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What are Virginia Civil Court Records?
Virginia Civil Court Records consist of all records generated during civil court proceedings. They include docket sheets, tapes of depositions, court decrees, motions, and other official files. In keeping with the state’s public record laws, including the Virginia Public Records Act, members of the public may access copies of public civil court records by submitting a request to the custodian or searching online through official or third-party websites.
Understanding the Virginia Civil Court Structure
The Virginia court system is divided into four main levels: the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit courts, and the District courts.
Made up of a chief justice and 6 justices, the Virginia Supreme Court serves as the court of final resort in the state. While it possesses original and appellate jurisdiction, its primary duties include reviewing decisions that originate from lower courts., including criminal and civil cases.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals of Virginia is an intermediate appellate court. It presides over matters originating from lower courts, including domestic relations matters, criminal matters, and select civil decisions.
Virginia’s main trial court, circuit courts have broad jurisdiction over civil cases. They preside over civil cases that involve
- Monetary disputes/claims over $4,500 but not exceeding $15,000
- Divorce proceedings
- Property disputes
- Adoption proceedings
- Trusts, wills and other estate matters
With one in each district, district courts have select jurisdiction over certain types of civil cases. They preside over civil cases for claims less than $4,500 (not including attorney fees). These include personal injury actions, contract disputes and landlord and tenant disputes. They also have a small claims division that handles civil disputes where the plaintiff is seeking judgment of up to $5,000 or recovery of personal property valued up to $5,000.
What information is contained in a Virginia Civil Court File?
Civil court records vary on a case-by-case basis. However, most court files generally provide the following information:
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
- Executions issued and return
- Amended complaint or a substituted compliant
- Order of notice and appearances
- Judgment file
- Memorandum of decision
Are All Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Not all records are open to the public. Virginia’s public record law prevents the disclosure or sharing of files that have been made confidential by law or an existing court order. Some of the records that are protected from public view include:
- Academic records and records related to certain educational institutions
- Records connected to public safety
- Records containing health and social service information
- Records containing examination materials or legal memoranda
- Records containing trade secrets or proprietary information
Are Virginia Public Civil Court Records Free?
Members of the public can freely inspect or review public court records in person by visiting the courthouses where these records are stored. However, most record custodians charge a fee for copying, searching or duplicating records. This extra cost is not for the actual record, but the extra cost incurred while obtaining or providing the record.
How Do I Access Civil Court Records in Virginia?
Virginia’s FOIA laws allow for requests via different mediums. Interested parties may make requests for records in person, by mail or email. Requests must contain enough specific information to facilitate the search. Requests that are overly broad may be denied.
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.
How Do I Obtain Virginia Civil Court Records in Person?
Interested parties can obtain records in person by visiting the courthouses where those records are kept. Consult the Virginia Court Directory to find the courthouse address of interest. In-person requests provide the quickest way of inspecting or viewing records. But to use this option, requesters must have specific information that can help facilitate a quick search such as the case number. Although requests do not have to be made in writing, most courts provide request forms that members of the public can use. Some of the details needed to locate a record includes:
- The name of the attorney assigned to the case
- Name of the judge who presided over the case
- The location of the courthouse
- Details of the lawsuit
- Names of the defendant and plaintiff named in the suite
- Court file number
How Do I Obtain Virginia Civil Court Records Online?
Virginia courts provide online access to non-confidential civil court records via a case management system maintained on their official website. Online court records and case information can be obtained from the Supreme Court, courts of appeal, district court, and circuit court.
How to Access Supreme Court Record online
The Virginia Supreme Court provides online access to civil court records via an online Appellate Case Management System (ACMS-SCV). Members of the public can search for records by name, tribunal case number and case type.
How to Access Courts of Appeal Records Online
Access to civil court cases filed at the courts of appeals can be obtained using the court’s case management system. It allows for searches by case number or name. Records can be filtered to reveal records connected to the appellant or appellee.
How Do I Find Virginia Circuit Court Records Online?
Members of the public can search for records on civil cases filed at circuit courts using the Virginia Courts Case Information platform. It maintains state-wide records of cases filed at the circuit courts (with the exception of circuit courts in Fairfax and Alexandria). Searches can be conducted by name or case number. Interested parties can also filter results by hearing date.