New Jersey Court Records
What are New Jersey Civil Court Records?
New Jersey Civil Court Records refer to the official files and documents containing specific information on the progress and state of civil suits filed in the courts within the state of New Jersey. These records include transcripts, tapes of depositions, docket sheets, court decrees, and all other documentary evidence as well as motions and judgments available on paper or recorded electronically. In accordance with the New Jersey court rule, most civil court records not sealed by statute are available to the general public and can be accessed by visiting or contacting the court clerk in charge of the court where the case was heard, or by visiting official or third party websites online.
Who can access Civil Court Records in the State of New Jersey?
The New Jersey Court Rule affords citizens the right to access, view and copy most civil court records. These records are primarily kept and maintained in the specific courthouse where the lawsuit was filed and may be retrieved by interested members of the public upon request. However, in a case where a civil record is sealed or deemed confidential by law or court rule, it may only be obtained by individuals with legal authorities to do so. The duty of processing court records requests is solely managed by the court clerk and requesters are advised to provide as much specific information as possible with regards to the record in question to limit and facilitate the search.
What information is contained in a New Jersey Civil Court File?
Although the exact contents of civil court records vary with different case types, most civil court files generally provide the following information:
- Judgment file
- Amended complaint or a substituted compliant
- Cross complaints and third party complaints
- Executions issued and return
- Order of notice and appearances
- Memorandum of decision
New Jersey Supreme Court
With its headquarters in Trenton, New Jersey Supreme Court consists of six justices and one chief judge and serves as the highest appellate court in the state, with no original jurisdiction over legal matters. Being the court of last resort, it primarily functions to review cases from the lower courts and also enjoys advisory opinions over decisions affecting state constitutions.
Intermediate Appellate Courts
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court is New Jersey’s intermediate appellate court. The court is composed of thirty-two judges who sit in 2–3 membered panels and functions to review decisions made by the lower courts and state administrative agencies.
New Jersey Superior Courts typically function as the trial courts in the state. They have general preside over all civil matters including probate cases, adoption, family law, juvenile delinquency, etc. Civil cases greater than $15,000 are heard in the civil division of the Superior Court while other cases between $3000 and $15,000 are heard in the special civil part of the civil division.
The Tax Courts in the State of New Jersey serve as courts of limited jurisdiction over how much a property should be taxed. The 12 tax court judges review the decisions of county boards of taxation and also that of the state Division of Taxation on matters such as state income tax, sales tax, and business tax.
The Municipal Courts of New Jersey are also courts of limited jurisdiction but constitute the general courts where most of the cases in the state are filed and heard. The courts are operated by the cities, towns, and boroughs where the courts are located. Examples of such cases heard in the municipal courts include cases involving hunting, fishing and boating laws, some minor criminal offenses, etc.
Are Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
Although most civil court records can be inspected and copied by the general public for a fee, all civil court records are not public records. Typically, only general case information such as the presiding judge’s name, attending parties and attorneys, may be viewed by searching the public docket or online terminal of the court. Some records may be rendered confidential or sealed by law or court order and hence limited to only authorized individuals. This often occurs with:
- Juvenile court matters
- Adoption and paternity proceedings
- Psychological evaluations
- Records relating to participants in drug court programs and programs approved for operation
- Social Security numbers and bank account numbers
- Files involving domestic violence protection order
- Records of consultative, advisory, or deliberative discussions
How to Find Civil Court Records
Depending on the convenience of the requester, New Jersey Civil Court records can be obtained by various methods. Interested members of the public can opt to obtain records:
- By submitting a request in person
- By searching for records online
- By requesting for records via mail
How to Obtain Civil Court Records in Person
Step 1. Gather Information
Obtaining records in person provides an easy and time-efficient way of finding a civil court record. The open records act does not apply to the acquisition of court records in the state. Hence, record requests made to the New Jersey Judiciary are governed by the New Jersey Court Rule which does not approve offering specific reports about civil cases to the public. Most courts in New Jersey provide court record request forms to aid in the request process, others require that requesters submit a written request. Civil court records are arranged in a large index and some relevant information needed to locate a record include:
- Courthouse location
- Case number assigned to the court file
- Name of the attorney on the case
- Names of the defendant and plaintiff named in the suit
- Name of the presiding judge
- Details of the lawsuit (the type of civil lawsuit)
- Date of the lawsuit
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Civil case records are kept and stored in the courthouses where the case was filed. Usually, most courts permit interested members of the public to view and inspect public civil court records at the self-help terminals located on the Courthouse during specific hours. Citizens can also obtain copies of records by submitting a request to the court clerk. Identifying the right court will depend on the type of case filed.
