What is an “unreported case”? What is an “unreported opinion”? What is an “unreported decision”?
A Texas court of appeals opinion is sometimes called a “reported opinion” (a/k/a “reported case” or “reported decision”) if the case is included in the hardbound South Western Reporters. However, precedential value is not determined by whether a case is “reported,” but rather is determined by whether the case is “published.” Some people use the terms “reported” and “published” synonymously but the terms are not synonymous for court of appeals opinions issued on or after January 1, 2003. The term “reported opinion” generally refers to an opinion that has been included in the hardbound South Western Reporter, and the term “unreported opinion” generally refers to an opinion that has not been included in the South Western Reporter. The South Western Reporter includes all published opinions issued before 2003. So, all “published opinions” issued before 2003 are “reported opinions,” and all “unpublished opinions” issued before 2003 are “unreported opinions.” The Texas Supreme Court changed the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure effective January 1, 2003 so that all opinions issued on or after that date would be published. See Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 47.7(b). However, Thomson Reuters (the company which prints the South Western Reporters) does not include all “published opinions” issued by courts of appeals on or after that date. As such, there are many “published opinions” issued on or after that date which are not “reported opinions” (i.e., are “unreported opinions”). Here is a little more background: Before January 1, 2003, when a court of appeals issued a decision, the court could decide whether its opinion would be published or unpublished. When a court of appeals issued a published opinion (also known as a “published case”), West Publishing Company printed the opinion in the hardbound South Western Reporter and assigned the opinion a “S.W.” citation (which indicates the volume number and page number of the hardbound book in which the opinion could be found). Unpublished opinions were never included in the South Western Reporter. So, the decision about whether to include an opinion in the South Western Reporter was made by the court of appeals (by designating the opinion as “published” or “unpublished”). The Texas Supreme Court changed the Texas Rules of Appellate Procedure effective January 1, 2003 so that all opinions issued on or after that date would be published. See Texas Rule of Appellate Procedure 47.7(b). This rule change dramatically increased the number of published opinions issued by Texas courts of appeals each year (because the courts of appeals could no longer issue unpublished opinions). To eliminate the need for a corresponding increase in the number of South Western Reporter volumes issued each year, Thomson Reuters (the successor to West Publishing Company) began making editorial decisions as to which opinions should be included in South Western Reporter volumes. The editorial decision by Thompson Reuters to include a case in the South Western Reporter (or to exclude the case) should have no bearing on the precedential value of the case, as that decision is made by an editor employed by the company rather than by an appellate justice. For cases issued before 2003, the change in the appellate rules did not elevate “unpublished opinions” to the same precedential status as “published opinions.” But the amended rules did permit, for the first time, parties to cite unpublished opinions in court of appellate briefs. The amended rules provide that, when a party is citing a pre-2003 case that is “unpublished,” the party should include “not designated for publication” in a parenthetical following the case citation.