Document Details

id

(number)

The document's ID. Each document's ID is unique.

document_status

(string)

Where the document is in the process of filling out the metadata. Note that this can differ from case_status, as the Clearinghouse has different processes for working on cases vs. documents.

ValueDescription

Approved

The document's metadata is complete.

Coding Complete

The document's metadata is complete, but it is awaiting internal review.

In Process

The document has been added to the Clearinghouse, but work on the metadata has not started or is in progress.

Like with case_status, the document status can be helpful in interpreting empty values for some fields.

title

(string)

The name or title of a document, usually as it appears in the document itself. Most documents filed in court have formal names/titles (e.g. "Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment"). For documents that don't, like letters, we use description.

no_title

(boolean)

If true, it indicates that the document doesn't have a title.

description

(string)

A brief description of the document. We usually use this for documents that don't have formal titles (like letters).

ecf_number

(string)

In federal court, documents filed in a case are assigned ECF numbers in the order they're filed. In the Clearinghouse, we use these numbers to line up documents with docket entries.

Sometimes one document is attached to another document in PACER/RECAP. The attached document will have a dash (e.g. "15-2", where the document is the second attachment).

date

(string)

The document's date in the format "YYYY-MM-DD". This is usually when the document was filed in court, signed, or sent.

date_is_estimate

(boolean)

If true, it indicates that date information is an estimate.

date_not_available

(boolean)

If true, it indicates that we don't have any date information for a document.

document_type

(string)

What kind of thing the document is. We have a good number of options, some of which are more common than others. Most of the document types are specific kinds of court filings (e.g. "Complaint"), while others are more general (e.g. "Correspondence").

Document TypeDescription

Complaint

A document that contains the facts underlying the lawsuit, the plaintiff's legal claims, and what the plaintiff would like the court to do. A complaint often starts a case.

Opinion/Order

A document where a judge or court make a decision in a case and (sometimes) explain their reasoning. These can be very short or very long, depending on the amount of legal reasoning.

Pleading/Motion

/Brief

This is a catch-all category for documents filed by lawyers in court.

Monitor/Expert/

Receiver Report

Monitors, experts, and receivers are all people with special expertise (e.g. doctors) who give the court their professional opinion. Often they create written reports on their findings.

Settlement

An agreement between the parties of the lawsuit to end the case. It might include a promise to pay money or to change actions.

Docket

A court's record of everything that happened in a case, usually organized by date.

Correspondence

A letter NOT filed in court.

Declaration/Affidavit

A legal document where somebody swears that facts are true, under penalty of perjury.

Discovery/

FOIA Material

Discovery: the evidence in a case, turned over as part of a lawsuit. FOIA Material: government documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (or similar) request.

FOIA Request

A request for government documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

Internal Memorandum

A memorandum or correspondence inside of an organization.

Legislative Report

A report by a legislature.

Magistrate Report/

Recommendation

In the federal court system, magistrates are lower level judges who don't have the full powers of a federal judge. Sometimes they will resolve a legal question by writing a report and recommendation to a full federal judge, who can approve or reject it. These usually look a lot like opinions.

Statute/

Ordinance/

Regulation

A rule or law created by a legislature or state or federal agency.

Executive Order

A rule or order created by the president, a governor, or someone else in charge of a governmental entity, like a city or county.

Transcripts

A verbatim written record of a hearing or trial in court. These are in dialog format, like a screenplay.

Justification Memo

An internal memo by a DOJ attorney explaining why an entity should be investigated. This document type is just for U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division cases.

Notice Letter

A public letter from the DOJ to an entity letting them know they are the subject of an investigation. This document type is just for U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division cases.

Findings Memo

A public memo from the DOJ explaining the findings of an investigation. This document type is just for U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division cases.

document_type_other

(string)

This field allows users to input a new, single use document type, if a document doesn't fit into any of the categories above. We don't use it very often.

order_type

(number)

This field indicates whether a document is a court order and, if so, what kind of court order.

In terms of kinds of orders, we're basically asking two questions:

  1. Is the order a decree? We define decree to mean that the court is telling somebody outside of the lawsuit to do something.

  2. Is the order on consent (the parties agreed to it) or was it litigated (the parties didn't agree and the court had to decide)?

Order type only matters for documents created by judges and settlements approved by judges. That means that for most document types, this value is null.

Order TypeDescription

null

The document is not a court order.

Non-Decree

A court order that does not tell somebody outside the lawsuit to do something.

