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What are Alabama Civil Court Records?
Alabama civil court records are documents and reports that detail the legal processes as well as other relevant information of civil court proceedings within the state’s jurisdiction. These records are created to offer an objective account of civil court hearings as they contain information regarding court motions and actions, appearances, motion arguments and documents relevant to the case in question. They are typically maintained by a state-approved record custodian which is usually the clerk of the court where the case was filed/heard. As per Alabama’s public record laws, civil court records may be made available to interested and eligible members of the public upon request.
Cases Heard by Alabama Civil Courts
Alabama’s civil courts are tasked with hearing all civil cases in the state’s jurisdiction including cases involving intra- and inter-organizational disputes and legal actions between individuals in which the complaint is not necessarily considered a criminal offense. As such, unlike criminal cases, civil cases are not prosecuted by the state, but rather, are filed based on personal complaints usually pertaining to agreement breaches, personal injury or property damage. Cases heard by Alabama civil courts include:
- Most family-related cases (excluding cases in which a felony was committed)
- Tort, equitable claims
- Breach of contract, unlawful termination and related cases
- Consumer complaints and all other similar complaints
- Negligence of a minor or elder (often resulting in injury)
- Landlord/tenant disputes, interpersonal and workplace disputes
- Claims caused by character defamation such as slander and libel
The Alabama Civil Court System
The state of Alabama operates a four-tier judiciary comprising over 300 courts of various authorities in various judicial districts of the state. All courts are unified under the Supreme Court of Alabama and are tasked with different functions depending on their judicial authority. They include:
- Supreme Court of Alabama
- Alabama Court of Civil Appeals
- Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals
- Alabama Circuit Courts
- Alabama District Courts
- Alabama Municipal Courts
- Alabama Probate Courts
- Alabama Court of the Judiciary
While Alabama’s Supreme Court serves as the state’s highest court and the court of last resort, the state appellate courts (both civil and criminal) function as an intermediary between the lesser courts and the state Supreme Court. Alabama Circuit courts are the state's court of general jurisdiction in which most civil suits are first filed and tried. There are 41 circuits in the state which mostly serve as authorities over the district, municipal and state probate courts.
Depending on the nature of the complaint, civil suits may begin in a district, probate or circuit court. Once filed, the defendant is duly informed of their alleged offense and may be required to respond prior to the scheduled pre-trial conference. Pre-trial negotiations allow the plaintiff, defendant and their respective litigants deliberate on appropriate settlement alternatives to avoid trial. This proceeding is overseen by a judge. Where no favorable settlement is reached, the case is taken to trial where it is heard by a jury and a judge. Following the trial, the jury presents a final verdict that determines the settlement offered to the plaintiff or the penalty issued to the defendant. If either party finds the court's judgment unsatisfactory they may appeal the verdict at the Alabama court of civil appeals or the Supreme Court of Alabama which is the state’s highest court.
What is Included in an Alabama Civil Court Record?
Alabama civil court records are typically generated to provide detailed court proceedings and general court case information pertaining to a civil suit. As such, most records are unique to the case and may also vary depending on the judicial district where the case was heard and whether or not confidential information is featured.
Generally, most civil court records contain the personal information of the parties involved as well as details of the suit filed. This includes the place and date the complaint was made as well as details of the defendant’s response (if applicable). Civil court records also feature information regarding the pre-trial conference and the negotiations. Where a court trial was held the court records will include details of the court hearing including court motions, actions, the evidence presented by either party as well as court appearances, motion arguments, and related information.
Alabama civil court records also feature details of the court's final verdict and consequent penalties or rights/financial settlements granted either party. This may include alimony/spousal support, child custody, visitation and child support. Where applicable, details of court-issued injunctions and declaratory relief are also indicated. In addition, penalties issued to parties who are held in contempt, details of appeals made to higher courts and updated judgments are also included in the civil court record. All other relevant information such as details of court opinions as well as court calendars and schedules may be obtained by querying the record custodian, but may not be included on the record unless requested.
Are All Alabama Civil Court Records Open to the Public?
While the state of Alabama protects the right of the public to access public records (including most civil court records), the right of public access to this information is not absolute. This is as indicated in Rule 30 of the Alabama Rules of judicial administration. While interested members of the public may access all records deemed ‘open’ by law or court order, some records are automatically sealed by state statutes or confidential. Most public civil court records are contained in court dockets which are a summary of case information and court proceedings. They are usually accessible electronically and they include details of court actions, motions and arguments, appearances, and the court's final verdict. On the other hand, the following information is excluded from public access
- Confidential information regarding legal actions involving public offices (except for details of the amount paid in settlement)
- Welfare cases and evidence filed by social services and related institutions.
