Massachusetts Court Records Search
Massachusetts court records are official documents and proceedings related to court cases, including dockets, case files, transcripts, pleadings, judgments, and other documents filed in court. Pursuant to the Uniform Rules on Public Access to Court Records and the Massachusetts Public Records Act, records of court cases are made available to the public, regardless of their form, and each person in Massachusetts has a right to access court records.
In Massachusetts, court records serve as a historical record of legal proceedings and can be used by members of the public and legal professionals to inform legal or personal decisions. These records allow for greater transparency and accountability in the legal system and can provide valuable insights into particular cases, such as the names of parties involved, charges or claims made, and outcomes.
The Massachusetts Trial Court Electronic Case Access website provides court record search services to inquiring individuals. Users of this platform can search court dockets, find court calendars, and access Supreme Judicial Court briefs using various search criteria, such as name, date of birth, case number, type of court record, and county location.
Are Massachusetts Court Records Public?
Yes, they are. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, public records are documents generated or received by state agencies or municipalities as they discharge their official duties. The Massachusetts Public Record Law defines what documents qualify as public records and grants citizens the right to access and copy public records of their interest.
Passed in 1966, the Massachusetts Public Record Law mirrors the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and authorizes making public records available to any resident upon request. It also specifies the agencies that are exempt from the law based on certain exceptions. The latest amendment to this law, “An Act to Improve Public Records,” was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on June 3, 2016. It became effective on January 1, 2017.
How Do I Find Court Records in Massachusetts?
The first step to take when trying to obtain any court record in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is to know the court that heard the case. The Massachusetts court system consists of appellate courts and seven trial court departments. The Supreme Judicial Council and the Appeals Court constitute the appellate courts. The trial court departments include the Superior Court, District Court, Land Court, Housing Court, and Juvenile Court. Others are the Probate and Family Court and the Boston Municipal Court.
Massachusetts Court Records Public Access
After identifying the specific court keeping a court record of interest, a requestor should contact the office of the court clerk, who is usually the court’s record custodian. Interested persons can use the courthouse locator to search for court locations or retrieve the court’s contact details by searching the Massachusetts Court system directory by town, city, or zip code.
Individuals can access most case information online using Masscourt, the case management system of the Massachusetts Judiciary. However, recent court records and actual case documents cannot be obtained online. They can only be inspected in person at the offices of the court clerk, Recorder, or the Register. Persons interested in accessing electronic case information for the appellate courts can use a Public Case Search portal provided by the court. Effective searches can be conducted by name, case number, or calendar date.
To access trial court case information in person, interested persons can visit the six trial court departments (excluding Juvenile Court) and County Registry of Deeds sites. These courthouses have designated public access computers that use the Masscourt (eAccess) application and permit searches by name, case number, and type. Also, persons who wish to retrieve certain trial court case information can generally access them on the state web portal.
Copies of court records can be obtained by submitting written requests to the specific courthouses where the cases were filed or to:
John Adams Courthouse
1 Pemberton Square
Boston, MA 02108
Phone: (617) 557-1000
The court clerk has ten days to respond and may charge reasonable fees for compiling and copying requested records.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, public records are available through both traditional, government sources, and through third-party websites and organizations. In many cases, third-party websites make the search easier as they are not limited geographically or by technological limitations. They are considered a good place to start when looking for a specific record or multiple records. In order to gain access to these records, interested parties must typically provide:
- The name of the person listed in the record. Juveniles are typically exempt from this search method.
- The last known or assumed location of the person listed in the record. This includes cities, counties, and states.
While third-party sites offer such services, they are not government sponsored entities, and record availability may vary on these sites when compared to government sources.
How to Conduct a Massachusetts Court Record Search by Name
To conduct a Massachusetts court record search by name, interested persons can use the Massachusetts Trial Court Electronic Case Access website by following the steps below:
- Go to the MA Trial Court Electronic Case Access webpage
- Read the notice
- Click "search public records"
- Choose the court department and division, and adjust results per page
- Select a search tab and input information
- Use the "name search" tab for a name search. The last name needs a minimum of 2 characters; the first name needs 1. Input company name if applicable.
- Choose the type of court case
- Add more search criteria if available
- Click "search" to retrieve records
- Review court records for relevant case information.
When searching for court records online, it's crucial to keep in mind that state law does not allow public access to court records containing selected information. Some court records may have a delay in being uploaded to the electronic database and may only be available in person at the court's physical location.
It's also important to note that some court records may be restricted or confidential. These records may require a court order or written permission from the presiding judge to access them. This is usually done to protect sensitive or private information, such as personal identification numbers, financial details, or sensitive legal matters. Accessing restricted court records without authorization can result in legal repercussions and penalties.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
The process of obtaining court records online for free can depend on factors like jurisdiction and accessibility. However, Massachusetts courts typically provide free public access computers for court record searches. Interested parties would need to physically visit these courthouse locations to make use of this service.
Low-cost options for accessing court records online include PACER or Public Access to Court Electronic Records, which charges a small fee per page viewed or downloaded. PACER is a public database that provides access to court documents, dockets, and case information from various US courts. Third-party aggregate sites are another low-cost option, but the accuracy and completeness of the information obtained may vary.
Types of Courts in Massachusetts
The judicial system in Massachusetts is composed of several courts, each with different jurisdictions and responsibilities. The courts are organized into a hierarchical structure, with the Supreme Judicial Court at the top and the District Court at the bottom. Each court has its own rules and procedures, and the jurisdiction of each court can vary depending on the specific issue involved in the case.
- Supreme Judicial Court (SJC): The highest court in Massachusetts, the SJC has the power of judicial review and final appellate jurisdiction over most cases in the state.
