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What are Florida Civil Court Records
Florida Civil Court Records contain official court information and records generated during civil court proceedings. They include tapes of depositions, docket sheets, court decrees, compliant amendments and more. In compliance with Florida’s public record laws, most civil court records are open to the public and may be viewed or obtained by contacting the record custodian of the court or by searching online through official or third-party websites.
Who Can Access Civil Court Records?
Florida’s Sunshine Law preserves a right of access to public records for almost everyone. This means that most public civil court records can be viewed, inspected or copied by almost any requester. The task of organizing court records and processing requests falls to the appointed court clerk. Most clerks recommend that requesters provide sufficient specificity in their application, so records are easier to find. Generally, interested parties are not required to disclose their name or contact details, unless otherwise expressly set by law.
What information is contained in a Florida Civil Court File?
While the exact contents of civil court records vary with different case files, most civil court files generally provide the following information:
- Judgment file
- Amended complaint or a substituted compliant
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
- Executions issued and return
- Order of notice and appearances
- Memorandum of decision
Understanding Florida’s Civil Court Structure
Florida’s court system consists of multiple courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, Courts of Appeal, Circuit Courts and County Courts. While each of these courts presides over civil cases, the jurisdiction of the courts varies across each level.
Florida Supreme Court
Headquartered in Tallahassee and made up of seven justices, the Florida Supreme Court serves as the highest court in the state. It’s the court of last resort for different matters and has mandatory jurisdiction over bond validations and decisions affecting the state constitution among others. The court also has discretionary jurisdiction over certified judgments arising from trial courts.
District Courts of Appeal
Florida district courts of appeal serve as the intermediate appellate court. The duties of the court include reviewing decisions made by the lower courts. There are five district courts in the state and each district is led by a chief judge.
Florida Circuit courts serve as the trial courts for the state of Florida. They have general jurisdiction over all civil matters in the state involving disputes over $15,000. They also preside over probate, guardianship, family law, juvenile delinquency, and other cases.
Note: Changes in Florida statute will alter the jurisdiction of circuit courts to include civil disputes involving more than $30,000 by 2020
Sometimes referred to as people’s courts, county courts serve as courts of limited jurisdiction for civil cases and monetary disputes up to $15,000. They also preside over citizen disputes, landlord-tenant disputes, municipal violations, and county ordinance violations.
Note: The monetary limit for civil disputes filed at the county court is scheduled to change in 2020 to $30,000.
Are Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
While most civil court records can be viewed, not all civil court records are a matter of public record. General case information, such as the name of the presiding judge, attending parties and attorneys, may be viewed by searching the public docket or the case search platform of the court. However, access to specific court decisions and court decrees may be restricted to a smaller group. Some records may be deemed confidential and protected from public view by law or court rule. This often occurs with:
- Juvenile court matters
- Adoption and paternity cases
- Psychology evaluations
- Treatment for substance abuse records
- Communications involving social worker and person
- Individuals and marital or family therapist
In compliance with Florida’s Sunshine Law, public civil court records can be accessed by the public and may be copied for a small fee.
How to Find Civil Court Records
Florida Civil court records may be found in different ways. Members of the public can opt to obtain records:
- By submitting a request in person
- By searching for records online
- By requesting for records via mail
How to Obtain Civil Court Records in Person
Step 1. Gather Information
Obtaining records in persons provides a quick and effective way of finding a civil court record. While some courts recommend that requesters submit a written letter, others may provide a form to assist with the process. Civil court records are organized in a large index. Some of the necessary information needed to locate a record:
- Courthouse location
- Case number assigned to the court file
- Name of the attorney on the case
- Names of the defendant and plaintiff named in the suit
- Name of the presiding judge
- Details of lawsuit (type of civil lawsuit)
- Date of the lawsuit
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Records of the civil cases are stored in the courthouses where the case was filed. Most courts permit members of the public to view, inspect or make copies of public civil court records. This is done at terminals located on the courthouse during specific hours. Residents can also obtain copies by submitting a request to the court clerk. Identifying the right court will depend on the type of case filed.