- The personal information of assault victims, juveniles and children in dispute
- Information relating to the financial status of the parties involved as well as their social security numbers, credit card numbers and related access cords
- Records pertaining to nolle pressed charges.
As per Alabama state laws, confidential records can only be obtained by legally authorized persons who have been issued a court order/subpoena (usually by an Alabama-licensed judge).
How do I Obtain Civil Court Records In Alabama?
Given Alabama’s public record laws, civil court records generated by the Alabama state judiciary may be made available to interested and eligible persons upon request. To obtain a record, requestors are required to use the available online resources or query the office of the clerk of courts in the courthouse where the case was filed or heard. Generally, record retrieval procedures differ depending on the judicial district and the record required. However, there are three popular channels with which Alabama civil court records can be accessed:
- Using any available online resources (managed by the state or third parties)
- By sending written requests to the office of the clerk of courts
- By making in-person requests to the record custodian
Accessing Alabama Civil Court Records In-person
Given the limitations on the management and dissemination of court records electronically, in-person record requests are better suited for accessing full court case information or restricted records. This typically requires that the requestor locate the record custodian and meet any necessary requirements unique to the judicial district. Generally, Alabama in-person court record requests proceed thus:
Find the Record Custodian
To request a record, the requesting party must locate the record custodian which is typically the clerk of the court where the case was filed or heard. As per Alabama state laws, all court records are managed and issued by the court clerk of most courts in their respective jurisdiction. The location of a civil court record can be determined by verifying the most current status of the case or the type of complaint filed.
As Alabama civil cases often begin from the probate, district or circuit court, requestors may proceed to query the aforementioned court in the judicial district in which the suit was filed. Additionally, probate and district courts do not have jurisdiction over selected cases. However, Alabama circuit courts are the state courts of general jurisdiction, and where the judgment of the case has been appealed, then the required record will likely be managed by the state civil appellate court or the Supreme court which serves as the court of last resort. The Alabama Judicial Circuits Map may be used to obtain information pertaining to court addresses and contact information of the various circuit court clerks across the state.
Collect the Requirements
Upon obtaining the contact information of the record custodian or confirming the courthouse in which the case was heard, the requesting party may proceed to inquire about the record retrieval process in that judicial district. As various jurisdictions employ unique judicial processes, the process for accessing a civil court record may differ from court to court.
Generally, requestors are required to provide all information with which the record search will be facilitated. This includes the personal information of the parties involved as well as the case, docket or appellate file number of the record. Additionally, selected jurisdictions also request the full name of the legal representatives involved, and details of the place and date the complaint was made. If the records being requested is confidential/sealed, the requesting party will also be required to obtain a court-issued subpoena before obtaining the required record.
Provide Appropriate ID’s/Fees and Request the Record
Requestors are advised to schedule their visit to the office of the record custodian beforehand. While requests are generally made during office hours, the retrieval process may require the skilled expertise of specific court staff. Upon arriving at a facility, requestors may make their requests verbally, but may also be provided a request form on which details of the request must be indicated. Additionally, requestors may be required to present a government-issued photo ID with which the eligibility of the requestor will be confirmed. Other forms of identification may be used as an alternative to the government-issued ID. However, appropriate IDs must be issued by a government parastatal or public office and selected institutions. Also, most record custodians charge a nominal fee which usually serves to cover the cost of the record search and/or copies made.
Accessing Alabama Civil Court Record Via Mail
Alabama civil court records may also be obtained by querying the office of the clerk of courts via mail. The requirements for obtaining records mostly varies depending on the custodian and the information contained in the record. However, requestors generally required to prepare written requests containing the following information:
- The full name of the parties involved
- General court case information
- The case file number, docket number or appellate file number of the record
- Details of the suit including the place and date it was filed
- The legal representatives of either party.
- The name and contact information of the requesting party
Additional information regarding any unique requirements of the judicial districts may be obtained by contacting the office of the clerk of courts before making the request. Generally the written record request must be accompanied by a cheque or money order payment of any applicable fees as well as a copy of the requestors government-issued photo ID and a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
Accessing Alabama Civil Court Records Online
There are a variety of online resources with which members of the public can remotely access civil court records conveniently. However, electronically filed court records often exclude confidential/sealed records or any restricted information. While there are several online databases maintained by different judicial districts, the ACIS Online, AlaCourt and AlaFile serve as central repositories for the state of Alabama, allowing interested users to conduct state-wide searches for civil court records of cases heard within the jurisdiction of the state of Alabama. Access to most sites primarily depends on the authority of the requesting party.
