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Researching Civil Procedure in Trial Courts

Federal and Minnesota Trial Courts


Last Updated 3/2009. Links verified 10/2009.  Direct feedback on this page to lawlib@umn.edu.



Procedural rules (also called court rules) prescribe what to do and how to do it when bringing a case before a court. These rules establish a uniform process for trying cases and ensure that justice is fairly administered throughout federal, state, and local court systems. Separate sets of procedural rules exist for each jurisdiction. Within a specific jurisdiction, different sets of rules govern different types of cases. For example, separate rules exist for civil cases, criminal cases, and juvenile cases. Other rules govern appellate cases. In addition, individual courts (e.g., U.S. Supreme Court) frequently have their own local procedural rules.

Procedural rules are mandatory. If they are not properly followed, courts may refuse to hear a case or may impose sanctions on errant parties. Therefore, anyone involved in litigation must understand and abide by relevant rules of procedure. Fortunately, many tools exist to help litigants comply with procedural requirements as they prepare a case for court.

This guide focuses on rules of civil procedure which govern in the U.S. District Court and in the Minnesota District Court, the trial courts for each jurisdiction. The guide provides information on sources which contain or comment on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Fed.R.Civ.P.) and the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure (Minn.R.Civ.P.). Tips for finding other court rules are included.

Federal Rules of Civil Procedure


The origin of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure can be traced to 1934 when the Congress, through the Rules Enabling Act of 1934 (ch. 651, 48 Stat. 1064 (1934)), delegated power to the U.S. Supreme Court to promulgate procedural rules for the U.S. District Courts(1). The court appointed the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules which proposed the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These rules were adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court and became effective in 1938. They have been amended several times since their initial adoption. The rules and any amendments to them are printed by the Congress as House Documents.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are organized along a time line, beginning with the initial filing of a complaint and ending with the final judgment in a case. They include pre-trial, trial, and post-trial procedures. A subject index and selected forms appear at the end of the rules.

A. History


The Advisory Committee on Civil Rules prepares a brief note for every rule or amendment when it is proposed. It is important always to read the committee note at the end of each rule because the note provides an official explanation of the rule's intent. Most publications of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure include the Advisory Committee notes following each rule (e.g., United States Code, United States Code Annotated, United States Code Service discussed below). A few works provide a separate appendix with the text of all the committee notes (e.g., Federal Practice and Procedure, Appendix C). Recent proposals to amend the rules and their notes can be found in Federal Rules Decisions discussed below).


B. Unannotated Rules

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are widely available in unannotated form. This form is useful for quick reference to check rule requirements or to verify citations to rules, but does not provide helpful explanations or interpretations of the rules. "Deskbooks," softbound volumes typically including all procedural rules related to the practice of law in one jurisdiction, are heavily used by practitioners. Unannotated Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also appear with statutory compilations or as supplements to treatises on civil procedure.

  • Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, with Forms. (US DOCUMENTS Y4.J89/ 1-11:)  Official annual compilation of the rules which includes a summary of the Advisory Committee notes for each rule and a topical index. Latest print version received is 2003; current version is now available at  http://www.uscourts.gov/rules/index.html.  The rules are also available on the Internet at http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/frcp/index.html.

  • Federal Civil Judicial Procedure and Rules. (RESERVE KF8816.A195)  This annual "deskbook" includes the text of the rules, a summary of the Advisory Committee notes for each rule, a topical index, and several forms.

  • United States Code. 2006 ed. (RESERVE KF62 2006x) The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure appear in the volume containing Title 28. Each rule is followed by an historical note from the Advisory Committee.
Recent rule changes appear in supplementation to United States Code Service (PRIMARY KF62.1972.L38), United States Code Congressional and Administrative News (PRIMARY KF48.W45), and United States Supreme Court Reports (L.Ed.) (REPORTERS KF101.A313).


C. Annotated Rules 

When an in-depth explanation of a rule is desired, it is useful to consult annotated versions of the rules. Annotations often provide detailed explanations for each rule. In some works, however, they consist only of brief citations to other sources containing explanations and judicial interpretations of the rules. The following treatises and encyclopedias on civil procedure provide substantive annotations for the rules:

  • Bender's Federal Practice Manual. (KF8816.A21) This 3 volume treatise is arranged by rule number. It provides commentary and references to other sources of information.  A detailed subject index is provided.

