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Researching Legal Information


Resource Management

Selected Law Materials
Available at Internet Links and NDSU Library

The purpose of this web page is to introduce how to locate law; that is, state and federal statutes, regulations and court decisions. This is only an introduction but it will be adequate for this course.

This site is for educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for competent legal counsel. Seek appropriate professional advice for answers to your specific questions.

Law-related materials are available in both traditional print (books) and increasingly on the worldwide web (WWW).  This introduction considers both formats but emphasizes the Internet (WWW) resources. You may find it beneficial, however, to use both formats if you have access to printed law materials.

The first three sections of this introduction are organized according to the branches of government -- statutes (legislative branch), regulations (executive branch), and case law (judicial branch). Within each of these sections, state law is addressed first because it is generally less complex than federal law. The fourth section of this introduction provides an overview of secondary sources of the law; that is, sources that explain the law or legal principles. These secondary sources or explanatory materials, however, are NOT the law; they often provide excellent overviews when one is first becoming familiar with a particular legal concept.

Statutory Law

State Statutes

North Dakota Century Code

  • The North Dakota Century Code (N.D.C.C.) contains all state statutes enacted by the North Dakota legislature since statehood in 1889 that are still in effect today. A statute that was enacted by the legislature but then subsequently repealed, for example, is not included in the Century Code. Also, a statute enacted in the 1930s and amended in the 1980s, for example, would appear in the Century Code in its current (amended) form.
    • The N.D.C.C. is available on the WWW at http://www.legis.nd.gov/information/statutes/cent-code.html; this is a government web site maintained by the North Dakota Legislative Council. That web page provides a brief description of the N.D.C.C.
    • The N.D.C.C. is available in a printed format; a multi-volume set of books available from a private publisher.
      • At the NDSU Library, a printed version of the N.D.C.C. can be found in the Reference room at Ref KFN 8630 A2 1959
  • The N.D.C.C. is organized into 65 major topics (titles); the titles are subdivided into chapters and sections.
  • Updating the N.D.C.C.
    • The N.D.C.C. needs to be updated as statutes are enacted, amended or repealed by the North Dakota Legislature which meets January through spring every odd-numbered year; e.g., 2007.
    • The web site is updated soon after each legislative session by incorporating the changes into the N.D.C.C.
    • The printed version of the Code is updated with pocket-supplements after each legislative session; the pocket-supplements are usually inserted at the back of each volume; occasionally the supplement will be a separate paperback volume if there has been a substantial number of changes.
      • When you read a section in the main part of the printed volume, determine if the section was updated by checking the pocket-supplement by looking for the same citation (e.g., §41-09-61). If the section number does not appear in the pocket-supplement, there has been no update and the statute in the main volume is the current statute. If there is material for that section in the pocket-supplement, the statute has been recently updated; use the statute as it appears in the pocket-supplement -- not as it appears in the main volume.
  • The printed version includes annotations of North Dakota court decisions; that is, a one-sentence summary of a court case -- a helpful way to identify relevant court cases.
  • Use the printed Index (in a separate volume) to find the statute you are searching for; the Index uses the same numbering system to direct you to sections of the N.D.C.C.
  • On the WWW --
    • Key words can be used to search the N.D.C.C. by clicking on SEARCH near the upper right corner on the N.D.C.C. home page. On the subsequent search page, 1) click on Century Code under "Where to Search" along the left edge (this limits the search to just the statutes), 2) enter the key word(s) in the designated box near the top of the left column, and 3) click on Search. The results will be links to Chapters in the N.D.C.C. containing the key word(s).
    • You also can search for a statute by using the list of Titles on the web site, and then the list of Chapters within each Title; but this may not be an effective search method if you are not familiar with the N.D.C.C.
  • Citation format: N.D.C.C. §41-09-61 ( title - chapter - section )
  • Statutes (or codes) for others states can be found by clicking here. Although most state statutory codes use numbering systems to organize their statutes, there are a variety of numbering schemes.

