Where to Find Virginia Civil Court Records
In the Commonwealth of Virginia, civil court records refer to the various paper files and electronic documents generated during civil court proceedings. These documents encompass details of filed motions, court transcripts, oral arguments, evidence, opinions, sworn affidavits, and other court papers filed with the court clerks. Among other factors, understanding Virginia's court structure is essential when looking for specific civil court documents. The general district courts handle civil cases in which the amount in controversy is not in excess of $25,000. These courts have original and exclusive jurisdiction over civil claims amounting to $4,500 or less. A distinct small claims division presides over civil actions that are $5,000 or less. The circuit courts are trial courts of general jurisdiction sharing concurrent jurisdiction with the general district courts over claims involving more than $4,500 but less than $25,000. They exercise original and exclusive jurisdiction over all civil matters exceeding $25,000. The circuit courts also handle cases appealed from the general district courts. Third-party aggregate sites such as Virginia.CourtRecords.Us are recommended as an effective starting point when trying to locate court records maintained by these civil courts.
Are Virginia Civil Court Records Public?
By .law, members of the public have the right to see and get copies of civil court records maintained within the jurisdiction of the state civil courts. However, this is not a blanket law. According to Virginia Code § 17.1-208, confidential court records maintained by the clerk of the circuit courts as well as the executive secretary of the Supreme Court are restricted from the public eyes. By definition, confidential civil records are records mandated by statute or court rule to be removed from the public domain. This means that only people with direct and tangible interests in the records can request and make copies of them. Such eligible individuals include:
- The persons listed on the records
- The attorney of the records
- Members of the law enforcement agencies for the purpose of active investigations
- Persons with court orders authorizing access
Types of Cases in Virginia Civil Courts
Civil cases in the State of Virginia include all kinds of legal matters excluding those that are criminal in nature. Thus, cases heard in the state's civil courts at both the trial and appellate levels may include:
- Tort or personal injury cases
- Breach of contract cases
- Consumer complaint cases
- Family-related cases such as divorce, paternity, and adoptions
- Landlord-tenant disputes
- Equitable claims
- Trust and estate claims
- Lawsuits questioning the state laws
- Workers compensation cases
- Cases involving the rights of prisoners
- Summary eviction cases
- Civil right infringement disputes
- Tax suits, immigration, labor, and social securities claims
- Contract and Property Disputes
- Small Claims
What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases in Virginia?
Civil cases involve conflicts between private parties and institutions, typically over money. In Virginia, a civil case starts when one party (the plaintiff) claims to have been harmed by the actions of another person or business (the defendant) and seeks relief from the court by officially filing a complaint with the clerk. The aggrieved party may ask the court for recovery of damages in the form of money, or may ask for an injunction ordering the defendant to do something or refrain from doing something, or may seek a judgment of declaration — where the court determines rights of parties under a statute or contract. Generally speaking, the judge and jury in civil cases make decisions based on the preponderance of the evidence. Both parties in civil cases bear the burden of filing fees, court, and attorney costs. Those that cannot afford to cover these fees may either get waivers or ask the court to order the defendant to pay. Also, the outcome of losing a civil case does not involve jail time.
On the other hand, criminal cases in Michigan begin when someone allegedly violates the public codes of behavior dictated by Virginia laws. These cases are prosecuted by the government and the alleged offenders are designated "criminal defendants". In criminal cases, the burden of proof is on the prosecutor and the standard of proof is "beyond a reasonable doubt". The punishment associated with criminal cases can include fines, prison/jail sentence, probation, and community service.
How Do I Find Civil Court Records in Virginia?
The Virginia Code § 17.1-208 allows the public to search, locate, and copy civil court records upon request. The Clerks of the courts are the court custodians tasked with management, storage, and dissemination of active and closed civil court records. Available channels through which requesters can find and obtain civil court records in Virginia include:
- By making in-person requests
- By sending requests by mail
- By searching the online tools provided by the Virginia Judiciary
- By searching aggregate third-party sites
How Do I Find Civil Court Records In Person?
To find a document filed with the civil court, first determine the county and the court where the case was filed. Records of cases heard in the General District Courts are kept by the clerks of the district courts while cases handled at the circuit court are handled by the applicable clerk of the circuit court. Instead of checking from one county courthouse to another, those that do not know the county where a specific case was filed can check the district court or circuit court clerks in:
- The county where the defendant lives, works, or has a regular place of business
- The city or county where the cause of action arose
- The city or county where the defendant can be found or owns a property (if the defendant is a non-resident of Virginia)
After determining the particular courthouse where the case of interest was filed, contact the circuit circuit clerk's office or applicable general district court clerk's office to find out the request requirements and fees. Generally, most clerks require that querying parties provide a written request including the names of the parties in the case, the case file number, case status, and approximate date the case was filed. Some clerks provide online application forms to facilitate the request process. If applicable to the clerk holding the record of interest, visit the clerk's website to download, print, and complete the form. Alternatively, ask the clerk to forward the form by fax or email. Pursuant to Virginia Code 17.1-275, requesters are expected to pay nominal fees for viewing and making copies of requested documents. Copying fees are usually in the range of 50 cents to $1 per page. Additional charges may apply if requesting certified or triple seal stamped copies.