  • Cyclopedia of Federal Procedure. 3d ed. (KF8840.C93 1951)  This multi volume encyclopedic work is arranged in the order litigation proceeds (e.g., pre-trial, trial, post-trial). It provides detailed commentary on procedural requirements and references to cases along with a detailed subject index. A table of rules leads to portions of the text which discuss each rule. Also on Westlaw in the CYCFEDPROC database.

  • Federal Practice and Procedure [Wright & Miller]. (RESERVE KF8840.W74)  This is a leading treatise on federal procedure law. It contains a wealth of information about the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and is an essential tool for anyone consulting the rules. Rules are discussed in numerical order. Following the text of each rule, the authors provide authoritative commentary on the intent of the rule and how it has been applied. References to related cases and background sources are also provided. Unannotated rules appear in separate pamphlet volumes.  This work is available electronically on Westlaw in the FPP database.

  • Federal Procedure. [L.Ed.] (KF 8840.F42) This multi volume encyclopedia is arranged alphabetically under broad procedural topics. A table of rules provides references to parts of the text which discuss a particular rule. The work includes a detailed index and separate volumes with unannotated rules.  This title is also on Westlaw in the FEDPROC database.

  • Moore's Federal Practice. 3d ed. (RESERVE KF8820.A313M63)  This work, like Federal Practice and Procedure above, provides a thorough and authoritative analysis of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, rule by rule. The text of each rule is followed by in-depth commentary and references to cases and further commentary. The work includes a detailed index and separate volumes reproduce the rules without annotations. This sources is also available on LexisNexis; the file name is MOORES.
The following works do not themselves provide commentary, but they do offer numerous references to commentary and judicial interpretation of the rules found in other sources.
  • United States Code Annotated. (PRIMARY KF62 1927 .W45; RESERVE KF62 1927 .W45)  Separate volumes containing the rules follow Title 28 volumes. After each rule and its Advisory Committee note, numerous references to case interpretations, books, and articles discussing the rule are provided.  The rules found in this source are available on Westlaw in the US-RULES database.

  • United States Code Service. (PRIMARY KF62 1972 .L38)  Rules of procedure are found in separate volumes at the end of this set. Each rule is followed by an Advisory Committee note and references to secondary sources and judicial opinions discussing the rule.  The rules found in this source are available on LexisNexis (Legal > Federal Legal - U.S. > United States Code Service (USCS) > Federal Rules Annotated); the file name is RULES.

D. Local Federal Rules 

In addition to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, litigants must also observe local procedural rules for individual federal courts. Sources that provide local rules for each U.S. District Court include:

  • Federal Local Court Rules. 3d. ed. (REPORTERS KF8820.A2xb)  This source is arranged alphabetically by state. Under each state, unannotated local rules are provided for each U.S. District Court.

  • Federal Procedure Rules Service. (KF8840.F43)  This work provides local rules for the various U.S. District Courts within the 8th Circuit.

Deskbooks for individuals states (e.g., Minnesota Rules of Court) also contain the local court rules for the U.S. District Court(s) in that state.

Local federal court rules are also available on LexisNexis (Legal > Federal Legal > U.S. > Find Statutes, Administrative Materials & Court Rules > Federal Local Trial Court Rules Combined) and on Westlaw in the US-RULES database.  On the Internet, links to them are available at http://www.llrx.com/courtrules.

E. Digests, Court Reports, and Citators

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have been the object of considerable scrutiny and interpretation by the federal courts. It is possible to locate cases interpreting the rules through the West's Federal Digest and the West's Supreme Court Digest (e.g., under the topic "federal civil procedure"). A number of specialized reporters, digests, and citators focus specifically on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

  • Federal Rules Digest. 3d ed. (REPORTERS KF123.F443x)  This digest covers federal cases from 1954 - date. It is particularly helpful when research concerns a specific rule since it is arranged by a classification scheme, FINDEX, which uses the rules' own numbers.