- General Civil Cases: Most cases are found at the circuit court
- Restraining order cases: Most cases are typically filed at the circuit court
- Agency appeals: Generally filed at the circuit court
- Small Claims cases: Most small claim cases can be found at county courts
- Civil Equity Cases: Majority of these cases fall under the jurisdiction of circuit courts
- Complex commercial cases: Almost all of these cases fall under the jurisdiction of circuit courts
- Landlord and Tenant Cases: Nearly evenly split between circuit and county courts
- Foreclosures and Liens: Nearly evenly split between circuit and county courts
Depending on when the case was filed, some older records may be stored in off-site locations. In which case, requesters may be asked to return.
Step 3. Pay the Fees
Although members of the public may view or inspect court records at no cost, payment is required for printing or making copies of court records. The exact fee payable is determined by the court. Depending on the record, an additional charge may be included for any requests that include certified court records.
How to Obtain Civil Court Records Online
Records of civil cases filed at circuit courts or county courts may be obtained using the general Comprehensive Case Information System (CCIS) adopted by many of the county clerks in Florida. It provides access to records cases filed across more than 30 counties, including Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Columbia, Desoto, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Liberty, Madison, Marion, Martin, Nassau, Okeechobee, Pasco, Polk, Putnam, Santa Rosa, Sumter, Taylor, Union, Wakulla, Walton and Washington.
Some counties provide direct access to civil court records using independently managed search platforms maintained on their website. Some of these include:
- Alachua County
- Bay County
- Brevard County
- Broward County
- Charlotte County
- Citrus County
- Clay County
- Collier County
- Duval County
- Escambia County
- Flagler County
- Gadsden County
- Hillsborough County
- Indian River County
- Lake County
- Lee County
- Leon County
- Levy County
- Manatee County
- Miami-Dade County
- Monroe County
- Okaloosa County
- Orange County
- Osceola County
- Palm Beach County
- Pinellas County
- St. Johns County
- St. Lucie County
- Sarasota County
- Seminole County
- Suwannee County
To use the online search system, users will need to fill the search fields, providing a case number, party name or case type. Some search systems allow requesters to specify a filing date range, which may come in useful in situations where users do not have a case number.
Once a record is found, requesters may pay to obtain copies of a civil record. Payment for obtaining records varies with different courts. Some courts offer a standard fixed fee while others offer a tiered fee-based system. Requests for certified copies of a civil record may include additional fees. Some platforms permit registered users to set up notifications for case information updates.
How to Obtain Florida Civil Court Records by Mail
To obtain civil court records by mail, members of the public must first establish that the clerk of court offers this service. Details on how to request records via mail can be found by visiting the official court’s website or contacting the clerk of court. The website also provides details on the cost of securing copies of civil court records using this method. Submitted request forms must include specific information to facilitate the search, such as a case number (if known) or names of the parties involved.
Searching for Civil Court Records
In cases where requesters do not have case number, civil court records can still be found using different methods, such as searching through calendars, dockets and name indexes.
- Searching with a Name Index: Name indexes contain an alphabetical listing of the persons or businesses that have filed a civil suit in court. Members of the public can search through the name index to identify the parties involved in a dispute being brought before the civil court. Name indexes include the names of both parties: the person(s) being sued (defendant) and individuals filing the lawsuit (plaintiff).
- Searching with Calendar/Dockets: Most court clerks maintain a docket or calendar which provides information on pending cases. The docket contains the name of the defendant and plaintiff, as we as the courtroom where the case will be held and the case number. Dockets are often organized by the names of the presiding judge.
Are all Florida Civil Court Records Online?
Not all courts provide online access to civil court records. Some courts restrict access to court records to only direct visits or physical requests submitted at the courthouse where the case was filed. In most instances, older records of cases filed before 1999 are unavailable in digitized format. They can only be viewed in traditional print form, which effectively prevents the option of online access (until the records are imaged and uploaded). Online access to confidential civil court cases, such as records of child custody cases or cases filed in a juvenile court, is also protected from direct or online public view.
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.