Arkansas’s New Electronic Database of Opinions
In May of 2009, the Arkansas Supreme Court handed down a per curiam decision that made Arkansas the first state in the nation to publish its official reports in electronic format only. See Rule 5-2 Rewritten: (1) Arkansas Becomes First State with Electronic Official Reports; (2) Court Abandons Use of “Unpublished” Decisions. The Court ordered that the official report of decisions issued after February 14, 2009, “shall be an electronic file created, authenticated, secured, and maintained by the Reporter of Decisions on the Arkansas Judiciary website.” Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 5-2(b)(1).
Arkansas’s New Citation Format
Along with its decision to publish opinions handed down after July 1, 2009 in an electronic-only format, the Court also implemented a new citation rule for those electronically published decisions. See Ark. Sup. Ct. R. 5-2(d)(2).
As shown in the chart below, Arkansas’s new citation rule for electronically reported decisions is somewhat different from the traditional citation rule for decisions published in the bound volumes of the Arkansas Reports and the Arkansas Appellate Reports.
The new citation format for electronically published decisions permits parallel citations to unofficial sources, including unofficial electronic databases, but only when the regional reporter citation is unavailable. (Parallel citations are highlighted in green in the chart below). Notice also that, the new citation format omits the parenthetical with the year the case was issued because the year is now the first number in the citation.
Additionally, the new citation rule requires a different format for pinpoint citations. Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 5-2(d) strongly encourages the use of pinpoint citations for citations to all Arkansas opinions. The use of pinpoint citations with the new citation format differs from the traditional citation format in two respects. (Pinpoint citations are highlighted in yellow in the chart below).
First, the use of pinpoint citations with the new format always requires the use of the word “at.” When citing to cases that are published in the printed version of the Arkansas Reports, the traditional citation rule requires the use of the word “at” only when using short cites, and never when using full citations of a case.
Second, the pinpoint citation will always refer to the page of the opinion itself rather than a page in a published reporter. Unlike opinions published in the Arkansas Reports, every opinion published electronically begins with page 1. Providing the correct pinpoint citation under the new citation format now requires attorneys to find the decision online and then refer to the specific page of that decision where the information being cited is found.
The following chart, based on Arkansas Supreme Court Rule 5-2(d), illustrates the differences between the traditional citation format and the new citation format:
Locating Page Numbers for Pinpoint Citations to Arkansas’s Electronically Reported Decisions
The Arkansas Judiciary Website
Arkansas’s electronically reported decisions can be found on the Arkansas Judiciary website. Although not as powerful as the search tools provided by electronic legal research databases such as Westlaw, LexisNexis, and fastcase, a search tool is available on the Arkansas Judiciary’s website that allows attorneys to search for electronically reported cases handed down by the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
Electronic Legal Research Databases: Westlaw vs. Fastcase
While the electronically published decisions are available on the Arkansas Judiciary’s website, most appellate attorneys who subscribe to online legal research databases–such as Westlaw and fastcase–will begin their legal research with those tools. Surprisingly, Westlaw does not seem to provide the page numbers for Arkansas opinions that are available in the electronic-only format. Fastcase, however, does include the specific page numbers for those decisions.
As an appellate attorney who subscribes to Westlaw Next, I typically begin my legal research with Westlaw. When I need to cite to a recent Arkansas decision (handed down since February of 2009) in an appellate brief, however, I also now have to find that decision using either the Arkansas Judiciary website or fastcase to find the specific page number to include as a pinpoint citation.
To make sense of all of this, if you are a Westlaw subscriber, then conduct a Westlaw search for the case of W.E. Pender & Sons, Inc. v. Lee, 2010 Ark. 52, 2010 WL 391332, a February 4, 2010 decision of the Arkansas Supreme Court (type “2010 Ark. 52” in your Westlaw search box for this result). You should notice that Westlaw does not provide the official page numbers for that case–(Although Westlaw sometimes provides star pages, I have not found a recent decision where Westlaw provides official page numbers for that decision).
If you have access to fastcase, now conduct a search for the same case within your fastcase search box, and notice how the material included on each page is clearly labeled by page numbers along the left side of the page (“Page 1,” “Page 2,” etc.). If you do not subscribe to fastcase, you should know that if you are a member of the Arkansas Bar Association, your membership includes a free subscription to fastcase. Contact the Arkansas Bar Association for details.
As a subscriber to Westlaw, I am hopeful that it will eventually catch up with Arkansas’s new electronic opinion format and include page numbers to those opinions so that Arkansas appellate attorneys who subscribe to Westlaw can more easily include pinpoint citations in their appellate briefs. Until then, Arkansas appellate attorneys who subscribe to Westlaw will be required to access other online tools to find the pinpoint citations for decisions issued in Arkansas’s new electronic format.
If anyone has had a different experience using Westlaw than what I have described, I would be interested in knowing that—please e-mail me at Tasha@TaylorLawFirm.com to share your experience. I would also be interested in knowing whether LexisNexis provides page numbers that correlate to those published in the official electronic reports, as we do not subscribe to that database.