  • Federal Rules Service, 1st - 3d series. (REPORTERS KF121.F433x)  This chronological reporter provides the full text of cases discussing the federal rules. The first series is arranged according to the FINDEX classification scheme mentioned in the previous entry. Later volumes list cases as they are decided in chronological order.

  • Federal Rules Decisions. (REPORTERS KF121.F42x)  In this chronological reporter, cases from all federal courts are included. Each case contains the standard topics and keynumbers used in the West digests. In addition to cases, this work includes articles and new and proposed rules along with Advisory Committee notes. It is indexed in Index to Legal Periodicals and LegalTrac.  This work is available on Westlaw in the FEDRDTP database.

  • Shepard's Federal Rules Citations. (REFERENCE KF8816.A23 S54)  This citator is designed to provide references to federal cases and secondary sources which cite specific rules. It also documents changes to existing rules. It is arranged by rule number.  

 F. Additional Sources 

To find other works containing the full text of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure, commentary about the rules, or references to cases interpreting the rules, search MNCAT Discovery Catalog  under the following Library of Congress subject headings:  court rules--united states; civil procedure--united states.  The following title search is also useful: federal rules of civil procedure.

G. Internet Sources 

An excellent site containing links to nearly all court rules available on the Internet is http://www.llrx.com/courtrules.

Another good source for the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is the  Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School.

Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure


Following the lead of Congress, the Minnesota Legislature delegated power to the Minnesota Supreme Court to promulgate rules of civil procedure for Minnesota Courts.(2) An Advisory Committee was formed and it proposed a set of rules which were approved by the Supreme Court in 1951. The Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure are very similar to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in content and organization. These rules are followed for litigation in the Minnesota District Courts. Local rules also exist for individual courts.

A. History

Few publications have documented the development of the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure. Information about current rule revisions is disseminated in Minnesota Lawyer (PERIODICALS .M593), Bench & Bar of Minnesota (PERIODICALS .M16), and in the advance sheets for West's North Western Reporter, 2d. (REPORTERS KF135.N71 2d).

B. Unannotated Rules

  • Minnesota Rules of Court. (RESERVE KFM5929.A193)   This annual "deskbook" contains the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, as well as other court rules. It provides a subject index.  This work is available on LexisNexis (Legal > States Legal - U.S. > Minnesota > Statutes & Regulations) and on Westlaw in the MN-RULES database.

  • Minnesota Statutes. ( PRIMARY KFM5429.M56; RESERVE KFM5429.M56) The last volume of this set contains all of the court rules for Minnesota. This work is available on LexisNexis (Legal > States Legal - U.S. > Minnesota > Statutes & Regulations) and on Westlaw in the MN-ST database and on the Internet at https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/statutes/ (see Chapters 540-552).  Court rules are also available from the Minnesota Judicial Branch web site (http://www.mncourts.gov/default.aspx?page=511).

C. Annotated Rules

  • Civil Rules Annotated [Minnesota Practice]. 3d ed. (RESERVE KFM5480.M53 v. 1-2A)   This source employs the same numerical order used in the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure. In-depth history and commentary are provided for each rule along with references to case law. This work is also available on Westlaw in the MNPRAC-CRA database.

  • Minnesota Statutes Annotated. (PRIMARY KFM5430.1946.A315; RESERVE KFM5430.1946.A315)  The rules are contained in a separate volume at the end of this set. Included after each rule are historical notes, references to commentary and court interpretations. The rules are available on Westlaw in the MN-ST-ANN database.

D. Local Rules

Most district courts in Minnesota adhere to a uniform set of local rules, Minnesota Rules of General Practice (available on the Minnesota Judicial Branch web site at http://www.mncourts.gov/default.aspx?page=511#generalRules). A few specialized rules exist for family, probate, and juvenile matters.

  • Minnesota Rules of Court. (RESERVE KFM5929.A193)   This work contains all unannotated local rules for Minnesota. This work is available on LexisNexis (Legal > States Legal - U.S. > Minnesota > Statutes & Regulations) and on Westlaw in the MN-RULES database. 
  • General Rules of Practice Annotated [Minnesota Practice]. (RESERVE KFM5480.M53 v. 3A)  This source provides the rules in numerical order. History, commentary, and references to case law are provided for each rule.  This work is also available on Westlaw in the MNPRAC-GRP database.

