education -- Sex and sexual matters,"
and also under the heading ""Schools and Education -- discrimination,"
you will find the entry "Liability, under state law claims, of public and private schools and institutions of higher learning
for teacher's, other employee's, or student's sexual relationship with, or sexual harassment or abuse of, student, 86 ALR5th 1."
And if you go to page one of volume 86 of the
ALR 5th, you will find a 56 page annotation with just this title. If, on
the other hand, you had looked in the combined ALR Index for the
Federal 2d, you would have been referred
to both annotations. But either way works, in this case!
You might also have found these annotations using the
ALR Digest. Let's say that in your
first, desperate moments of trying to find some California law, you did a
Westlaw search and found the case Doe v. Petaluma City School District,
949 F. Supp. 1415 (N.D. Cal. 1996), involving a junior high school student who
was harassed by her peers. The case itself doesn't solve your problems; it
focuses on the narrow issue of the standard for bringing a claim under Title IX,
and doesn't really discuss what constitutes harassment in schools; but it does
yield a potentially useful key number: Civil Rights (key) 128. If
you go to the books in the
ALR Digest containing the Civil Rights key
numbers -- Wait!! They start at 1001! Is this a cruel
Well, as discussed in our guide "Using the West Digest System," when areas of law grow and change, their
West topics are re-numbered. Most digests include conversion
tables to help you keep up. Unfortunately the
ALR Digest does not,
so you will need to go to a regular digest (such as the
Federal Practice Digest 4th) to discover that Civil Rights (key)
128 has now become Civil Rights (keys) 1066 and 1067(1-5). But once you do
this (and you might take note of the potentially useful cases under those key
numbers in the regular digest), a look at the
ALR Digest under those key
numbers directs you to the annotations we've already discussed, as well as a few
more which are less relevant to your issue.
Furthermore, if you had found that Petaluma case,
you could also have looked it up in the
ALR 5th and 6th Table of Cases, to see if it was discussed in one
or more annotations.
Important!! Don't forget to update your research!
The editors of the ALR series are constantly adding new information to
their existing annotations, writing new annotations to replace old ones, and
generally making changes. Don't run out of the library, clutching
photocopies of an annotation, before you've done these things:
First: Check the pocket part in the back of the book where you
found your annotation. If your
annotation was in the original ALR, there are no pocket parts (had they
not invented those handy pockets yet?), so you will need to check in the
ALR Blue Book of Supplemental Decisions,
located after the
If it was in the
ALR 2d, look in
the blue books entitled
ALR 2d Later Case Service, at the end
ALR 2d. But all the
subsequent ALRs and the ALR Federals have pocket parts
-- or, if a pocket part has become too big to fit in the back of its book, a
pamphlet next to it.
Next: Particularly if your annotation is
quite old, check the "Annotation History Table" in the back of the
Table of Laws, Rules and Regulations for the
the hardbound volume at the end of the combined ALR Index.
This will tell you if your annotation has been superseded by a more recent
annotation, which you (or the index) may somehow have missed. Don't forget
to check the pocket part in the back of this volume, too!
Can I search the ALRs online?
What if your boss wants a memo on her desk by the time she gets back from lunch,
and you don't have time to go to the library, search the ALRs, and get back?
No fear! The ALRs are available on Westlaw, updated weekly, in the "ALR"
database (although it may not be included as part of your firm's license, in
which case you will pay a $12 fee for each annotation you actually view).
A bonus: unlike the print annotations, the online versions are updated
weekly, and superseded annotations are generally removed from the database.
Just in case, though, you would be wise to "Keycite" any useful
annotation that you find, to make sure that part of it has not been superseded
by a subsequent annotation. Another bonus: some annotations are
included in the online database which are not included in the books, for
whatever reason. As with any search on Westlaw, you will probably want to
try several different queries. In this case, a terms and connectors search
of (school or student) /3 "sexual harassment" yielded 66 documents,
including, at result 13, "Right of Action Under Title IX of Education Amendments
Act of 1972 (20 U.S.C.S. secs. 1681 et seq.) Against School or School District
for Sexual Harassment of Student by Student's Peer," 141 ALR Fed 407; and at
result 30, "Liability, under state law claims, of public and private schools and
institutions of higher learning for teacher's, other employee's, or student's
sexual relationship with, or sexual harassment or abuse of, student," 86 ALR 5th
1, which are discussed above; also, at result 36, an annotation entitled "Tort
liability of public schools and institutions of higher learning for injuries
caused by acts of fellow students," 36 ALR 3d 330, which might also be useful.