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Ohio Civil Court Records
Ohio Civil Court records provide an official compilation of cases filed during in-court proceedings involving civil disputes between two or more parties. They cover a variety of cases, including tort claims, class actions, breach-of-contract claims, real property disputes and complaints against the state. In compliance with Ohio’s Sunshine laws, most civil court records fall under the umbrella of public records. Public records may include any physical document or electronic record, which is created, generated or received during the course of a civil case.
Who Can Access Public Civil Court Records in Ohio?
Almost anyone can access public civil court records. Ohio’s Public Record Act provides unrestricted access to public records except in situations where a specific law states otherwise. Although members of the public are not required to provide any form of identification when requesting a record, requests must be clear and specific enough for the record custodian to understand. Requests which are considered to be too broad or ambiguous may not be processed for these reasons.
Why Can’t I Obtain Civil Court Records in Ohio?
Record custodians may decline a request for civil court records for several reasons. The court clerk may refuse a request if:
- The record is no longer maintained by the office
- The requester has failed to provide specific information to facilitate the search
- The record contains information deemed confidential by statute
- The record has been sealed by court order
What’s contained in a Civil Court Record?
While the content of a civil court record varies depending on the case and the court, it generally includes the following:
- Details of the complaint or amendment to the complaint
- Substituted complaint
- Judgments and modifications of judgment
- Responsive pleadings
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
Understanding Ohio’s Criminal Court Structure
The state of Ohio operates with a tiered judicial structure that’s divided into five broad levels.
- The supreme
- Courts of appeals
- Courts of Common Pleas
- Courts of Claim, Municipal Courts and County Courts
- Mayor’s Courts (not a court of record)
The type of civil cases heard by each of these courts is determined by the court’s jurisdiction, as defined by state law.
Made up of seven judges (a chief justice and six justices), the Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s apex court and the court of last resort on questions of the state constitution. It oversees appeals from lower courts.
Courts of Appeals
Divided into 12 appellate districts, the Ohio Courts of appeals serve as intermediate appellate courts for the state. The court hears appeals from lower courts as well as numerous state agencies.
Courts of Common Pleas
With one in each county, the Courts of Common Pleas has general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases. It typically presides over cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other lower courts. Some courts are divided into multiple divisions, such as a General Division that handles criminal and civil cases, and a Juvenile Division that hears cases involving minors.
Municipal and County Courts
Municipal and County Courts have limited jurisdiction over different types of criminal and civil cases. County courts preside over civil claims for disputes between $500 and $15,000. County Courts exist in parts of the county not served by a municipal court. They are not required in geographical zones where a Municipal Court presides over an entire county.
Courts of Claim
The Ohio Court so Claim has original jurisdiction over civil cases filed against the state or any of its agencies, including property damage, personal injury, contract disputes, wrongful imprisonment, and work discrimination.
Searching for Civil Court Records
The quickest way of finding a public civil court record is to search through files using a case number. In situations where members of the public don’t have a case number but can identify the courthouse where the case was filed, records may be found by searching through the court docket or name index.
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. Name indexes, on the other hand, 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).
In accordance with Ohio’s public record laws, public civil court records may be viewed for free. members of the public may freely inspect open court records. While some courts may require that requesters pay a specific fee, the fee isn’t for the record. Payment is made to cover the cost of providing copies of the requested record.
Obtaining Civil Court Records
Members of the public can obtain civil court records using any three approaches.
- Requesting for records in person
- Obtaining records by mail
- Searching for records online
Steps 1. Identify the Right Court
Public records of civil court cases are maintained at the courthouse where the case was filed. Interested parties can obtain these records by visiting the courthouse and submitting a request. Depending on the type of case, civil cases may be filed at different courts.
- General civil cases (Limited and Unlimited): Heard at the Courts of Common Pleas, County Courts, and Municipal Courts
- Small Claims Cases: Generally filed at County Courts or Municipal Courts
- Foreclosure and Liens Cases: Courts of Common Pleas, Municipal Courts or County Courts
- Landlord/Tenant Cases: Generally filed at the County and Municipal Courts. Some cases may be filed at the Courts of Common Pleas
- Ordinance Violations: County and Municipal Court
- Commercial cases: Mostly filed at the Courts of Common Pleas
Step 2. Gather Information
Simply identifying the court won’t be enough. Record custodians require that requests provide some amount of specificity to facilitate the search. Members of the public can cut down on the amount of time it takes to find a record by finding and providing relevant details such as:
- The name of the presiding judge for the case
- Date and time of the lawsuit
- The name of the parties involved in the civil lawsuit
- Case number
Step 3. Visit the Courthouse
Most Ohio courts provide public access terminals at the courthouse location where members of the public can view or inspect records. Individuals who wish to make copies of records can also do so. However, this will require a specific fee. In instances where the requested record is stored in an offsite location, the court clerk may request that viewers return.
Can I Obtain Ohio Civil Court Records by Mail?
Civil court records can be obtained by mail. However, not all courts provide this option. Interested parties will need to contact the custodian court to find out if they offer this service. Details on how to obtain public civil records may also be provided on the court’s website. Some courts provide downloadable public records form to ease the process. Interested parties will also be expected to provide a self-addressed envelope as well as evidence of payment for the requested records before the request is processed. The clerk may impose additional charges for expedited requests.
Can I Obtain Civil Court Records Online?
Depending on the court, civil case information may be available online. Courts that provide this option typically have a search platform located on their website. Case in point, the Ohio Supreme Court maintains a searchable online database that permits online access to records. It allows for searches by filing date, case type, and case number. Searches can also be filtered by party name or attorney. Similarly, the Ohio Courts of Claims provides public access to a smart search platform that contains compiled records. A few county courts offer online access to court records, including:
- Cuyahoga County
- Fairfield County
- Franklin County
- Hamilton County
- Lake County
- Summit County
- Montgomery County
To search for court records using an online platform, requesters must be able to provide specific details such as a case number or filing date. Simply searching through records using a name (like John) may result in thousands of files containing the same name. Access to civil court records will also depend on when the case was filed. Most of the civil court information available online belongs to cases filed after 2000. Records of older cases are often preserved in microfilm or physical form at the courthouse.
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.