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What are New York Civil Court Records?
Civil court records refer to the official files, documents, and information collected, received, or generated during civil court proceedings. They’re maintained by a county clerk in connection to a civil case. Civil court records may include court judgments, exhibitions, motions and papers filed in the court. Records may also be provided in electronic or paper form, as well as online from official and third party sites.
Note: Unlike criminal courts where individuals are charged with crimes against the government, civil court cases involve legal disputes between individuals or businesses.
Understanding New York’s Civil Court Structure
New York State’s civil court structure is divided into three broad levels. It is made up of the courts of original instance, intermediate appellate courts, and upper appellate courts.
- Courts of Original Instance: The courts of "original instance" serve as the main trial courts for the state. They have jurisdiction over different types of civil cases, depending on the monetary threshold. For instance, New York Town and Village courts hear civil lawsuits under $15,00 while County Courts preside over civil disputes under $25,000.
- Intermediate Appellate Courts: New York appellate courts consist of county courts and Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court (1st and 2nd department). These courts preside over appeals for cases originating from the lower trial courts.
- Upper Appellate Courts: Made of the Courts of Appeal and the Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, these courts serve as the courts of last resort for civil cases in New York.
Are Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
In compliance with New York state law, most civil lawsuits fall under the umbrella of public record and may be viewed by the public. However, records may be sealed or protected from public view if a court finds good cause to do so. Persons named in a record may seek to have a record sealed. When this occurs, the request is honored if a judge finds that the reasons behind the request outweigh the public interest in access.
How Do I Obtain New York Civil Court Records?
Civil court records can be obtained by contacting the clerk of court. In compliance with Section 255 of New York’s Judiciary Law, access to civil court records is not overseen by the OCA but by the clerk of court. In addition to governing records, the clerk is also tasked with conducting searches of files, records, and dockets as well as certifying the correctness of any document issued.
Requests can be submitted directly to the clerk in the courthouse or via mail, depending on the available options. Any request sent to the clerk must include specific information to facilitate the search. Most clerks require that submitted applications must:
- Clearly, describe the type of civil court record being sought
- Be for a specific record (or records)
- Include useful information that conforms with the court’s indexing system
How do I Access New York Civil Court Records Online?
The New York State Unified Court System provides electronic access to a wide range of court information, including case files, judicial decisions, calendars and more. It maintains an online e-Track platform that provides updated information on active civil court cases across all the counties in New York State. Users will need an active account to use this service. The New York State Unified Court System also maintains a WebCivil Supreme database that contains information on cases filed in New York State Civil Supreme Courts. Interested parties can search through the database’s index to find cases by case number or search through cases by party name. Searches can also be made by attorney, firm, or the name of the presiding justice.
Are all New York Civil Court Records Free?
Most civil court records are free. Members of the public aren’t required to pay for viewing or inspecting records in public terminals at the courthouse. However, pursuant to Section 255 of the Judiciary Law, New York court clerks are permitted to charge a fee “allowed to a county clerk for a similar service,” if providing the records requires some secretarial service. This means court clerks may charge the same fee to certify and copy records as a county clerk would. Requests for records that take longer than 10 minutes to find may incur a search free. Requests for copies of records almost always require payment. The full details of the expected payment can be found on the court’s website.
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 a 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.
What is the New York City Civil Court?
The Civil Court of New York is a trial court of record that presides over civil cases within New York City. Formed in 1962, it has jurisdiction over most civil claims for cases less than $25,000. It also handles other civil matters referred to it by the Supreme Court. The court has multiple divisions, overseeing different types of civil cases, including:
- Landlord and tenant division for landlord-tenant matters
- Small claims division for hearing small claims cases in NY City (for matters not exceeding $5,000)
In addition, the Civil Court of the City of New York is situated in multiple locations, including Harlem, Bronx, Kings, Richmond, Red Hook, and Queens.
Obtaining Civil Court Records from the Civil Court of the City of New York
To obtain records from the civil court of the city of New York, interested parties must provide specific information such as the index number of the case. Members of the public who do not already have an index number can obtain one by either:
- Searching through the public access terminal at the courthouse (for recent cases)
- Manually searching through the index books (used for older cases)
Processing times for records varies. The Civil court maintains civil court records for several years before they are moved to an off-site location. Records that have been sent to the archives may take two to three weeks to retrieve, while records stored in the courthouse can be found in hours. Depending on the record and reason for the request, court officials may permit requesters to physically examine the file on the court grounds.