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Where to Find California Civil Court Records

California civil court records refer to official documents detailing the proceedings of civil courts within the jurisdiction of the state. They include documents pertaining to civil disputes, suits, and claims, as well as court transcripts, motions, and dockets. These records are typically managed and disseminated by the courthouse where the case was filed and heard. However, they may also be made accessible to interested and eligible members of the public through third-party aggregate sites such as CourtRecords.Org.

Are California Civil Court Records Public?

All non-confidential civil court cases can be accessed by interested members of the public. According to the provisions of the California Public Records Act, transcripts containing court proceedings as well as court motions and decrees are available for public access. However, not all civil court records in California are open to the public. Protected/confidential information, including those restricted by court order, and those containing information pertaining to minors or juveniles are exempt from public disclosure.

Similarly, selected records are restricted from public access but are available to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements. Civil court records in this category are usually open to the person(s) named on the record, court-authorized requestors and those authorized by the registrant(s), legal representatives of the plaintiff or defendant and selected law enforcement officials.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

Types of Cases in California Civil Courts

California civil courts are tasked with hearing non-criminal cases. Civil cases are usually those pertaining to disputes between individuals as well as private and public-owned institutions and establishments. These cases are generally resolved following a privately agreed-upon or court-ordered settlement which may be financial Some examples of these cases are;

  • Selected traffic violations
  • Tort and equitable claims
  • Non-violent civil rights violations such as discrimination
  • Landlord-tenant disputes
  • Consumer complaints
  • Workplace accidents and/or injuries
  • All agreement violations and contract-based disputes
  • Cases pertaining to marriage, civil unions, divorce and separation as well as adoption, guardianship and emancipation, and child support and/or custody.

What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases in California?

Criminal cases are deemed offenses against the state because they are considered especially grievous and often involve acts of violence. On the other hand, civil cases involve non-violent disputes between individuals, businesses, or institutions. Thus, while criminal cases are prosecuted by the state or the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed, civil cases are initiated by individuals or establishments.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records In California?

California civil court records are typically maintained by the court clerk in the courthouse where the case was filed and heard. As such, these records can be obtained by making in-person requests at the courthouse or by requesting the record online or via mail.

To make in-person queries or send record requests via mail, interested and eligible persons must do the following:

Gather Relevant Information

To access a record, requesters will be required to provide all the information needed to facilitate the record search. This includes the date on which the suit/complaint was filed as well as the personal information of the plaintiff and defendant, the names of their legal representative(s), and the case file or docket number of the record.

Identify the Court

The California judicial system comprises several appellate courts, superior courts, and the state Supreme Court which is at the apex of the state judiciary. Civil cases are usually heard by the civil court in the jurisdiction where the dispute took place, or where the individual(s) or organization (s) involved are resident. To identify the appropriate court, requestors may query the Superior Court(s) within the jurisdiction concerned.

Upon confirming the court location, the requesting party must also identify the division in which the case was filed. While the California civil court structure varies across various jurisdictions, most civil courts are divided into several broad groups based on the amount involved in the claim or suit. Record requests must be specifically directed to the appropriate division of the courthouse.

Schedule a Visit to the Courthouse or Mail the Request

Most courts require in-person requesters to schedule their visit to the courthouse with the information provided on their respective websites. These sites also provide the mailing and physical addresses of the courthouse.

In addition to providing case information to facilitate the record search, may also be required to cover the search and copy costs of the record of interest and provide any supporting documentation to prove their eligibility to access the record.

Ultimately, walk-in or in-person applications are processed briskly compared to other request channels.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?

California civil court records can be accessed online using the electronic resources provided on various court websites, and they can be accessed using third-party sites. However, there are restrictions on the availability of civil court records online. As per California state law and in compliance with the Code of Civil Protection, the following records are restricted from public access and may not be distributed online:

  • Records containing information pertaining to a juvenile or minor
  • Court records in a civil harassment proceeding
  • Civil court records pertaining to family cases such as domestic violence suits, child support/custody cases, and legal separation cases
  • Court records regarding workplace violence or workplace violence prevention.

Electronic court records may also be restricted to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements. More information regarding the available case types and eligibility requirements is outlined in Rule 2.503 of the California Rules of Court

To access available records remotely, the requesting party must find the trial court applicable and their corresponding website. This can be accomplished using the Find Your Court Tool available on the California Judicial website.

For access to judicial administrative methods managed by the appellate courts or the Judicial Council of California, requestors may download and complete the Intake Form. The completed form may then be mailed or emailed to:

Public Access to Judicial Administrative Records (PAJAR)
Judicial Council of California
5th Floor,
455 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102-3688
Phone: (415) 865-7796
E-mail: PAJAR@jud.ca.gov

What Is Included In a California Civil Court Record?

Like most court records, California civil court records are unique to each case; however, they all feature similar information. Civil court records are also known to vary depending on the place where the jurisdiction was filed and the nature of the suit or claim. Generally, however, most civil court records contain the following information:

  • The personal information of the plaintiff as well as the defendant and all associated establishments and third-parties (if applicable)
  • Court summons, orders of notices, arrest warrants, restraining orders and all related documentation
  • Details of the complaint, suit, or claim as well as any amendments to the complaint or claim, following the initial report.
  • The plea of the defendant
  • Filings, affidavits, and evidence presented by either plaintiff or defendant
  • The trial transcripts including appearances, motions, and oral arguments (usually contained in dockets)
  • Memorandum of decision and final judgments,
  • Agreements, court-ordered settlements, and details of any court-ordered rights and privileges to be supervised by law enforcement

How to Access California Civil Court Records For Free

All court case information available electronically may be accessed for free. However, selected jurisdictions and courthouses may charge requestors for copy requests and research exceeding an allotted number of minutes. Additionally, under the provisions of the state's public record policy, the information accessible remotely is limited unless the requestor opts to use the self-service station available in any of the state's courthouses. However, information which specifically identifies minors and witnesses are typically excluded from electronic access. Access to these records requires that the requestor make in-person requests to the record custodian.

How to Seal Civil Court Records in California

Civil court records can be expunged or sealed, resulting in the destruction or restriction of the information contained in the record.

In the state of California, there is no true expungement. However, under specific circumstances, persons who have been arrested in connection to a false accusation may be eligible to petition for the removal of the record.

In California, civil court records are sealed if it is determined that one or both of the parties involved have a legitimate interest in keeping the documents confidential. If the Interest to keep the records confidential outweighs the right of public access to the record and public interest, then both the plaintiff and defendant may agree to the sealing of documents and petition the relevant court to this effect. However, the court is obligated to grant or deny the petition of either or both parties. Ultimately, before a record is sealed, a court/judge must issue an order or subpoena.

How to Access Sealed Civil Court Records in California.

Requestors are typically denied access to sealed civil court records. To access a sealed record, the requesting party must challenge the court's decision to restrict the record. Upon challenging the court-ordered limitations on the accessibility of the record of interest, the records will be made available to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements.

To be eligible to access a sealed court record, the requesting party must have the legal authority provided by a court order/subpoena. However, the legal representative of the persons involved and law enforcement agents/agencies may also access these records.

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