Litigated Decree

A court order that tells somebody outside the lawsuit to do something, where the parties didn't agree on the outcome.

Consent Decree

A court order that tells somebody outside the lawsuit to do something, where the parties agreed on the outcome.

document_source

(string)

Where we originally sourced a document. There are lots of options, but some of the most common are:

Document SourceDescription

PACER

The federal court system's online document filing website

RECAP

A website run by a non-profit organization which scrapes documents from PACER and makes them availalble for free

Westlaw, LexisNexis

A commercial database of legal materials used by many lawyers

U.S. Department of Justice

The federal agency responsible for enforcing many civil rights laws

Papers of (various individuals)

Personal papers of an attorney, judge, or other civil rights figure that have been shared with the Clearinghouse

Full list of document sources
  • ---------

  • ABA Supreme Court Briefs

  • ACLU

  • ACLU National Prison Project

  • Bloomberg Law

  • BPI (Gautreaux plaintiffs' counsel)

  • BNA (Bureau of National Affairs)

  • Cliff Fridkis Legal Files

  • Defendant or Defendant's Counsel

  • District Court

  • Docket Alarm

  • EEOC.gov

  • EEOC Regional Office

  • Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

  • Google Scholar

  • Helene V. Smookler Papers

  • Impact Fund

  • Justia

  • Lainey Feingold website

  • LexisNexis

  • Library of Congress

  • Los Angeles Unified School District Records

  • Michelle Adams research file

  • Monroe Edwin Price Papers

  • Nat'l Archives (NARA)-details in other

  • Non-PACER U.S. District Court Website

  • Non-web U.S. District Court Clerk's Office

  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence

  • PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]

  • Papers of Alexander (Sandy) Ross

  • Papers of Beth Harris

  • Papers of Brian Landsberg

  • Papers of Bruce La Pierre

  • Papers of Chad Quaintance

  • Papers of Charles Cohler

  • Papers of David Marlin

  • Papers of David Norman

  • Papers of Jack Ruzicho

  • Papers of Joshua Dunn

  • Papers of Margo Schlanger

  • Papers of Marjorie Stockford (The Bellwomen)

  • Papers of Melissa Marshall

  • Papers of Owen Fiss

  • Papers of Reuben Ortenberg

  • Papers of Stephen Pollak

  • Plaintiffs' counsel

  • Prison Legal News

  • Pro Publica

  • Public.Resource.Org

  • RECAP

  • State Court Website

  • Supreme Court website

  • Univ. of Michigan Law Library

  • U.S. Court of Appeals website

  • U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section

  • U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Employment Litigation Section

  • U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Special Litigation Section

  • U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Voting Rights Section

  • U.S. Dep't of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Housing and Civil Enforcement

  • U.S. DOJ, Civil Rights Division, Education Section

  • Westlaw

  • Papers of Harry A. Blackmun

  • Papers of Thurgood Marshall

party_types

(array[string])

The types of parties or entities that filed or created a document. More than one can be selected. The options are:

OptionDescription

Plaintiff

The person or entity who files a lawsuit.

Administrative tribunal

A government office or agency, other than a court, that resolves disputes.

Amicus Curiae

Latin for "friend of the court." Someone who isn't a part of a lawsuit, but gives the judge advice about how to decide a case.

Mediator

A person (other than the judge) who tries to help the parties to a lawsuit negotiate a compromise agreement.

Defendant

The person or entity who a lawsuit is filed against

Court

The judge.

Defendant-Intervenor

A person or entity who joins a case filed by someone else as a defendant.

Expert

A person with special expertise (like a doctor or scientist) who is hired by the parties or the court to give their opinion in a lawsuit.

Monitor/Master

A person hired by the court to determine whether an institution or entity is complying with the terms of a settlement or court order.

Plaintiff-Intervenor

A person or entity who joins a case filed by someone else as a plaintiff.

Receiver

A person who is placed in control of an institution or entity by a court.

court

(string)

is_core_document

(boolean)

Whether the document is a central document to the case. By default, all documents are core documents; we use this only to tidy up cases with lots of documents.

On the Clearinghouse site, this controls whether the document is immediately visible. If is_core_document is false, then a user must uncheck the "show only core documents" box to see the document on the Clearinghouse site.

public_note

(string)

This field allows us to add publicly visible text to a document entry.

external_url

(string)

A link to the document at another place on the Internet.

(string)

URL to the clearinghouse.net page for the document.

file

(string)

URL to the PDF file for the document.

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