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Where to Find Massachusetts Civil Court Records?

In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, civil court records are documents such as case files, court transcripts, motions, judgments, orders, and other records of information generated in relation to a civil court case. Civil cases are non-criminal cases. They typically involve disputes between individuals or between individuals and organizations. Examples of civil cases are landlord and tenant cases, small claims, consumer complaints, and contract disputes.

Civil court cases are heard by Massachusetts Trial Courts. There are seven departments in the trial courts: District Court, Housing Court, Boston Municipal Court, Land Court, Probate and Family Court, Juvenile Court, and Superior Court.

Massachusetts civil court records are maintained by the court in which the case was heard. Interested persons may request them in person at the courthouse or online through the Electronic Case Access system. Third-party websites like Massachusetts.CourtRecords.Org also provide access to civil court records.

Are Massachusetts Civil Court Records Public Records In Massachusetts?

Massachusetts Public Records Law guarantees access to civil court records. This means that interested members of the public may view or copy all publicly available records. However, records exempted under the Public Records Law, sealed by court order, or restricted from public access by other state statutes are not public records and are therefore not available for inspection or copying. Some exemptions to the Public Records Law are:

  • Personal identifying information
  • Records of ongoing investigations and cases
  • Records of sexual offenses
  • Autopsy reports
  • Records of juvenile delinquency
  • Medical and hospital records
  • Juror notes and minutes

The Guide to the Massachusetts Public Records Law provides more information about records exempted from public access. If only some parts of a record are confidential, that part will be redacted or removed when the record is requested, and the public parts will be made available. Access to sealed records is restricted to authorized persons or government agencies, such as the court, the record's subject, and law enforcement agencies. Sealed records are only available to law enforcement agencies for law enforcement purposes.

Types of Cases in Massachusetts Civil Court

All non-criminal cases are heard by Trial Courts in Massachusetts. Types of cases heard in the Trial Courts are:

  • Small claims
  • Personal injury
  • Contract disputes
  • Divorce
  • Contract disputes
  • Landlord-tenant disputes

The Trial Court has seven departments, which are:

  • District courts: District Courts hear cases of small claims where up to $7,000 is involved and cases of damages that involve no more than $50,000.
  • Boston Municipal Court: This court serves the City of Boston in eight divisions. It hears both criminal and civil cases.
  • Housing Court: the housing court hears cases of disputes where residential housing is involved. Examples of Housing Court cases include personal injury, discrimination, and property damage.
  • Juvenile Court: the juvenile court hears cases involving minors, such as delinquency or youthful offender cases. There are 11 divisions in the juvenile court.
  • Land Court: civil cases involving land use and real estate disputes. Examples are land ownership and property boundary disputes, mortgage foreclosures, and real estate sales contracts.
  • Probate and Family Court: the probate and family court hears family and children-related cases such as divorce, paternity, wills, child support, and child custody.
  • Superior Court: civil actions where more than $50,000 is involved are handled by the superior court.

What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases?

Civil cases are non-criminal disputes involving individuals or organizations. Typically, such cases are initiated by individuals or organizations. A civil case is initiated when an individual or organization files a complaint with the Clerk of Court in the right court. The complaint may be filed by mail, in person, or online using the E-filing tool. Civil cases are not offenses against the state, and interested persons may represent themselves at hearings. Civil cases can be resolved through mediation.

Criminal cases, on the other hand, involve offenses against the state that arise from violations of the state's criminal offense laws. Criminal offenses are classified as felonies, misdemeanors, and violations. Felonies are the most serious offenses and are punished by the harshest penalties. Misdemeanors are less severe than felonies but more severe than violations. Violations are the least severe offenses, and unlike felonies and misdemeanors, they are typically not punishable by imprisonment. In Massachusetts, some courts hear both criminal and civil cases. Examples are juvenile courts, superior courts, and district courts.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records In Massachusetts?

Interested persons may view or copy physical public civil court records in person at the courthouse where the case was heard or filed. Usually, civil court cases are heard in the county where both litigants live or where the alleged offense took place. The Courthouse Locator offers options for finding courthouses, including an alphabetical list and a list of courts serving each county. Once the right court has been identified, the requestor must also identify the department of the court where the case was heard or filed. Civil court records will be available for copying and inspection at the information desk in the appropriate courthouse.

Requests may be made verbally or in written form. While there are no specified written request formats, the Secretary of the Commonwealth's website provides a template that contains all the information required to process a request. Persons interested in obtaining physical copies of public court records will have to pay fees. Fees may be required to make copies of civil court records.

Interested persons can also request civil records by mail or online.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?

Civil court records are available online through the Electronic Case Access System. It provides for search using:

  • Court Department
  • Court Division
  • Court Location

Civil court records are available on public access systems located in District Courts, Probate and Family Courts, Housing Courts, Boston Municipal Courts, Superior Courts, County Register of Deeds Sites, and Land Courts. The systems allow for name, case number, and case type searches. However, full access to case files is not available on the public access systems.

Third-party websites also have information about civil court records. However, case files are not available online. The case access system provides access to only basic information Requests can also be made by email to ateAccess@jud.state.ma.us.

How to Get Civil Court Records Removed

Massachusetts Public Records Law (G.L. c. 66, § 10) designates all court records as public records; therefore, civil court records cannot be removed. However, they can be sealed by court order, thereby restricting public access to them. Sealed records are not deleted or removed, but they can only be accessed by authorized persons for specific purposes.

How to Seal Civil Court Records in Massachusetts?

Some information is designated as confidential by state laws. Records of such information or sealed and generally not accessible to the public. Confidential information includes:

  • Financial information
  • Personal identifying information
  • Medical records

Records of confidential information are only accessible to selected law enforcement agencies, persons named on the record, and their attorney or other designated person. Interested persons may file a petition with the court to have their records sealed. If the court finds a substantial reason to seal the records, the petition will be granted.

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