Massachusetts Civil Court Records
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What are Massachusetts Civil Court Records?
Massachusetts civil court records are official documents containing recorded accounts of the litigation processes of Massachusetts civil courts. These records typically include court dockets that encompass details of filed motions, court orders, and actions as well as final decrees and details of any agreed-upon civil settlements. Per state public record laws interested members of the public may find Massachusetts civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard. However, the eligibility requirements for accessing these records may vary depending on the confidentiality of the information contained in the record of interest.
Cases Heard by Massachusetts Civil Court
Massachusetts civil courts are designated to handle all civil cases which are often pertaining to disputes between individuals or establishments following a breach of contract or personal/property damage. This is as opposed to criminal cases in which the plaintiff/prosecutor is the district attorney’s office for the state. Essentially, Massachusetts civil courts hear all civil court cases excluding those of a criminal nature. This generally includes:
- Most forms of negligence, assault, and battery
- Consumer complaints
- Breach of contract
- Defamation of character (libel and slander included)
- Work-related disputes
- Tort claims and equitable claims
- landlord/tenant disputes
- Family-related cases including divorce, child custody, and adoption, etc.
Massachusetts Civil Court System
The Massachusetts judicial system comprises 3 main courts that have distinctive authorities in various jurisdictions of the state. The three-level court system consists of:
- Trial courts
- Appeals courts
- Supreme Judicial court
In the state of Massachusetts, the trial courts have 7 departments which include the superior court, district court, land court, housing court, juvenile court, probate and family court and the Boston municipal court. As such, civil suits are usually filed in the appropriate department of any of the state trial courts. Following the initial filing, the defendant may be required to respond to the suit, or wait until the pre-trial conference to do so. The conference typically involves negotiations between the judge of the presiding court and the counsels of both parties. Where there is no resolution reached, the suit is taken to trial, and a judgment is subsequently delivered. If the plaintiff or defendant is left unsatisfied by the final verdict, they may appeal the suit in Massachusetts appeal courts or the Supreme Judicial Court which is the court of last resort and highest appellate court in the state.
What is Included in a Massachusetts Civil Court Record?
Court records are generally designed to provide court case information and as such share similar characteristics. However, Massachusetts civil court records are typically unique to the case and the jurisdiction where the suit was filed varies depending on the case itself and the jurisdiction where the case was filed/heard. Generally, civil court records feature the personal information of the plaintiff/defendant person as well as details of the complaint, the case file number of the suit and the date and place where it was filed.
In addition to the above, civil court records contain detailed accounts of the pretrial conference as well as any agreed-upon financial settlements (if applicable). Where the suit makes it to trial, the records include the trial transcripts with details of court actions, motions and filed evidence including witness testimonies. Additional related information relating to civil court cases are included in court calendars and opinions which are also public record.
Are All Massachusetts Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Following the Supreme Judicial Record guidelines, interested members of the public may inspect and copy records of civil court cases. That is, provided the records are not deemed confidential by law or sealed by court order. Essentially, the right of public access to Massachusetts civil court records is not absolute since confidential information and sealed records are only available to persons who meet specific eligibility requirements.
Pursuant to the public record access laws, all docket information including details of court, actions filed, evidence, court motions, and final judgments are accessible to interested members of the public. However, details of assault victims, juveniles relating the case and financial documents or financial settlements may be excluded from public access. As per Massachusetts state law, sealed records may be obtained by legally authorized persons (i.e. law enforcement agents and related personnel) and persons authorized by a court order/subpoena.
How do I Obtain Civil Court Records in Massachusetts?
Interested members of the public may access civil court records by using any of the state’s public access resources or by contacting the record custodian. While confidential records generally require that the requesting party meets some specific eligibility requirements to access them, information which is public record can be accessed electronically and without any permission from the custodian. Ultimately, interested members of the public may view and/or obtain copies of Massachusetts civil court records by:
- Using the states online resources such as the Mass.gov docket search tools
- Making in-person requests
- Sending mail-in queries to the appropriate court custodian
- Using third-party aggregation sites
Accessing Massachusetts Civil Court Records In-person
Massachusetts civil court records can be obtained by querying the office of the record custodian in person. In-person requests are especially recommended for obtaining full case information as some restrictions are placed on the information accessible electronically.
To access civil court records in person, the requesting party must:
- Find The Record Custodian
All trial courts in the state of Massachusetts are tasked with hearing civil suits depending on the case type and the jurisdiction where the case was filed. As such, most trial courts generate and maintain records of court cases in the state. In order to obtain a civil court record, the requestor must locate the jurisdiction where the case was filed/heard in order to query the office which serves as the court record custodian of that jurisdiction. Depending on the most current status of the case, civil court records may also be maintained by any of the state’s appellate courts
- Visit the Court Record Custodian
Haven located the court record custodian, the requesting party is required to retrieve information regarding the unique record retrieval processes of the office or jurisdiction., To retrieve the required information and/or to request a record, the requestor may also be required to schedule an appointment with the office beforehand.