Federal Statutes

United States Code

  • The United States Code (US Code or U.S.C.) contains all federal statutes currently in effect (similar to the North Dakota Century Code that contains all North Dakota statutes currently in effect); it is organized into 50 major topics (titles) and then subdivided into chapters, sometimes subchapters, and sections.
  • When citing the US Code, the chapter and subchapter generally are NOT noted; instead just the title and section numbers are used to identify the statute, e.g., 7 U.S.C. §1981 (title U.S.C. section).
  • The US Code is available on the WWW at http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/ (Legal Information Institute) and at http://uscode.house.gov/ (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, US House of Representatives)
    • Updating the US Code on the WWW is briefly described on the Legal Information Institute web site.
    • Use keywords to search the US Code on the WWW; both web sites listed above have search capabilities.
  • The US Code is available in several printed multi-volume versions; one version is published by the federal government; several others are printed by private publishers. 
    • At the NDSU Library, the US Code (version printed by the government) can be found in the Reference room at Ref KF 62 1994.
  • The government printed version of the US Code is updated with supplemental volumes as needed.
  • Citation format: 7 U.S.C. §1981 (title U.S.C. section)

Administrative Law (Regulations)

State Regulations

North Dakota Administrative Code

  • The North Dakota Administrative Code (N.D.A.C.) contains the regulations of the North Dakota government agencies.
  • The N.D.A.C. is available on the WWW at http://www.legis.nd.gov/information/rules/admincode.html.  That web page provides a brief description of the N.D.A.C.
  • The N.D.A.C. is available in a printed format (multi-volume set of 3-ring binders).
    • At the NDSU Library, the N.D.A.C. can be found in the Reference room at Ref KFN 8635 1978 A25
  • N.D.A.C. is organized into 109 titles, usually by agency; titles are then divided and subdivided into articles, chapters, and sections; e.g., N.D.A.C. §41-04-02-03 ( title - article - chapter - section ); for example,
  • Key words can be used to search the N.D.A.C. by clicking on SEARCH near the upper right corner on the N.D.A.C. home page. On the subsequent search page, 1) click on Agency Rules under "Where to Search" along the left edge (this limits the search to just the regulations), 2) enter the key word(s) in the designated box near the top of the left column, and 3) click on Search. The results will be links to Articles or Chapters in the N.D.A.C. containing the key word(s).
    • The WWW version can also be searched by using the list of titles, articles, chapters, and sections.
  • The printed version is updated by replacing pages in the 3-ring binders.
  • Search the printed version by using the Table of Contents in the first volume.
  • The authorizing state statute (from the N.D.C.C.) is identified at the end of each section of the N.D.A.C.; remember, an agency can do no more than the legislature has authorized, nor do less than the legislature has mandated.
  • Citation format: N.D.A.C. §41-04-02-03 ( title - article - chapter - section )
  • You may be able to find regulations for other states by clicking here.

Federal Regulations

Code of Federal Regulations

  • The Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) contains all regulations of the agencies of the federal government.
    • Many agencies explain their responsibilities and authorities on their web sites. Such a site can be a good place to begin your legal research; that is, a good place to find an introduction or overview of the agency's legal authority. From this overview, it may be easier to find and understand the underlying regulations (and statutes).
  • On the WWW, the CFR can be found at http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/cfr-table-search.html;
    • This web site also includes regulations from previous years -- this could be important in some situations; for example, if an issue arose 2 years ago that remains unresolved, the regulation in effect at the time the problem arose would likely apply to the problem, not the current regulation; therefore, access to the earlier version of the regulation is invaluable.
  • The C.F.R. is available in printed format (approximately 200 paperback volumes).
    • At the NDSU Library, the C.F.R. can be found in the Reference room at Ref KF 70 A3
  • The C.F.R. is organized by the same 50 titles as the United States Code
  • To locate a regulation in the C.F.R. on the WWW, use the search mechanism found at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html.
  • To locate a regulation in the the printed version of the C.F.R. use the Index.
  • Citation format: 7 C.F.R. §42.101 ( title C.F.R. section )
  • The printed version of the C.F.R. is updated annually by replacing the entire volume (this is an ongoing process, that is, by the end of the year, all the volumes have been replaced and then the process is repeated the following year). 
  • The WWW site for the C.F.R. is updated on the same schedule as the printed version.
    • Since the C.F.R. is updated on a schedule and each volume is updated once each year, but regulations are being added or revised on an ongoing basis, there is a lag between what is published in the C.F.R. and the most recent changes. The Federal Register is used to "close this gap."