Additionally, 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.
Publicly Accessible Online Sources
The AlaCourt application is the primary public index of the Alabama state judiciary, featuring information regarding civil case trials and all court actions, motions, appearances and filed evidence relevant to these cases. The tool may only be used on a subscription basis. As such, interested requestors are required to contact the AlaCourt help center at 1-877-799-9898 to proceed with registration and subscription. Upon subscribing, users are issued the required login information needed to access the online index.
The AlaCourt access tool has an alternative suitable for one time users -- Just One Look. The Just One Look tool offers users access to court case information on a case-by-case basis for a nominal fee. Generally, users are charged $9.99 per name or case number search as well as $5 per image search and $19.99 or higher for case monitoring depending on the court in which the case was heard. On the database, interested persons may obtain the personal information of the plaintiff/defendant as well as details of case action summaries and court actions. Online searches can be conducted using the case number of the required record or the name of the plaintiff or defendant.
Restricted Online Indexes
ACIS Online is exclusive to Alabama licensed legal representatives and is the state’s Appellate Courts’ Online Information Service. The online service offers attorney’s remote access to case files and related tracking functions. To use the tool, the user must pre-register by furnishing the online registration form with information such as a state bar identification number and details of their employer or private practice (if applicable). Pro Hac Vice attorneys may register by contacting the Clerk of the Appellate Court for alternatives to the state bar identification number.
On the other hand, the AlaFile is exclusive for use by Alabama licensed attorneys, Pro Se individuals/businesses as well as authorized account managers. This allows users to file and access copies of electronically filed civil court records.
Interested and eligible persons may use the index by registering online and providing the requested information. In some cases, new but ineligible registrants are required to upload a company-issued letter authorizing their registration.
In addition to the above, publicly available records are also 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 in Alabama
As indicated in Alabama public access laws, civil court records may be confidential or sealed for a variety of reasons. In some cases, records deemed to be containing confidential or sensitive information are automatically sealed by the state’s statutes. However, eligible persons may also petition to have specific records sealed for a reasonable cause. Notwithstanding, selected persons may access confidential court case information and sealed civil court records.
Since sealed records are generally unavailable on the state’s online databases, all requests for sealed civil court records must be made in person to the office of the clerk of courts. Access to a sealed record generally requires that the requestor provide a court-issued order or subpoena indicating their legal authority to access the sealed record. Court orders are primarily issued by state-licensed judges but will only be issued where sufficient evidence has been provided to support claims of the record's current relevance in a legal matter.
Other Alabama Civil Court Information Resources
Besides court records, a variety of other legal resources are also maintained and disseminated by the Alabama state judiciary. In addition to providing information regarding state-operated court record sources, the Alabama Judicial System website also features details pertaining to these resources including court opinions and decisions, library information and court calendars.
The SCSO page features weekly slip opinions and various writings released by the court. While varying decisions are made by the court during a civil court proceeding, the minutes of a case detail all agreements and disagreements regarding the opinion issued. As such, the slip opinions featured on the page are subject to change, dismissal or correction.
The Alabama Supreme Court and State Law Library serve as a resource for obtaining information regarding the state laws, jury instructions general government documents. Using the tools available on the library page, interested persons may Ask a Librarian for information regarding legal resources or Search Alabama Laws for related information. Alternatively, interested members of the public may self serve following the rules indicated on the Law Library Self Help page of the AJS website.
Additionally, the Online Catalog of the library may also be used to access the state’s collection of resources including videos, books, recordings and featured lists.
Are there Public Records of Mediation Processes in Alabama?
Pursuant to Alabama state laws, All civil matters within the jurisdiction of the state’s courts are eligible for mediation. As such, the Alabama appellate courts operate an appellate mediation program as an alternative to the ADR processes offered by the Alabama Center for Dispute Resolution.
Generally, Appellate courts do not try cases following the standard litigation process. There are neither jurors nor witnesses but rather, the court reviews the verdict of the trial court based on the evidence and exhibits presented initially. Referrals to mediation are made based on the court administrators' evaluation of the case or based on the opinion of the appellate court at any time within the appellate process. Mediation proceedings are overseen by an approved appellate mediator and may be held at an agreed location conducive to the discussion to maintain confidentiality. For confidentiality, no records are made of the mediation proceeding. However, mediators are required to file a report within seven days of the completion of the mediation. Notwithstanding, all information disclosed in the course of the process may not be divulged unless required by law. Confidentially for all mediate cases must be assumed until details of the process are subpoenaed.