Agriculture Law and Management


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Researching Legal Information

No one will ever know all of the laws but it is helpful for us to understand how the laws can be located. This chapter introduces where federal and state statutes, regulations and court decisions are found in the U.S. legal system.


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 emphasizes the Internet (WWW) resources.

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 A statute that was enacted by the legislature but then subsequently repealed, for example, is not included in the Century Code.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 organized into 65 major topics (titles); the titles are subdivided into chapters and sections.
    • A numbering system is used to identify a section within the N.D.C.C., for example, N.D.C.C. §41-09-61 ( title - chapter - section ) refers to section 61 of chapter 9 of title 41.
    • List of Titles in N.D.C.C.
    • List of Chapters in Title 4 Agriculture, for example.
    • Sections in Chapter 4-35 Pesticide Act, for example.
      • You may want to take some time becoming familiar with the N.D.C.C. web site by clicking on the links and seeing where they take you.


      § -- symbol for section.

  • 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., 2015.
    • The web site is updated soon after each legislative session by incorporating the changes into the N.D.C.C.
  • 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 (U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Code is available on the WWW at (Legal Information Institute) and at (Office of the Law Revision Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives)
      • The U.S. Code is updated on the WWW soon after Congress has passed the bill and the President has signed it into law.
      • Use keywords to search the U.S. Code on the WWW; both web sites listed above have search capabilities.
      • 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  That web page provides a brief description of the N.D.A.C.
    • 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 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
      • 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 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
    • Citation format: 7 C.F.R. §42.101 ( title C.F.R. section )
    • The WWW site for the C.F.R. is updated as soon as possible after a regulation is finalized.

    Federal Register 

    • All federal regulations are published in the Federal Register as they are developed and 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 on the WWW.
    • A search mechanism is provided for searching the Federal Register on the WWW 
    • 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 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
    • With the advent of the WWW, the methods of citing court decisions has changed.  The following guidelines for North Dakota are taken from Also see
      • 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; USSCt decisions/opinions are available in several printed versions. 

    • 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 becoming available on the WWW.
    • 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


    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 completed the introduction to agricultural law. The next page introduces our next major topic -- property.


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