    Federal Register

  • All federal regulations are published in the Federal Register as they are finalized; the Federal Register also contains announcements (e.g., program announcements), notices, and proposed regulations issued by federal agencies.
  • The process of promulgating a federal regulation involves 1) publishing the proposed regulation in the Federal Register, 2) allowing time for public comment and hearing, 3) agency revisions based on the public comment, and 4) publication (again) in the Federal Register in its "final" form. After these steps are completed, the regulation takes effect.
    • Use the Federal Register to locate proposed regulations, as well as recently announced final regulations.
    • It may be helpful to think of the C.F.R. as containing only final regulations; proposed regulations (those in the process of being finalized) are NOT yet part of the C.F.R.
    • The C.F.R. does NOT contain recently announced final regulations due to the time lag in the process of updating the C.F.R.
  • Federal Register is published daily; it is available in printed format and on the WWW.
  • A search mechanism is provided for searching the Federal Register on the WWW. Also use "List of CFR Sections Affected" at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/lsa/index.html
  • To locate information in the printed version of the Federal Register -- 1) use the end-of-the-year Index to locate materials from previous years 2) use the January-to-end-of-previous-month Index to locate materials from previous months of the current year, and 3) use the last page of the most recent issue of the Federal Register to locate materials for the current month.
  • Citation format:  Federal Register: March 15, 2004 (Volume 69, Number 50) Pages 12154-12155.

Case Law (the Common Law)

State court decisions

  • Court decisions, especially decisions/opinions by appellate courts (such as the North Dakota Supreme Court), serve as precedence for subsequent cases that involve similar legal questions; these decisions are sometimes collectively referred to as the common law. Accordingly, there needs to be a way to compile and retrieve court decisions/opinions.
    • Example of previous court decisions being relied on in later court cases.

    "In determining an equitable distribution of the property, a trial court must consider the Ruff-Fischer guidelines.  Ruff v. Ruff, 52 N.W.2d 107 (N.D. 1952); Fischer v. Fischer, 139 N.W.2d 845 (N.D. 1966)." Northrop v. Northrop, 2001 ND 31, 622 N.W.2d 219.

  • Court opinions are available in printed format prepared by private publishers  (e.g., Northwestern Reporter which compiles court decisions from seven states (including North Dakota) organizing them in the order they are received by publisher) and on the WWW (the availability of state court decisions on the WWW varies among states).
  • Use keywords to search North Dakota Supreme Court web site at http://www.court.state.nd.us/Search/Query.asp
  • Use Northwestern Digest and annotations in North Dakota Century Code to find cases.
    • The Northwestern Digest (available in NDSU Library Reference room at Ref KF 135 N72 W4) contains annotations (one-sentence summaries) of court cases.
    • The annotations are arranged in alphabetical order by topic.
    • The Digest is updated with pocket supplements.
    • Use the Index to locate topics in the Digest; do NOT cite the digest; only use it to locate relevant court decisions/opinions.
  • With the advent of the WWW, the methods of citing court decisions has changed.  The following guidelines for North Dakota are taken from http://www.ndcourts.com/Citation/. Also see http://www.ndcourts.com/court/rules/ndroc/rule11.6.htm.
    • 1997 to current: Wilson v. Siffer, 1998 ND 1, 579 N.W.2d 200; that is, names of the parties, year, state, case number, volume number (of printed/parallel reporter), reporter and series, first page of decision.
    • 1954 to 1997: Ernst v. Young , 524 N.W.2d 675 (N.D. 1995); that is, names of the parties, volume, reporter and series, first page of decision, state, year.
    • 1890 to 1953: Roe v. Doe, 79 N.D. 395 60 N.W.2d 242 (1953).
  • Court cases from other states may be available.