Generally, most custodians require that the requestor complete a request form they will provide their personal information as well as details of the record of interest. If the required document is a public record, the requestor may be allowed to self-serve using the court’s public terminals otherwise, record searches will be conducted by court staff, and the requestor will be charged a nominal fee to cover the search and copy costs.
- Provide the Information Required & Other Prerequisites
As required by Massachusetts state laws, persons seeking access to civil court records must provide any and all information required to facilitate record searches. This information typically includes the full name of the complainant and defendant as well as the case file number of the record (if known), the names of the attorneys of the plaintiff/defendant, and the place and date on which the suit as filed.
Typically, some jurisdictions have additional requirements for accessing civil court records depending on the confidentiality of the record and the information contained therein. As such, in addition to providing information to facilitate record search, the requesting party may also be required to present a court subpoena to prove their legal authority to access the record, along with a government-issued photo ID or any other identifying documents.
Accessing Massachusetts Civil Court Records Via Mail
Alternative to making in-person requests to the record custodian, requestors may query the record custodian by requesting the record via mail. Requestors are often required to prepare a written request stating the type of document required as well as details of the suit including the full name plaintiff/defendant, the case number of the civil suit as well as the date where the case was filed.
More often than not, mail-in requests require that the requestor enclose the written request along with a cheque or money order payable to cover search/copy fees as well as a copy of a government-issued photo-ID and a self-addressed envelope. However, given the unique requirements of accessing civil court records in most jurisdictions, requesters are advised to contact the district, superior or appellate court where the record is housed. In some cases, requestors are provided with official record request forms by the record custodian, these can be substituted for written requests.
Accessing Massachusetts Civil Court Records Online
Massachusetts civil court records can also be obtained using the various online resources provided by the judicial system of the state. In addition to the numerous tools operated by various jurisdictions, the state judicial system maintains a central repository with which interested persons can search for court case information. The central repository can be searched using:
- MA Trial Court Dockets & Supreme Judicial Court and Appeal Court Dockets
Massachusetts Trial Court Dockets can be searched for case information regarding civil suits heard by different trial courts in various jurisdictions. This docket can be searched using the public terminals available at designated courthouses in the state, or by using private computers.
To access civil court case information users may use the public-access search tool available on www.masscourts.org. The requesting party is often required to furnish the search tool with relevant information including the court department and division where the case heard. Requestors must also provide the full name of the plaintiff/defendant as well as the case and docket number of the record. Where a docket number/case file number is not provided, each search will provide a maximum of 100 results which are most similar to the information provided. Details of a suit can be viewed by clicking on the attached hyperlink, and when the desired record is found, the requestor may proceed to print out the record at no cost.
Interested persons may also access these docket tools from the state courthouses which typically have public-access terminals. Designated courthouses run the Mass eAccess application on their public computers which allows users to self-serve by conducting onsite searches. Searches may be conducted using the name of the offender/plaintiff, case type and/or case file number. These searches typically provide case information including the court docket and details of the disposition. However, some information is often excluded and may only be available on request from the record custodian.
The Massachusetts state judicial system provides an attorney portal useful for searching electronic case information by attorney name. This is especially useful for attorneys who need to track their cases. However, interested persons may also view case information and court schedules using the portal featured on www.masscourts.org. To use the portal, users must obtain their login information by providing their email address on the login page of the portal. All queries and inquiries regarding the use of the portal and related information can be requested by contacting eAccess@jud.state.ma.us
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 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
Pursuant to Massachusetts state law, civil court records containing confidential information and records sealed by court order may be obtained by eligible persons. However, the eligibility requirements may vary depending on the record or its custodian. Generally, persons eligible to access sealed civil court records are those who are either law enforcement agents, the staff of the state department of human services and persons who are verified and authorized licensing agents.
Persons who are authorized by a court subpoena may also challenge the confidentiality of a record. However, persons without the required legal authorization will not be offered access to the record of interest.
Are there Public Records of Alternative Dispute Resolutions in Massachusetts?
When required, Massachusetts trial courts offer disputing parties the option of alternative dispute resolution, which offers a chance of resolution without a trial. This process often involves a neutral third party who mediates the process. While alternative dispute resolution processes are often documented for legal purposes, the SJC uniform rules on dispute resolution require that most information disclosed during the proceeding is kept confidential. Thus, unless disclosure is required by law, the identity of the parties involved, details of the dispute, impressions, opinions, statements, evidence filed, recommendations and the final settlement terms must be kept confidential by the neutral third party. However, with permission from the parties involved, the neutral third party may reference the resolution process for statistical and or research/educational purposes, that is, provided no personal or identifying information of the disputing parties is disclosed.