E. Digests, Court Reports, and Citators

The standard tools used to find and update Minnesota case law can be used to find cases which interpret the Minnesota Rules of Court.

  • West's Minnesota Digest. 2d (REPORTERS KFM5445.A18 1988)  This digest offers coverage of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure under a general topic, FEDERAL CIVIL PROCEDURE. No comparable topic covers Minnesota court rules. Cases are listed in the digest under specific litigation topics (e.g., pleading).

  • Dunnell Minnesota Digest. 5th ed. (REPORTERS KFM5457.D86 2001; REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5457.D86 2001)   This encyclopedic work discusses the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure under the general heading COURTS. It includes a subject index and the Finder's Materials volume contains a table of the rules. This work is available on LexisNexis (States Legal - Minnesota > Restatements & Jurisprudences > Dunnell Minnesota Digest).

  • Shepard's Minnesota Citations. ( REFERENCE KFM5459.S5; REFERENCE OFFICE KFM5459.S5)  The statute volume of this source includes references to cases which construe the rules and indicates amendments made to each rule.

F. Additional Sources

To find additional works containing the text of or discussing the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure, search MNCAT Discovery Catalog under the following Library of Congress subject headings:  court rules--minnesota; civil procedure--minnesota. The following title search is also useful: Minnesota rules of civil procedure.

Texts & Periodicals


A. Texts

To obtain background information to help apply rules of procedure, consult an in-depth treatise or journal article. MNCAT Discovery Catalog subject searches, civil procedure and procedure law, followed by the geographic jurisdiction your are researching, United States or Minnesota, provide access to many texts. The results of these subject searches include cross references which lead to materials on more specific topics. Helpful texts include:

  • Civil Procedure [Friedenthal, Kane, Miller]. 4th ed. (RESERVE KF8840.F727 2005)  This one volume "hornbook" provides a general overview of all aspects of the law of civil procedure. A table of rules refers to portions of the text which discuss specific rules. Throughout the work are references to cases and commentary in other sources.

  • Civil Procedure in a Nutshell [Kane]. 6th ed. (RESERVE KF8841.K36 2007)  This work gives a brief discussion of civil procedure very similar to the above work. It includes a rules table to aid in locating discussions of individual rules and many citations to court decisions.

  • Law of Federal Courts [Wright]. 6th ed. (RESERVE KF8840.W7 2002)  A large part of this work focuses on federal civil procedure. A table of rules is provided and other commentaries and cases are noted.

  • Minnesota Civil Practice [McFarland, Keppel]. 4th ed. (RESERVE KFM5930.M31x)  This work is a practical guide to trial litigation in Minnesota. It references court decisions and procedural rules throughout the text.

  • Minnesota State District Court Civil Practice Deskbook, 1st ed. [MCLE] (RESERVE KF209.M54x 2009 no. 18).  In addition to covering pleading and discovery, this deskbook discusses trial elements, post-trial procedures, and collection of judgments; it includes forms.

  • Pirsig on Minnesota Pleading [Pirsig]. 6th ed.(RESERVE KFM5935. P571x)   This work provides assistance in effectively using the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure on pleadings.

  • See also our research guide: Basic Minnesota Legal Research for additional treatises and resources for Minnesota. 

B. Periodical Articles

Periodical articles often provide useful information on recent rule changes. LegalTrac or Index to Legal Periodicals & Books can be used to find such articles by keyword, subject, author, article title, popular name of statutes and cases, or citations of cases, rules, and statutes. It is also possible to key in a specific procedural rule to find articles commenting on that rule; use "rule" and the number of the rule in a keyword search. The periodical, Litigation: The Journal of the Section of Litigation, American Bar Association (PERIODICALS .L56) is particularly relevant to civil procedure; this title is also available electronically via HeinOnline

  1. Further information on the federal judiciary is found in Title 28 of the United States Code.
  2. Minn.Stat. § 480.051