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Pennsylvania Legal Research

This guide provides an overview of researching Pennsylvania law .

Overview of the Pennsylvania Courts

The Pennsylvania Constitution organized the judiciary into a Unified Judicial System, consisting of the Supreme Court, Superior and Commonwealth Courts, Courts of Common Pleas, and Minor Courts.  The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania has an interactive diagram of the courts with more information.

With roots dating back to 1684, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in the Commonwealth and arguably the oldest appellate court in the nation.  It hears appeals from the Superior and Commonwealth Courts. Its decisions are binding on all state courts in Pennsylvania, and on all matters of Pennsylvania state law.  It also possesses administrative power over the Unified Judicial System, with several committees and boards responsible for writing and enforcing rules for judges, attorneys, and litigants.  

The Commonwealth Court is an intermediate appellate court that is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies, including election cases, real estate tax appeals, eminent domain cases, zoning cases, and appeals from decisions made by state agencies.  It also acts as a trial court when the Commonwealth itself is the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit.

The Superior Court is an intermediate appellate court with jurisdiction over civil and criminal appeals that do not fall within the Commonwealth Court's jurisdiction.

The Courts of Common Pleas are the trial courts of Pennsylvania; they also hear appeals from the Minor Courts. They are organized into 60 judicial districts that usually are coterminous with county borders, although some cover two counties. 

The Minor Courts are the first level of Pennsylvania's judiciary and are presided over by magisterial district judges and municipal court judges. They are responsible for matters such as preliminary arraignments, preliminary hearings, bail, and traffic violations.

In the federal judicial system, Pennsylvania is located within the Third Circuit. 

Case Law

The Pennsylvania appellate courts have posted opinions from 1998 to the present on the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System website.  Be aware that these opinions as posted are not the official versions and do not have reporter citations.

Reporters for Pennsylvania Court Cases
Court Reporter Name Abbreviation
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Pennsylvania State Reports Pa.
  Atlantic Reporter




Pennsylvania Superior Court Atlantic Reporter See above
  Pennsylvania Superior Court Reports (until 1997) Pa. Super.
Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Atlantic Reporter See above
  Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Reports (until 1995) Pa. Commw.
Courts of Common Pleas District and Country Reports

Pa. D. & C.

Pa. D. & C.2d

Pa. D. & C.3d

Pa. D. & C.4th

Pa. D. & C.5th


Judicial Websites - State

Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions


Below is basic information on finding Pennsylvania dockets.  Temple Law Library also has created a research guide specifically focused on Pennsylvania Dockets, which is available here