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What are California Civil Court Records?
California civil court records consist of records generated or maintained during in-court civil proceedings, such as property cases, breach of contract claims and tort suits. Records may include dockets, transcripts, motions, and more.
How to get civil court records in California
A large percentage of the documents generated during civil court proceedings are considered public information and therefore presumed to be open to the public except where protected by law or existing court order. Depending on the county and court, civil court records may be obtained by:
- Contacting the courthouse where the case was filed
- Requesting record via mail
- Searching court records online
- Using public record services and third party websites
How to Find Your court
Walk-in or in-person applications offer the shortest processing times for obtaining civil records. To take advantage of this, interested parties must contact and visit the California courthouse housing the record. Fortunately, finding civil court records does not have to be a challenge. Interested parties can narrow down their search with a few quick steps.
Step 1. Collect Case-Related Information.
To find the right court, requesters will need to have as much case-specific information as possible. Most courts organize civil court records using an alphabetical index that contain the name of businesses, organizations, and people. Records are also organized using case numbers and related information such as filing date and attorney name. Collecting case-related information simplifies the search process and reduces the risk of false results.
Step 2. Identify the Court
Like most states in the county, California has a hierarchical judicial system that splits caseloads across courts based on the type of case. Superior courts serve as the state trial court, with jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, while appellate courts oversee appeals for criminal cases originating from superior courts. Public information of cases filed at the appellate court may only be obtained at the originating appellate district while records of cases filed within superior courts are preserved by the associated county court.
Step 3. Identify the County and Appropriate Court
Match the city with the related court. The state of California has 58 trial courts with at least one in every county. Each of these courts has jurisdiction over multiple cities. Records of civil cases filed within a specific jurisdiction can be found in the presiding superior court. For instance, the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angles provides records for all limited and unlimited civil court cases filed in its jurisdiction, including Los Angeles civil court records.
Step 4. Identify the Division
Although court structures vary across different counties, most of the civil court cases filed at superior courts fall into several broad groups based on the amount involved.
- Small Claims Case: Civil cases that involve $10,000 or less
- Limited Civil Case: General civil cases that involve $25,000 or less
- Unlimited Civil Case: General civil cases that involve amounts over $25,000
Cases that fall in the small claims category are filed in the small claims division while limited and unlimited civil cases fall under the court’s civil division. Some civil court records may also be managed by the court’s family division, which oversees family-related issues such as spousal support, adoptions, domestic violence issues, and termination of parental rights.
Step 5. Search for the Court Address
Court addresses can be found on their official site. This includes both physical and mailing addresses. However, some courts may have multiple addresses for different divisions.
How to access records
Courts provide public records about civil cases in electronic or paper format. Interested parties can access records in several ways:
- By searching for the records over the internet (remote access)
- By viewing the physical (paper) records at the courthouse
- By going to the courthouse and viewing the electronic records
Are Court Case Records Public?
Most cases contain non-confidential information that the public is allowed to view. Depending on the case, members of the public may be able to obtain transcripts, court decrees, court motions and more. However, not all cases in California are open to the public. Members of the public are prevented from obtaining records of cases that contain protected information. Examples of such cases include civil cases involving a minor such as juvenile delinquency or juvenile dependency.
Some records may only be available to a limited group of people. For instance, courts may provide remote access to certain court records for persons related to a case. Access may be restricted to only the:
- Named party on the record
- Individuals authorized by the named party
- Legal attorney for the party
- Court-appointed official
- Government staff
Are all Civil Court Records Available Online?
Not all civil court records are provided online. In compliance with California state law, courts within the state are prevented from providing online access to certain records. Some records can only be accessed directly at the courthouse to the extent it is feasible to do so. These include:
- Court records in a civil harassment proceeding (as defined in the Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6)
- Court records in a proceeding under the family code (including child custody cases, domestic violence prevention, and legal separation)
- Court records for cases filed in juvenile court
- Court records for workplace violence prevention (Code of Civil Procedure section 527.85)
Understanding Docket Numbers
Docket numbers (sometimes known as file numbers) are alphanumeric numbers assigned by courts to each case dockets. They make it easier to track and organize case dockets.
Docket numbers are assigned uniformly across the state by the California Supreme court and appellate courts. However, the system used by superior courts to assign docket numbers varies across counties. Members of the public can learn to interpret docket numbers by studying the court’s prefix matrix. The type of information stored on dockets varies across different jurisdictions. However, docket numbers typically include some or all of the following details:
- A generated number assigned to a case
- An alphabet indicating the court where the case is filed in
- The filing year (represented by a two or four-digit number)
- The type of case being filed
Note: Docket numbers are only unique within each court. It’s possible for two courts in a different state to have the same number. Punctuations, leading zeros, and letters are all important parts of a docket number. Skipping or altering any of these may result in the wrong case file or information.
How do I find a docket number?
Members of the public can find docket numbers in a variety of ways.
- Contact the clerk: The quickest way to obtain a docket number is to make a request directly to a clerk with access to the record. To use this option, requesters will need to know the specific court where the case was heard. The clerk will also request relevant information such as the name of the parties involved, the type of case, the county where the case was filed and the filing date. A court clerk will be able to provide general public information about a case as well as the docket number.
- Check existing court documents: Documents filed during a civil court case, such as the motions, answer, and complaint, often contain a docket number. Members of the public can use available records to identify the correct docket number.
- Use the court’s online search system: Most of the courts in California provide online access to electronic court records. Members of the public can access and search through these records remotely on a tablet, PC or phone anywhere in the county. Although electronic records do not serve as official documents, most files come with the docket number for the case.
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 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.
- Visit the courthouse: Members of the public can search for docket numbers directly at the courthouse where the case was filed. Most of the superior courts in California provide public computer terminals at the courthouse location.
What are judicial records?
Judicial records are official records created or maintained by a court or judicial body during its course of business. Most judicial records fall into three broad categories
- Case Records: records in this category are related to in-court proceedings or files maintained by a court during judicial proceedings, such as exhibits, dockets, and case files.
- Chamber Records: records in this category consist of writings created by a judicial officer and maintained by chamber officials, such as law clerks, administrative staff or persons working in a position of support for the judicial officer.
- Administrative Records: administrative records include documents and information created or maintained by a judicial agency or court in relation to the management, administration, and supervision of the agency’s affairs.
Administrative records and case records are generally easier to obtain compared to judicial chamber records. Even though judicial chamber records do not fall under the federal public records act, some states provide that right to members of the public. However, in the state of California the rights of privacy supersedes the public’s access to records, which makes it harder to obtain certain judicial records, especially when it contains sensitive information.