Pennsylvania Civil Court Records
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What are Pennsylvania Civil Court Records?
Pennsylvania civil court records refer to the various reports and documents containing relevant information regarding civil court proceedings within the jurisdiction of the state. They are generated to provide an objective account of civil cases/ court hearings and are typically maintained by the office of the clerk of courts in the court where the case was heard. Civil court records may include all documents constituting evidence in a civil case as well as motions and judgments documented on paper or recorded electronically.
Cases Heard by Pennsylvania’s Civil Courts
Civil cases in the state of Pennsylvania encompass all kinds of legal actions excluding those of a criminal nature. Thus, cases heard by the state’s civil courts may include all cases involving negligence, battery or personal injury, as well as all contract and work-related disputes, family-related cases, and major consumer complaints requiring financial settlements. Essentially, all cases relating to equitable claims, tort claims and landlord/tenant disputes are heard by the state civil court.
Pennsylvania’s Civil Court System
The Pennsylvania judicial system comprises 6 courts of various authorities and jurisdiction. They include the state Supreme Court, Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, the Courts of Common Pleas, Magisterial district courts and various Municipal courts.
There are 60 judicial districts in the state of Pennsylvania, all of which have unique systems for handling civil cases. In most cases, there is a three-level tribunal process in processing civil suits. This primarily involves the magisterial district court and the courts of common pleas.
As per the state’s civil court system, complaints may be filed and served following a civil dispute. The defendant may opt to file a response to the complaint or hold-off until the pre-trial conference which will be held between the judge and attorneys for the plaintiff and the defendant. The judge may then recommend a settlement or alternative dispute resolutions, but where no resolution is reached a trial ensues and a judgment is rendered. Like criminal cases, most civil trials will be presided over by a judge and deliberated on by a jury. Jurors are tasked with determining the final verdict of the case. Unsatisfied parties may choose to appeal the verdict in any of Pennsylvania’s appellate courts.
What Is Included In a Pennsylvania Civil Court Record?
Pennsylvania civil court records are typically unique to each case but may also vary depending on the court where the case was filed and the record generated. Generally, civil court records contain details of the complaint made as well as the date and place of its filing, and the personal information of the plaintiff and defendant. It features details pertaining to the court hearing such as the evidence produced by either party and the trial transcript which includes records of appearances and motion arguments.
Records of cases that do not make it to trial may include details of any agreed-upon financial settlements and/or probationary conditions. However, cases that are tried in court will detail information regarding the final verdict while details of any further appeals will be included in the records subsequently. Most information relevant to a civil case is included on the docket sheets of Pennsylvania’s Appellate Courts, Courts of Common Pleas and Magisterial District Courts. Additional information regarding a case (such as schedules and summarized conclusions) may be found on the court postings/opinions and calendars maintained by the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania.
Are Pennsylvania Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Following the establishment of Pennsylvania’s public access policy, most records of civil suits and court proceedings were made accessible to members of the public. These records are primarily housed in the courthouse where the suit was filed or where the case was heard. Generally, records are made available to interested persons upon request. However, records that have been sealed by a court order or rendered confidential are restricted to persons with specific legal authorities. Additionally, civil filings involving a minor may be partially confidential with the name and personal information of the child withheld.
Does Pennsylvania Have a Judiciary Case Search?
The state of Pennsylvania operates a Unified Judicial System which is tasked with providing comprehensive public access to court records. The UJSP provides a Judiciary Case Search which allows interested persons to conduct online and in-person searches for case information. Other resources made available to the public through the UJSP include electronically filed documents, opinions, and postings as well as various relevant forms.
How do I Obtain Civil Court Records in Pennsylvania?
The method for accessing civil court records is the same for all other court records in the state of Pennsylvania. Remote access to most records does not require permission from the record custodian. However, persons obtaining records remotely may be denied access to sensitive information regarding the plaintiff/defendant, witnesses, jurors and any minors involved in the case. As is the case for most court records, Pennsylvania civil court records may be accessed by:
- Using the states online resources such as the UJS web portal
- By making in-person requests
- Sending requests via mail to the courthouse where the record was generated and is maintained.
- Through third party websites
- Accessing Pennsylvania Civil Court Records In-person
While the Pennsylvania UJS offers a variety of remote options for accessing civil court records, the public access policy of the state limits the information that may be accessed using these methods. Essentially, walk-in or in-person requests are considered the best method for accessing full court records.
In order to request a record remotely, the requester must first identify the court where the record was filed or the case heard. For civil cases, this will likely be the Magisterial District Court or the Court of Common Pleas in the jurisdiction where the complaint was filed. Once confirmed, the requestor may proceed to contact the appropriate magisterial district court office or clerk of the court of common pleas.