Federal court decisions

  • Federal appellate courts primarily consist of the United States Supreme Court (USSCt) and the United States (Circuit) Courts of Appeals.

  • Decisions/opinions of the USSCt since 1990 are available on WWW at http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/; USSCt decisions/opinions are available in several printed versions.

    • Printed version of USSCt opinions (Lawyer's Edition) is available in NDSU Library Reference room at Ref KF 101 & Ser 2.
    • The decisions (printed version) are organized in chronological order of decision date.
    • Use United States Supreme Court Digest and annotations in American Jurisprudence 2nd to locate decisions.
  • Use search mechanism on WWW to locate USSCt decisions/opinions.
  • Citation format: Jones v. Brown , 502 U.S. 234 (1991); that is, names of the parties, volume, official reporter, first page of decision, year.
  • Courts of Appeals -- available in a printed version (NDSU Library does NOT have these reporters); some opinions are on the WWW at U.S. Courts.


  • The previous three sections of this web page addressed steps to locate the law, that is, the actual statutes, regulations and court decisions. It is sometimes helpful to read general explanations as one begins to learn about a legal concept. This section of this web page suggest sources for such explanations.
    • These explanations are NOT the actual law; they are the author's description of the law. For this reason, attorneys are usually discouraged from using/citing these explanations in their materials. 
    • For the purpose of this course, these explanations may be cited. To go even a step further -- for the purpose of this course, these explanations may be a GOOD STARTING POINT for your research.
    • Such explanations are generally printed but some are becoming available on the WWW.
      • Printed -- American Jurisprudence 2nd -- available at the NDSU Library in the Reference room at Ref KF 154 A42.
        • The explanations are arranged in alphabetical order according to subject.
        • Use the Index to search for the desired topic.
        • Citation format: 17 Am.Jur.2d Animals §49 ( volume, source, subject, section )
      • WWW sites -- not as complete as printed versions but may provide some information
  • Another excellent source for explanations of laws are often provided the agencies charged with implementing government programs or enforcing legislative mandates. For example, many federal and state agencies have developed excellent web sites that explain the statutes the agency is responsible for implementing. These explanations also often address the regulations the agency has promulgated as part of fulfilling the statutory mandates.
    • Agency federal government agency web sites can be found at LSU Libraries Federal Agencies Directory. Most federal agencies are considered part of the Executive branch, but some (such as the Environmental Protection Agency) are considered an Independent agency.
    • An example of an agency explanation of its statutes, regulations, and programs can be found at the USDA web page titled NRCS Conservation Programs. Similar sites can be found for most other federal and state agencies.

  • Dictionary of Legal Terms

    • Printed -- Blacks Law Dictionary - at NDSU Library in Reference Room at Ref KF 156 B53 1990
    • "WWW site -- Law.Com Dictionary

Summary of Key Points

  • At this point, we should have a clearer understanding of the distinctions among statutes, regulations and court decisions (common law).
  • We also should have a preliminary understanding of how one can locate statutes, regulations, court decisions, and general descriptions of legal concepts.
  • Legal materials use a specific citation method.
  • Most legal materials can now be found on the internet but be sure you are using a "credible" source, such as a government or university web page.


We have now compeleted the introduction to agricultural law. The next page introduces our next major topic -- property.


Last updated August 25, 2010

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