Where to Find Florida Civil Court Records
Records of civil cases filed and tried in Florida are primarily maintained by the circuit or county courts where the cases were heard. These records are also managed by the Supreme Court, and the District Court of Appeals which are tasked with reviewing civil cases in the state and maintaining records of appellate hearings.
The civil court records maintained by these courts include but are not limited to, court transcripts, summons, oral arguments, dockets, opinions, affidavits, and evidence generated during civil trial processes.
Are Florida Civil Court Records Public?
Court records are considered public records in the State of Florida. This means that anyone can search for, inspect, and make copies of these records maintained by the courts. The Supreme Court Rule 2.420 mandates the courts' clerks to release publicly available civil case records to interested persons. Even then, free-way access to these records is not absolute and may be denied in certain circumstances. Typically, parts or all of a civil case file may be deemed confidential by statute or court rule. Restricted civil court records may include closed Florida bankruptcy records
While non-public records are considered to be out of bounds, they can still be released to individuals who meet the eligibility criteria. Such entitled individuals include:
- plaintiff(s) and defendant(s)
- Attorneys representing both sides
- Members of law enforcement agencies for ongoing investigations
- People with relevant court orders
- Persons with written authorization from either party to the case
Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:
- The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
- The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.
Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.
Types of Cases in Florida Civil Courts
The majority of cases handled in Florida are civil cases. Based on the hierarchy of judicial authority, the state's legal system is classified into various branches and divisions. These branches and divisions exercise original, exclusive, or overlapping jurisdiction over civil cases. The general aim of these courts is to resolve personal and financial disagreements between people, businesses, and government bodies.
The type of civil claim determines the court that will resolve the dispute. The county courts handle non-criminal disagreements that are not more than $15,000. On the other hand, the circuit courts exercise original jurisdiction over financial matters that are greater than $15,000 worth in money and value.
Civil courts in Florida also hear the civil part of complex cases (civil claims and criminal charges). Non-violent family law matters pertaining to the dissolution of unions, adoptions, and paternity are also treated as civil cases.
In summary, below is a list of common civil cases handled by Florida's courts:
- Disputes relating to a breach of contract
- Cases involving negligence that lead to injury or death
- Tort cases or damage to properties
- Disputes involving libels, slanders, and defamation of character
- All lawsuits questioning the law
- Small Claims
- Contract and property disputes
- Cases involving civil rights infringement, tax suits, immigration, labor, and social securities
- Employment matters involving workers compensation
- Claims arising as a result of Property condemnation, intellectual property theft, and forfeiture of property
- Disputes arising from other statutes such as consumer complaints, etc
- Prisoner's civil rights cases and petitions
What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases in Florida?
Although all civil and criminal cases are determined on the preponderance of the evidence, both case types have striking differences. A civil case is primarily initiated when a person sues another person, a business, or agency to court because of a dispute. In a civil case, both parties must cover the filing costs, lawyer fees, and other expenses made during the trial processes. Unemployed and low-income litigants with "poverty affidavits" can have some court fees waived. If a party loses a civil case in Florida, the presiding judge/jury may order them to pay money or return the property to the other side. The judge does not sentence the person to jail for losing the civil case.
On the other hand, criminal cases usually begin when a person is arrested and charged to a criminal court for committing a crime against state laws. In such cases, the government is the plaintiff, while the offender is the defendant. In court, the prosecuting attorney must prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused is indeed guilty of the alleged charges. Under the U.S laws, criminal defendants have the right to hire a lawyer to represent them. Those that cannot afford a lawyer usually get a government-assigned attorney from the public defender's office. Ultimately, criminal cases end when a defendant is acquitted or sentenced to jail or prison.
How Do I Find Civil Court Records In Florida?
Grounded on the Florida Public Records Law, public court records must be able to be searched, located, viewed, and copied upon request. The clerks of the courts are responsible for storing and releasing records of ongoing, pending, and closed civil cases in Florida. These available methods for obtaining civil court records in Florida include:
- By mail
Follow these steps to make an in-person request for a Florida civil court record:
- Write out or gather documents containing the names of both parties to the case of interest, the civil case number, docket number, filing date, the date the case was concluded, names of attorneys in the case, and names of the presiding judge. These details are usually required to facilitate the search at the courthouse.
- If requesting a certified copy or sealed record or parts of a civil record containing sensitive information, make sure to include a valid government-issued photo ID such as a driver's license to prove eligibility.
- Identify the location of the particular courthouse holding the record. The majority of Florida civil cases are heard at the county court. If a case involved claims of more than $15,000, its record will be typically found with the custodian of the particular circuit court where the case was filed. Use the court location directories provided on the Florida Courts Website to find the address and contact details of all trial and appellate courts in the state
- Plan to visit the custodian of the relevant courthouse during regular business days and hours. Contact the court beforehand to schedule an appointment and also enquire about search and copy fees
- At the courthouse, locate the public terminal to view and inspect the record of interest. Alternatively, go to the clerk's window or office to make a written request. To ease the writing process, some clerks provide fillable request forms.