The requesting party may opt to secure an appointment with the relevant office beforehand. Upon making their request, requestors must provide sufficient case information with which to track the record of interest. This may include details such as the name of the plaintiff and defendant, the date the complaint was filed and details of any claims involved. Typically, civil court records may be maintained by separate divisions of a court based on the claims and the case type (i.e. family or consumer-related cases). For requests that prove especially complex, the requestor may be required to complete and submit the Request for Official Records of the Magisterial District Courts. Most requests will require payment of a standard search and copy fee, as well as a copy of any identifying document of the requestor.
- Accessing Pennsylvania Civil Court Records Via Mail
Alternative to making in-person requests for civil court records, interested members of the public may request these records via mail. This will require preparing a written request which should state relevant details of the civil case such as the names of the parties involved, the case file number, the place, and date of filing and the prescribed judgment (if known). Mail-in requests should also indicate the type of documents being requested and must be enclosed along with a copy of the requestor’s government-issued ID, a self-addressed envelope and payment to cover the required search and/or copy fees. Requestors may also opt to fill out a request form for more complex requests.
- Accessing Pennsylvania Civil Court Records Online
The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania operates an online web portal that is designed to provide public access to civil court records of Pennsylvania’s courts. Civil court records are primarily managed by the Magisterial District Courts and Courts of Common Pleas of the State. As such, most civil court records are available on the individual web docket tools of the Courts of Common Pleas Docket Tool and
Magisterial District Courts Docket Tool. Similarly, docket sheets of the states Commonwealth Court, Superior Court, and Supreme Court may be used to retrieve other civil court records—especially those generated in the appellate process.
Searches for appellate civil court records may also be conducted using the Appellate court docket tool Generally, docket tool searches require that the requester provide the docket number of the file being requested. However, for record searches using Courts of Common Pleas or Magisterial District Courts docket tools, users must furnish the portal with criteria such as the parties involved, OTN and/or police incident/complaint number. With the separate public web docket search tools provided on the web portal, all persons seeking access to civil court records must know the court in which the case was filed before commencing a search.
Publicly available records are accessible from some third-party websites. These websites offer the benefit of not being limited by geographical record availability and can often serve as a starting point when researching a specific or multiple records. To find a record using the search engines on these sites, interested parties must provide:
- The name of someone involved providing it is a not a juvenile
- The assumed location of the record in question such as a city, county, or state name
Third party sites are not government sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
- Accessing Pennsylvania Civil Court Records For Free
All information available on the UJS web portal may be accessed for free. However, under the provisions of Pennsylvania’s public record policy, the information accessible remotely is limited to the personal information of the plaintiff/defendant, filed actions taken during proceedings and relevant documents that serve as evidence. On the other hand, information which specifically identifies jurors and witnesses are excluded from the web portal. These records typically require in-person requests to retrieve from the custodian.
- Accessing Sealed Civil Court Records
While the state of Pennsylvania protects the right of the public to access civil court records, some records are rendered inaccessible by court order. Civil court records may be sealed or expunged following the request of the plaintiff or defendant. As such these records may only be accessed by qualified law enforcement agents and persons authorized by court order as provided by 18 Pa. C. S. A. § 9121of Pennsylvania’s public record policy. Other sensitive information contained in a civil court record such as the personal information of a minor and information pertaining to witnesses and jurors (if applicable) may be obtained by making in-person requests to the office of the Clerk of Courts where the case was heard.
Other Civil Court Information Resources
The UJS web portal provides access to other relevant information such as Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Court Prothonotary addresses as well as court opinions/postings and calendars. These are especially useful for locating the various principal court clerks, viewing the summary of the facts/judgment of a case and for viewing the current schedules and calendar events of all courts in the state. Interested persons may access court opinions using the UJS Opinions Search Tool. Searches may be conducted by the name of the author as well as the type, date, and caption of the posting. On the other hand, Calendar schedules may be searched using the name of the attorney of interest or the calendar event.
Civil Court Records in Pennsylvania Judicial Districts
Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas serve as the state’s general trial courts which are organized geographically into 60 judicial districts. The civil court records in these districts primarily include court records of family-related cases and appeals from minor courts and those not specifically assigned to a court.
The conditions for accessing court records from the judicial district are often unique to the court. However, all record requests may be made through the court administrator or any of the available online resources (if applicable).
Are there Public Records of Alternative Dispute Resolutions in Pennsylvania?
Where necessary, civil disputes in Pennsylvania may be resolved by alternative dispute resolution processes such as mediation, neutral evaluation, and/or arbitration. Alternative dispute resolution processes are popularly regarded as a cheaper alternative to initiating litigation. It is often used to reach agreeable resolutions in civil cases involving businesses, employees, consumers, family members, and international legal issues. While these processes are often conducted outside the courtroom, they remain within the interest of the state’s legal system. However, unlike court proceedings which are publicly held and documented, most ADR processes are kept confidential. This is especially the case since most persons and/or organizations who opt for dispute resolution alternatives do so for the sake of privacy.
While these processes are documented, the parties involved are often bound by non-disclosure agreements to keep details of the resolution process private. Nonetheless, persons with special legal authorities may access these records if they become relevant for legal purposes. These records may also be subpoenaed by interested members of the public.