After arranging all details and fees needed to find a particular civil court case file, take a trip to the courthouse during normal business hours. While most clerks offer same day services, this may be impossible for older records stored in offsite locations. Note that most courthouses provide public computer terminals where visitors can self-serve and locate public court records themselves.
How Do I Find Civil Court Records By Mail?
To request a civil court record by mail, write an application request featuring relevant details needed to locate the record. Such details can include case number, names of the parties, the year the case was filed, and the name of the presiding judge or jury. Some clerks provide online forms to ease the request process. Make sure to speak with the applicable clerk's office to confirm the court's local request guidelines, correct mailing address, appropriate fees, and acceptable payment methods. If the record is confidential, send a copy of a government-issued ID along with a self-addressed stamped envelope, appropriate payment, and the application to the provided mailing address. The physical locations, mailing addresses, and contact details of Virginia civil courthouses can be found on the general district court and circuit court directories provided on Virginia's Judicial webpage.
How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?
The Virginia Judiciary offers unified online court search portals where interested persons can remotely search civil case information. The Circuit Court Case Management System can be used to find public circuit court records generated by all county circuit courts in the state, excluding the Circuit Courts of Alexandria and Fairfax. To search this database, select a county from the drop-down menu and then enter the plaintiff or defendant's name, case number, or hearing date.
Similarly, querying parties must select a court from the hang-down list of cities and counties to be able to run case searches using the General District Court Online Case Information System. Below the menu, click on the preferred search method under "Civil". If available, the system will display the case information within minutes.
Note that only public case information is available on the circuit and district court case management systems. Some restricted information can include:
- Sealed case details
- Sensitive information such as addresses, social security numbers, and financial account numbers
- Medical evaluation records
- Details of minors and witnesses
- Civil grand jury records
What is Included in a Virginia Civil Court Record?
Virginia civil court records are typically unique to each case but may also vary depending on the court and how long ago the case was heard. Generally speaking, civil court records feature details of the initial complaint, date, and place of filing, as well as the name and addresses of both the claimant and defendant. They also contain details pertaining to the court hearing such as oral arguments, witness testimonies, evidence, and trial transcripts. Civil case records also contain details of the judge's final disposition and judgment. If a case is subsequently appealed to the circuit court or appellate-level courts, the case record will be updated to include details pertaining to the review.
Not all filed cases make it to trial. In cases where both plaintiff and defendant alternatively settle through dispute resolutions, the records will include details of agreed-upon settlements.
How to Access Virginia Civil Court Records For Free
The centralized online court case management systems are public service tools. This means that they can be accessed free of charge. Also, viewing civil court records using the self-service computer terminals in the courthouses can be done without paying any fee. If the record of search is not online or on the public terminal, consider applying for fee waivers. For this, speak with the clerk to ascertain eligibility and application procedures.
How to Seal Civil Court Records in Virginia
Several statutes including Virginia Code §§ 20-124, 8.01-576.10, and 8.01-581.22 permit the sealing of a record. However, the petitioner seeking to seal their records must cite compelling reasons that outweigh justice's interest in keeping the records public. Cited reasons must be specific and interests such as emotional damage, financial harm, and potential damage to professional repute is not compelling enough to seal a record. Before filing a motion to seal a record in court, make sure to speak with a legal professional to weigh the chances of success. Typically, the petition may be denied or granted based on the judge's discretion.
How to Access Sealed Civil Court Records in Virginia
Once an order to seal a civil court record is issued by a judge, the record's custodian is mandated to redact and restrict the record's access to authorized parties. The record is deleted from the online case management systems and paper files are moved to separate envelopes that are physically sealed. Going forward, access to such sealed civil court records will be restricted to selected parties such as:
- The plaintiff and defendant
- Their representative attorneys
- Authorized court employees
- Members of the law enforcement agencies
- Members of the public with relevant court orders
To challenge a court's decision to seal a civil court record, visit the clerk's office to file a motion to unseal the record, stating specific reasons why sealing the record is not in the best interest of justice. This motion will be served on the persons named on the record and a hearing will be set. It is recommended to seek legal assistance to determine how best to continue.