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What are Tennessee Civil Court Records?
Tennessee Civil Court Records are official documentation holding information on all civil cases filed in the state’s courts. These records include transcripts, statements of evidence or proceedings, tapes of depositions, docket sheets, motions, petitions, briefs, court decrees, and other similar documents written or recorded electronically as part of the civil court’s deliberative process. The Tennessee public records law ensures that civil court records not sealed by statute are made available for public inspection and can be accessed by visiting or contacting the records management in charge of the court where the case was handled.
Who can access Civil Court Records in the State of Tennessee?
The Tennessee Public Records Law endows citizens with the right to access, view, and copy most civil case records. These records are primarily kept and managed in the specific courthouse where the case was filed and may be retrieved by interested citizens upon request. The court clerk serves as the records custodian and is responsible for filing and processing court records requests within the premise of the court. Also, as furnished by law, requesters do not have to declare the intent or reason for wanting to access these records. However, they are advised to provide as much specific information as possible with regards to the records in question to ensure a time-efficient search.
What information is contained in a Tennessee Civil Court File?
Regardless of the type of civil suit, most civil case files in the state have the following order of information:
- County Number
- Location Code
- Court Name
- Docket Number
- Date of filing
- Names of plaintiffs and defendants
- Representing attorney(s) information
- Type of suit (general civil, domestic relations, or others)
- Date and type of disposition
- Judge's Code
- Yes/No damages
- Amount of Damages
- Additur or Remittitur
- Additur amount
- Remittitur amount
- Source Code
- General Sessions Appeal
- Executions issued and return
- Order of notice and appearances
- Memorandum of decision
Understanding Tennessee’s Civil Court Structure
The Tennessee judicial system comprises four basic courts each presiding over civil cases within their respective jurisdictions. They include; the Supreme Court, Appellate Courts, Trial Courts, and courts of limited jurisdiction.
Tennessee Supreme Court
Headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee Supreme Court serves as the highest appellate court in the state, with no original jurisdiction over legal matters with the exception of those matters which question the constitutionality of the state statute. As the tribunal of last resort, the Supreme Court functions to review cases from the intermediate appellate courts and also enjoys advisory opinions on overall questions of state law.
Intermediate Appellate Courts
The State of Tennessee features a bifurcated structure of intermediate appellate courts which has been modified over the years to include the court of appeals for civil cases and the court of criminal appeals for criminal cases. The Court of Appeals is composed of 12 judges who usually sit in 3-membered panels and functions to review decisions made by the lower courts.
The trial courts primarily include the circuit and chancery courts. In accordance with the state constitution, there are both circuit and chancery courts within each of the 31 judicial districts in the state. Each consisting of 9 Judges, circuit courts are courts of original jurisdiction over various felony cases and civil matters and also offer decisions to appeals from lower courts such as juvenile, municipal, and general sessions courts.
The Chancery Courts are the courts of equity handling cases of equitable nature such as lawsuits, breach of contract disputes, breach of trust cases, name changes, fraud cases, etc. They also have overlapping jurisdiction with the circuit court over civil matters some of which include; divorces, adoption, workers' compensation claims, and usury.
The local courts are courts of limited jurisdiction over minor civil and criminal matters. They include; courts of general sessions, juvenile courts, and municipal courts. As the name implies, Juvenile Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over adolescent cases. The general sessions courts handle juvenile cases in counties lacking a single juvenile court while in other areas, they have concurrent jurisdiction with the trial courts. Also known as city courts, municipal courts handle traffic violation cases in their particular juridical town or city.
Are Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
In Tennessee, civil court records not held by statute are public records and can be inspected and copied by the general public. They typically contain general case information such as the case style, trial court case number, the presiding judge’s name, attending parties and attorneys, the main events in the case, the case history events, and record information may be viewed by searching the public docket or online terminal of the court. Some records may be rendered confidential or sealed by law, and therefore limited to only authorized individuals. Some of these limitations include:
- Juvenile case matters
- Adoption and paternity proceedings
- Home and cell phone numbers
- Records relating to drug dealer eviction programs
- Social Security numbers and bank account numbers
- Files involving domestic violence protection order
- Consultative, advisory, or deliberative discussions records
How to Find Civil Court Records
Depending on the convenience of the requestor, Tennessee Civil Court records can be obtained by various methods. Interested members of the public can opt to obtain records:
- By submitting a record request in person
- By searching the state’s online court website
- By requesting for records via mail
How to Obtain Civil Court Records Online
The online option has the limitation of being maximally explored by individuals with at least an average knowledge in the use of a computer.
Records of civil cases reviewed at the Supreme Court may be obtained using the C-Track case management system of the appellate clerk office. However, only cases filed on or after September 2006 are available in the search history. The Public Case History may be searched with the following information: case number and/or case style of the case, the first or last name of parties involved, and an organization as a party to the appeal.
Case records of civil cases filed at the trial and local courts may be obtained by using the case history search link on the specific court’s website. Some Tennessee counties provide direct access to civil court records using independently managed online dockets and search platforms maintained on their websites. Some of these include:
- Anderson County
- Blount County
- Carroll County
- Carter County
- Clay County
- Davidson County
- Dekalb County
- Franklin County
- Grainger County
- Jackson County
- Jefferson County
- Knox County
- Lake County
- Lawrence County
- Macon County
- Marion County
- Monroe County
- Montgomery County
- Obion County
- Overton County
- Polk County
- Rhea County
- Roane County
- Robertson County
- Rutherford County
- Sequatchie County
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.
How to Obtain Civil Court Records in Person
Step 1. Gather Information
Visiting the court directly provides the quickest and most effective way of obtaining a civil court record. Interested parties will be required to submit a written request for the records, providing specific information that can expedite the clerk’s search. To successfully submit a valid request, interested parties must first confirm that they have all the information required to identify the record. Some of the information required includes:
- The case ID/docket number of the case
- Names of one or both parties in the case
- Approximate date the case ended
- Location of the courthouse
- Name of the presiding judge
- Type of lawsuit
Step 2. Visit the Courthouse
Most courts permit members of the public to view, inspect or make copies of public civil court records. This is done at terminals located on the courthouse during specific hours. Residents can also obtain copies by submitting a request to the court clerk. Depending on when the case was filed, some older records may be stored in off-site locations. In this case, requesters may be asked to return.
Step 3. Pay the Fee for Copies
Although the court charges no fee for viewing and inspecting court records, it stipulates a fee for making copies of court records. Also, additional charges may apply for certified copy requests and the exact fee payable is determined by the court and the number of pages intended to be copied. The payment may be made in cash, by check, or online depending on the request method and the clerk’s available payment options.
How to Obtain Tennessee Civil Court Records by Mail
To obtain civil court records by mail, requesters 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 also provides details on the cost of securing certified copies and photocopies of civil court records using this method. Requesters must also determine if the court accepts written requests or there is a request form that can be printed out from the clerk’s online page. Submitted request forms must include specific information to facilitate the search, such as a case number (if known) or names of the parties involved.