- General Civil Cases: Most cases are found at the civil division of the superior court
- Restraining order cases: Most cases are typically filed at the superior court
- Agency appeals: Generally filed at the appellate division of the superior court
- Small Claims cases: Most small claim cases can be found at small claims/special civil division of the superior court
- Civil Equity Cases: Majority of these cases fall under the jurisdiction of the superior court
- Complex commercial cases: Almost all of these cases fall under the jurisdiction of the superior court
- Landlord and Tenant Cases: Nearly evenly split between the superior court and municipal courts
- General Equity and Foreclosure: Almost all of these cases fall under the jurisdiction of the superior court
Depending on when the case was filed, some older records may be stored in other locations in which case, requesters may be asked to return.
Step 3. Pay the Fees
While members of the public may view or inspect court records at no cost, payment is required for printing or making copies of these records. The exact fee payable is flexible and is determined by the court. Also, an additional charge may be included if certified copies of court records are requested.
How to Obtain Civil Court Records Online
Records of civil cases filed at the Superior Court may be obtained using the general Automated Case Management System (ACMS) adopted by most county clerks in New Jersey. However, only active cases are kept in the ACMS archives and older cases may only be obtained using the Archive Management Information System (AMIS). The archives provide access to records of cases filed across 21 counties in the state, including Atlantic, Berger, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren.
The counties also provide direct access to civil court records using independently managed search platforms maintained on their website. Some of these include:
- Atlantic County
- Berger County
- Burlington County
- Camden County
- Cape May County
- Cumberland County
- Essex County
- Gloucester County
- Hunterdon County
- Hudson County
- Mercer County
- Middlesex County
- Monmouth County
- Morris County
- Ocean County
- Passaic County
- Salem County
- Somerset County
- Sussex County
- Union County
- Warren County
To utilize the online search system, users may need to fill the search fields, providing a case number, party name or case type. Some search systems allow requesters to specify a filing date range, which may prove useful in cases where requesters do not have the case number.
Once a record is found, requesting parties may pay to obtain copies of a civil record. Payment for obtaining records is not static and varies with different courts. Some courts offer a standard fixed fee while others offer a tiered fee-based system. Requests for certified copies of a civil record includes additional fees. The state online platform permits registered users to set up notifications for case information updates.
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.
How to Obtain New Jersey Civil Court Records by Mail
To obtain civil court records by mail, members of the public must first establish that the clerk of court offers this service. Details on how to request records via mail can be found by visiting the official court’s website or contacting the clerk of court. The website may also provide details on the cost of securing copies of civil court records using this method. Submitted request forms must include specific information to facilitate the search, such as a case number (if known) or names of the parties involved and a self-stamped envelope must be included for due return of the record if found.
Searching for Civil Court Records
In cases where requesters do not have case numbers, civil court records can still be found using different methods, such as searching through calendars, dockets, and name indexes.
- Searching with a Name Index: Name indexes lists the names of the persons or businesses that have filed a civil suit in alphabetical order. Interested parties can search through the name index to identify the parties involved in cases handled in the civil court.
- Searching with Calendar/Dockets: The state of New Jersey maintains a Docket or Calendar which provides information on pending cases. The docket contains the names of both the defendant and the plaintiff, as well as the case number and the courtroom where the hearing will be heard.
Are all New Jersey Civil Court Records Online?
Most civil courts in New Jersey restrict access to court records to only in-person physical requests submitted at the courthouse and/or mail-in requests. In most instances, older records of cases filed before 1930 are unavailable in digitized format. This means that such records can only be viewed in traditional print form by walk-in visits and cannot be viewed online until they are imaged and uploaded. Online access to confidential civil court cases, such as records of family part proceedings among many others are also protected from public view either in person or online.