North Carolina Court Records

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What are North Carolina Civil Court Records?

North Carolina civil court records are official files, which contain letters, documents, maps, sound recordings, films, books, tapes, and all other documentary material related to a civil court proceeding in the state of North Carolina.

What are Civil Court Proceedings?

A civil case is when an affected party files a petition in the court seeking protection of a civil or private right. It could also mean when a party seeks the court to provide a remedy against their offenders. Civil court proceeding involves cases such as debts, property damage, divorce and child custody matters, negligence causing injury or death, defamation, chieftaincy disputes, landlord/tenant, breach of contracts, land matters, and administration of an estate. North Carolina courts also hear civil cases involving contract disputes, personal injury claims, family issues, ownership disputes, child custody disputes, name changes, restraining orders, and claims less than $25,000.

North Carolina Civil Court System

The North Carolina Civil Court System is divided into three levels, which are the Appellate Court, which consists of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, the Superior Court, and the District Court.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of North Carolina is the highest in the state. It hears and decides appeal cases from the lower courts. It also entertains no jury or evidence. The Supreme Court has seven justices, which include a Chief Justice and six other associate justices.

Court of Appeals

The primary purpose of the Court of Appeals in North Carolina is to relieve the heavy caseload of the Supreme Court. It is an intermediate appellate court that has 15 judges with a panel of three sitting in each case. the Supreme Court Chief Justice has the authority to appoint the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals, like the Supreme Court, does not review cases to determine facts but to see if the lower courts followed the right rule of law and legal procedure when deciding the case.

The court hears appeals of civil cases brought from the superior and district court. When the panel of judges is in disagreement, they send the case to the Supreme Court for final reviews.

Superior Court

Established since 1777, the Superior Court of North Carolina is one of the oldest courts in the state. The court permits hearing cases with a jury (impanel juries), but a judge usually decides all the civil cases. It hears civil cases of over $25,000. The court has five divisions and 48 districts with judges that are rotated every six months within the districts in their allocated division. Records of cases filed at this level are maintained by the superior court alongside other clerical assignments. The superior court clerk also acts as a judge of probate, handling proceedings related to the authenticity of paper wills, and administering estates for incapable and deceased people.

District Court

The District Court of North Carolina hears civil matters alongside other cases such as criminal. Juvenile, and the magistrate. There are 41 district courts in the state. The civil cases brought to the court is often heard and decided by a Judge. The court hears civil cases such as cases involving claims of less than $25,000, divorce, child support, or child custody.

Magistrates

The Magistrates who are also under the district court hear civil cases on landlord eviction, recovery of personal items, and motor vehicle mechanics’ liens. They arealso responsible for hearing civil cases that have to do with small claims of $10,000 or less. They also write orders for eviction and identifies involuntary commitment. Most importantly, the district attorney has the sole authority in the state of Carolina to perform marriages. They also have other responsibilities as designated to them. The senior superior court judge appoints magistrates while the chief district judge supervises them. Their tenure could last for six years with an initial two-year term and a subsequent two years.

What is included in a North Carolina Civil Court Record?

The contents of a civil court record may vary from court to court, depending on the proceeding and if a case makes it to the trial level. Generally, a civil court record may include:

  • Date of filing
  • Location of the filing
  • Details of the complainant and defendant
  • Details of complaints
  • Evidence
  • Motion arguments

Are All North Carolina Court Records Open to The Public?

Civil court records and documents are open to the public except those that are sealed by the trial court. North Carolina's constitution grants the public the right to access records from civil proceedings in the state [N.C.G.S. 132 et seq.,]. The need for limiting the public’s right to access the record must be higher than the interest of the public.

What Type of Civil Court Records are Protected from Public View?

Examples of civil court records that remain inaccessible to the public include child abuse or neglect case information and civil commitment materials such as court-ordered rehabilitation interventions. The court also restricts access to discovery materials unless if the use of such materials would help produce admissible evidence in a court trial. In cases where individuals are requesting discovery materials for publishing its contents or general knowledge, the court will deny access to the record.

The courts can deny public access to trial records or records connected to trial preparation. However, since the constitution allows the public right of access to the records, the court will have to come up with specific facts that will keep the restricted records sealed. If the individual interested in inspecting or making copies of the record can come up with better points on why it is necessary to access the record, the court might permit them.

How Do I Obtain Civil Court Records In North Carolina?

Civil court records in North Carolina can be obtained by going to the courthouse (in person), mailing the clerk of the courthouse, or searching for them online. Before setting out to search for civil court records, interested parties should arm themselves with the necessary information such as the type of court the case was filed since each court maintains only it’s related records. And the case, docket, or index number to quickly identify the record. Individuals who are denied access to civil court records can always appeal to the court to grant them access. But before making that decision, follow up calls or emails can help get the files.

How to Access North Carolina Civil Court Records in Person

Individuals who wish to access the paper files of the record can do so by submitting a written request to the clerk of the court where the case was filed. Those who prefer electronic access can use the public access terminal located at the clerk of court’s office in any county (not necessarily where the case was filed).

How Do I Obtain Court Transcripts?

Members of the public can obtain transcripts of civil court proceedings by contacting the court reporter. This service usually comes with a fee. If the written transcript is not available, interested parties may be able to request the audio recording from the clerk of court’s office. If the recorded transcript is categorized as confidential, use this form to ask for it.

Accessing North Carolina Civil Court Records Via Mail

Interested parties may be able to obtain records via mail by sending a request to the court's mailing address. If this option is available, the court will provide the cost implication of the files required. The North Carolina Judicial Branch maintains a list of courthouses as well as other details such as the contact directory (Clerk of Court, representatives and other court officials), jury service, civil calendar, payment information, and local rules and forms.

Assessing North Carolina Civil Court Records Online

North Carolina has no civil court records online. Interested individuals will have to visit the clerk’s office to inspect the records. However, members of the public can view opinions from the Supreme and the Court of Appeals in North Carolina on the North Carolina Court website. Interested parties can also sign up to get updates on New opinions from the courts. Searches can be conducted by date, opinion type, author, format, court type, or keyword. If none of the details are available, individuals can start browsing from the recent opinions. Aside from opinions, the N.C Court website also has a calendar of oral argument, dockets, and orders of the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

In addition to the above, 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.

Accessing Sealed Civil Court Records

The court seals records of juvenile abuse, dependency, or neglect cases. Individuals interested in viewing the records might file a request of access to the court. If the judge approves of the application, they can be able to inspect it. Note that every sealed record can only be opened after the court issues an order directing the opening.

Are There Public Records of Alternative Dispute Resolutions In North Carolina?

North Carolina allows individuals to resolve disputes through other alternative means aside from court trials. The two ways are mediation and arbitration. The mediation route is not connected to the court system, unlike arbitration, where the court orders it. The arbitrator (third-party), does not only help to mediate but also makes the final decision after hearing the arguments of both sides and considering the evidence.

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