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Where to Find Alabama Civil Court Records

Alabama civil court records are official documents generated from cases heard in the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. These civil cases are lawsuits involving breach of contracts, disputes over money between individuals or organizations, wrongful acts that may have caused injury to personal rights, and domestic relations. The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has jurisdiction over civil cases where the amount in the controversy is not more than $50,000. Alabama civil court records are stored and obtained from the court when the case was heard.

Are Alabama Civil Court Records Public?

Under the provision of Code of Alabama 1975, § 36-12-40, residents of Alabama can obtain a copy of public records, including court records, from the department in charge of maintaining them. However, records of ongoing cases, financial statements, and other files with content that could be detrimental to the public's interest are exempted from public view.

Types of Cases in Alabama Civil Courts

Alabama Court of Civil Appeals handles civil cases such as domestic relations, torts, breach of contract, and other incidents that involve no crime. Furthermore, the Court of Civil Appeals only presides over cases where the petitioner seeks an amount that is $50,000 or less.

  • Domestic Cases: Lawsuits involving family disputes such as divorce, alimony, annulment, adoption, child support, establishment of paternity, and child custody cases.
  • Tort: Matters that involve claims for personal injury, defamation, medical malpractice, fraud, battery, and negligence as a result of a wrongful act.
  • Breach of Contract: Claims that occur when a party refuses to honor a binding agreement, either oral or written, without any justifiable reason.
  • Contract and Property Disputes
  • Bankruptcy
  • Small Claims

What is the Difference Between Criminal Cases and Civil Cases in Alabama?

The dissimilarity between criminal cases and civil cases are:

  • A case can be tagged as a criminal case when an entity breaks the law stated in the state's criminal code or other legislative pieces. Civil cases involve parties in disagreement from situations such as repayment of debts, personal injuries suffered, and breach of contract.
  • An accuser in a criminal case is obligated to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" to have a higher chance of winning a case. Typically, a lower burden of proof is required for civil cases, and it is established on "preponderance of evidence" or "clear and convincing" standards.
  • Trials in criminal cases may involve the judge alone or the jury and the judge. The jury must come to a collective guilty or not guilty verdict. Situations where the jury does not agree are called "hung jury". If the jury is hung, a new trial will be scheduled. Civil cases, on the other hand, do not require a jury. Instead, a mediator is involved in helping the parties in disagreement settle the matter without appearing in court.
  • In criminal cases, if individuals charged with a crime are found guilty, it may be necessary for that individual to be incarcerated or asked to face some probation. For civil cases, the defendant does not go to jail; instead, the judge may order an amount of money paid to the plaintiff or set the damages. 

How Do I Find Civil Court Records In Alabama?

According to Alabama's Public Records Law, records generated by governmental institutions, including civil court records, are available to the general public. Residents can also make copies of these documents unless it is prohibited by law. To obtain copies of civil court files, visit the Clerk of Circuit Court in person or send a written request stating the case number and parties involved. If the case number is not known, interested individuals may write to the Clerk's Office to request a name search, and this service may attract $30.00 per name. At the Circuit Court, case numbers can easily be searched at the public terminal. It costs $0.50 to make copies of the records for mail requests, but $0.10 is charged for in-person requests.

Sometimes, court records are sent to the Federal Records Center for off-site storage, and the required fee to retrieve such a file is $64.00 for the first box, while an additional box costs $39.00.

How Do I Find Civil Court Records Online?

The Alabama Civil Court of Appeal allows Alabama residents to access court records online through AlaFile, by registration. Necessary details such as name, address, city, zip code, phone number, and fax number are required to register. AlaFile can also be used to file civil cases in Alabama. However, some Circuit Courts in Alabama have an online repository where civil court files can be accessed either for a fee or not depending on the county. Although the Alabama Civil Court of Appeal permits public access to records of cases online, some of these records are exempted from public disclosure. These exemptions put a balance between an individual's privacy and the public's right to know.

What Is Included In an Alabama Civil Court Record?

Civil court cases in Alabama are filed at the Clerk's Office, which is also in charge of documents generated from the case. The content of Alabama civil court record includes:

  • Name of the complainant and the defendant
  • The plaintiff's allegations
  • File number
  • Information on court appearances
  • Pleadings and motions
  • Court orders
  • Bench notes
  • Verdicts and judgment

How to Access Alabama Civil Court Records For Free

According to Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration Rule 30, the Clerk of Court reserves the right to grant access to civil court records for free to the parties involved in the civil action, the representatives, or the attorneys that represented the plaintiff and the defendant. Governmental agencies may also be allowed to obtain civil court records free of charge. However, if the case documents requested will be sent by mail, the requestor will have to bear the postage cost.

How to Seal Civil Court Records in Alabama

Following Alabama Rules of Civil Procedure, redaction naturally applies to civil court records containing Social Security number, financial account number, and taxpayer identification number. The party filing for the case may only include the last four digits of these numbers. Note that civil court records involving minors or people's birth name are automatically withheld from public view. However, individuals involved in a civil action can write a request to the District Court Clerk to seal a specific part of the record and are entitled to receive a copy of the sealing order at no cost, upon approval.

How to Access Sealed Civil Court Records in Alabama

All parties, including the defendant, involved in a civil action are entitled to request a copy of the sealed file. The counsel in the case and the presiding judicial officer can also view sealed civil court records in Alabama. Besides these people, interested persons that want to have access to confidential documents may have to send a request to the court stating clear reasons why the court should make the case file accessible.

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