Article How to locate a PACER case by docket index number
Learn how to quickly locate a federal court action using the unique docket index number identifier.
Last Updated: Apr 12, 2022
What is a case or docket index number?
Whenever a new action is filed in a jurisdiction, the court will assign the case a unique identifier called an "index number." This can sometimes be referred to as a "docket number" or "case number." Each court has its own system for assigning docket index numbers, and are unique only within that particular jurisdiction.
For U.S. federal courts part of the PACER system, the docket index numbers follow a specific pattern. Understanding the pattern will give you information about when the case was filed and what type of action it is.
What does a PACER docket index number look like?
U.S. district and bankruptcy courts (excluding appellate courts) typically look like this:
Examples of index numbers you may encounter 1:2019-cv-00329-AES 21-bk-11262 4:19-cr-3962 2019-mj-488-JLW-MWB 3:2021-bk-20742-GAW13
Decoding these letters and numbers is fairly straightforward once you understand the format.
Docket index number format: oo:yyyy-xx-nnnnn-xyz oo - Office Code (optional) yyyy - Filing Year (2 or 4 digits) xx - Case Code (optional) nnnnn - Docket Sequence Number xyz - Judge Initials / Local Notes (optional)
Here is additional information on each of these components:
- Office Code. The specific location within a given jurisdiction. It is sometimes omitted from citations.
- Filing Year. The year the case was opened. Can be two or four digits. On most stamped documents, this appears as four digits, but the two digit format is more commonly used in citation and media reports.
- Case Code. The type of case. Each jurisdiction maintains its own case code legend, but the most common ones are universal. These include "cv" for civil cases, "cr" for criminal cases, "bk" for bankruptcy cases, "ap" for adverse party bankruptcy cases, "mj" for magistrate proceedings.
- Docket Sequence Number. Typically assigned by the court clerk in ascending order as new cases are filed, resetting every calendar year. For example, 21-cv-00001, would refer to the first civil action filed in 2021, within that particular jurisdiction or office. The leading zeros are sometimes omitted in citation or reference.
- Judge Initials or Local Notes. You can ignore the letters and numbers following a hyphen after the docket sequence number. These typically correspond to the initials of the presiding judge, the magistrate judge, or local notes about the case. They can change over the course of the action and are not useful for case search purposes.
Where can I find the index number of a case I want to track?
If you have access to a filing or pleading from the case, the index number can usually be found stamped on the top of the document.
If you are looking for a case mentioned in a news report, look for the index number within the article text. For example, Bloomberg Law will often contain the case caption, jurisdiction, and index number at the bottom of the article. E.g., "The case is Acme Company et al v. Smith, S.D. Tex., No. 3:22-cv-001234, 2/1/22".
How do I search for a case on PACER using the index number
If you have a PACER account, you must search each court website separately for a given index number. You can also use PACER's nationwide case locator tool, but this tool incurs fees for every search and does not include newly filed actions.
PacerDash subscribers can use our Index Number Locator to query multiple court jurisdictions simultaneously. It accepts a wide variety of index number formats, and pulls in real-time data from PACER.
You can also use our free PACER Case Locator. It contains millions of cases, and supports querying by index number, case title, filing date, and more.
What jurisdictions does PacerDash support?
Our coverage includes every federal district and bankruptcy court. We also pull in data from special jurisdictions, like the U.S. Court of International Trade, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-district Litigation. Appellate courts are not supported at this time.
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