- Appeals Court: The intermediate appellate court in Massachusetts, the Appeals Court hears appeals from the lower courts, including the District Court and the Superior Court.
- Superior Court: The trial court of general jurisdiction in Massachusetts, the Superior Court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases.
- District Court: The trial court of limited jurisdiction in Massachusetts, the District Court has jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases, including traffic violations, misdemeanors, and civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000.
- Housing Court: The Housing Court has jurisdiction over cases involving housing-related issues, including landlord-tenant disputes, code enforcement, and eviction cases.
- Probate and Family Court: The Probate and Family Court has jurisdiction over cases involving family law matters, including divorces, child custody disputes, and probate matters.
- Juvenile Court: The Juvenile Court has jurisdiction over cases involving minors who are alleged to have committed delinquent acts or are in need of care and protection.
What are Massachusetts Judgment Records?
Judgment records in Massachusetts are court records that show the court's final decision in a criminal or civil case. Court clerks create judgment records after the presiding judge makes and declares this decision in court. Generally, these documents exist for cases considered closed or adjudicated by the court. The creation of the judgment record also makes it a public document open for public perusal per the Massachusetts Public Records Law.
To obtain Massachusetts judgment records, a requester must visit the clerk's office in person during regular business hours. The individual must provide the administrative staff with the case information needed to find and retrieve the case file from court archives. These details include the case number, litigants' names, and the judge's name if known. The case number will suffice for most searches.
Meanwhile, when the court administration retrieves the record of interest, the individual may choose to copy the entire case file or specific records. Either way, the court typically charges administrative fees for searching, copying, and certifying the court documents obtained. Cash, money order, certified check, and credit cards are acceptable payment methods for in-person requests.
Persons who obtain Massachusetts judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and judgment date. Also, judgment records contain a brief description of the matter and the court's decision on contested issues.
What are Massachusetts Bankruptcy Records?
Massachusetts bankruptcy records provide information on debtors who have filed for bankruptcy. Individuals or companies can file a petition at any of Massachusetts' three district bankruptcy courts. In general, bankruptcy provides debtors with a fresh financial start. Individuals who cannot pay off their debts and afford the cost of living can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but they will lose all assets they have, if any, in the process, whereas those who can pay off their debts and afford the cost of living can file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which allows them to keep their homes while paying off their debts.
Bankruptcy records and related documents such as writs, judgments, and Massachusetts liens are deemed public information per state law. Interested persons may query the county clerk or the clerk of courts in the courthouse where the claim or petition was originally filed.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Massachusetts
Bankruptcy records are public in Massachusetts and can be accessed by anyone through the PACER system. To do so, one must create or log in to an account on the PACER website, select "Search for Case," enter search criteria and review the results to find the relevant bankruptcy case. Clicking on the case will provide access to the docket sheet and bankruptcy records.
The fee for bankruptcy record search via PACER is $0.10 per page, up to $3.00 for a single document. Another way to find bankruptcy records in Massachusetts is to visit the relevant bankruptcy court with case details to conduct a search in person. A fee may apply, and the amount may vary.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Massachusetts?
Yes, interested persons can access lookup Massachusetts court cases, provided they do not contain confidential details. Other court case information that cannot be retrieved include those of minors or disabled persons. Members of the public can search and retrieve court cases remotely or in person. Interested individuals can retrieve case information from the online portal provided by the state.
Alternatively, the public terminals at the state courthouses facilitate court case search with parameters like name, case type, or case number. The Massachusetts court system provides guides on how to search court dockets.
Massachusetts Court Case Lookup Exemptions
According to the provisions of Massachusetts law, certain court case information is exempt from public disclosure. Some examples of information that is exempt include:
- Juvenile court records and proceedings, except in limited circumstances as outlined in the Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 119, which governs the confidentiality of juvenile court records and proceedings).
- Records and proceedings related to mental health commitments (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 123, 36A.)
- Adoption records.
- Records related to grand jury proceedings.
- Certain types of criminal offender record information, such as sealed records and expunged records.
- Records related to domestic violence restraining orders.
What is a Court Docket in Massachusetts?
A court docket in Massachusetts is a record of all events and filings in a court case, including information about the parties involved, the case type, hearing and event dates, and filed documents. Court dockets are used to track the progress of a case, provide a summary of the case history, and list the filed documents. To search for a court docket in Massachusetts, one can visit the trial court's website or the courthouse in person and search by case number or other identifying information. Some dockets may also provide access to filed documents.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in Massachusetts?
Civil courts handle disputes between two parties where either party may be an individual, corporate entity, or a public agency. In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, civil cases and their jurisdiction are determined based on the amount to be recovered.
- The Superior Court has jurisdiction over civil cases where the recoverable amount is more than $50,000.
- The District Court has jurisdiction over civil cases where the contended amount is $50,000 and less.
- A Small Claims Court (which is usually a special session of the District Court) handles proceedings in which the amount to be recovered is $7,000 or less.
Examples of civil cases include divorces, 209A restraining orders, mental health procedures, eviction proceedings, and contract disputes.
Massachusetts Small Claims Courts are commonly known as the People’s Courts. Small claims sessions are held in every Massachusetts District Court, the Boston Municipal Court, and the Boston Housing Court. Parties involved in small claims cases often require no legal representation and are not required to follow strict legal procedures. They may file suits with the District Courts located in their location or where the defendants reside. Plaintiffs can also file small claims cases where their offices or businesses are situated. However, for landlord-tenant matters, plaintiffs file claims in the districts where the property causing the contention is located. Small claims cases include:
- Back-owed rent
- Broken or damaged property
- Unpaid bills, especially those incurred for medical treatments
- Return of security deposit