How to submit a request for Florida civil court record by mail:
To apply for a civil court document by mail, be certain that the courthouse offers mail-in services. Do this by contacting the court's clerk using the court location directories or visiting the particular court's official web page. Posting requirements and the cost of copying official civil court records are available on relevant court websites. While the needed details vary from one clerk to another, most courts provide a physical address for mail-in requests. Call the clerk to confirm fees to be paid and also enquire about acceptable payment methods. Make sure to include a self-addressed stamped return envelope along with the request. Note that obtaining records by mail may take more time depending on the court and the associated difficulty locating it.
How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?
Florida courts do not share a unified e-portal for accessing court records. Publicly available civil court records can be found through various court websites and third-party aggregate sites. For instance, Broward County Clerk of Courts even allows the public to purchase certified copies of viewable civil court records online. Some of these records can be requested without identification, while others are restricted to attorneys of records or registered users. Find a clerk through the court links provided on the Florida Courts website.
Although online civil court search portals maintain firm commitments to the public's right to these records, protecting sensitive and confidential information remains a top priority. As such, not all civil court records are available online. According to the Florida Court Technology Standards, the following records may not be found through remote searches:
- All medical records including test results brought as evidence during civil case proceedings
- Records of eligibility screening and health evaluation reports
- Civil grand jury records
- Social security numbers, bank account numbers, debit card numbers, and credit card numbers
- Records containing information regarding a juvenile or minor
What Is Included In a Florida Civil Court Record?
The documents generated before and during a civil case hearings determine the information the case file will contain. Other determinant factors include the civil procedures ordered by the sitting judge(s) and the jury formation. The broad or general case information are characteristically similar among cases and includes:
- Biodata detailing the names and personal data of the parties to the case
- The case filing date and headline
- Case overview/ summary
- Case information (court type, court location, case number, case type, case status)
- Names of presiding judge(s) and assigned attorney(s) in the case
- Hearing schedules including dates, time, and location
- Claims and counterclaims
- Date of final disposition/judgment
Even with all these similarities, no two cases are the same. Although the outcome of a case can be deduced based on civil procedures and the rule of law, details, and files generated are distinct. Such information includes motions, briefs, arguments, affidavits, witness testimonies, proof of evidence, appeals, and other related details brought in court during the civil court hearing.
How to Access Florida Civil Court Records For Free
Depending on what the requester is looking for, some civil court records maintained by the courts may be available for viewing at no cost. In-person visitors using the self-service terminal located at each courthouse can inspect publicly available civil court records without making any payments. Locate dockets of civil cases appealed to the Supreme Court or any of the five district courts of appeal using the online public docket page rendered on the Florida Courts website.
Provided copies are not needed; the public can access civil court records via the search portals maintained by the respective court clerks. Note that confidential and sensitive information are exempt from these public channels.
Generally, all details that are not available on the public terminals or online search tools require nominal payments for searching and copying. These fees may be waived for persons that can prove that they are incapable of paying. Contact the clerk holding the record of interest to learn how to get fee waivers.
How to Seal Civil Court Records in Florida
To seal or expunge a civil court case file in Florida, the petitioner must prove the need for confidentiality. In the State of Florida, some personal information is not considered confidential information unless protected by a specific rule or statute. Such details include:
- Vehicle tag number
- Driver's license number
- Date of birth
- Phone number
- Relative and children names
- Place of employment
- Home address or property details
Parts of records containing these details can be sealed by the persons involved. Also, a party or both parties to a case may decide to seal all of their civil records to prevent potential detriments to future employment and relationships. The most prevalent forms of civil cases that people petition to seal in Florida include domestic injunction, divorce, child custody, and other public family matters.
In Florida, civil court records are sealed if the judge is satisfied and convinced by cited reasons. Also, un-objected and joint petitions by both litigants in a case help facilitate sealing processes. If the request is granted, the judge will issue a court order or subpoena instructing the record's custodian to remove the case file from the public domain. Seek legal advice for professional help and representation.
How to Access Sealed Civil Court Records in Florida
The clerks of courts typically deny all unauthorized requests for confidential or sealed civil court records. Generally, these records are redacted from public viewing and are strictly limited to those with direct and tangible interests to the documents. Such eligible persons include parties to a case, legal representatives, some law enforcement agencies, and some court personnel. Also, members of the public with proper court orders can access sealed civil court records at will. Obtaining a court order requires sufficient evidence or proof that the confidential document is relevant to an ongoing investigation or other legal matters.