Are Michigan Court Records Public?
The right of access to Michigan court records is not absolute, but interested persons can inspect and copy many documents filed with Michigan courts. The Michigan Freedom of Information Act, enacted in 1977, guarantees access to public records of government bodies at all levels in Michigan. However, court rules and Michigan laws exempt some kinds of information from public disclosure. A court may restrain access to court records for various reasons. One of them is if such restriction is at the request of parties to the lawsuits. Also, there are access restrictions to many documents related to jury questionnaires, mediations, crime victim contact information, and search warrants issued in less than 65 days.
The FOIA, also called Act 442, exempts trade secrets, some law enforcement records, information deemed private, and communications between attorneys and their clients. Other documents spared by this Act include medical counseling evaluations, campaign committee records, and communications advising government agencies.
What Shows Up on a Michigan Court Records Search
Court records are official records of judicial proceedings filed and maintained by court clerks. Michigan court records often include documentation on allegations, suits, claims, audio and video recordings of proceedings, log notes, sworn statements, affidavits taken under oath, pleadings, orders, judgments, discovery material, and warrants. Per Michigan Court Rules, every court of justice must have a system to oversee records management.
Michigan court records are considered public records, except where exempted by law. They are available to the public through government sources, third-party organizations, and in-person requests at courthouses or online. Court records are essential to Michigan's judicial system because they document legal rights, grant public and remote access to court proceedings and decisions, and preserve records of appellate review and historical data.
How Do I Find Court Records in Michigan?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Michigan is to determine the courthouses where such proceedings took place. Under MCR 8.199 (E), there is a presumption in favor of public access to court records. Requesters can access many files unless access is restricted by statute or records sealed by the court. Interested parties may file their request in writing to the court clerk or fill out request forms provided by the court. They may also be able to access court records online.
Michigan Court Records Public Access
The Michigan Courts website has a Case Search feature that allows anyone interested in obtaining electronic court records to search for them. Search results usually return as links to PDF copies of the following:
- Supreme Court opinions and published Court of Appeals opinions issued since January 2001.
- Court of Appeals opinions issued since July 1996.
- Supreme Court orders issued after September 21, 2005.
- Court of Appeals orders issued after January 1, 2005.
The Case Search portal offers three search criteria - the Docket number, Party name, and Attorney case list.
Search By Docket Number: Requesters may search the portal for Michigan court records of interests using docket numbers. Also known as case numbers, docket numbers use numerals only and must be entered correctly to obtain sought records. To search with a docket number, input the precise number in the Case Docket Number field, select the court type, and hit the Search button. The result will display the docket sheet for the requested case number once the search is complete.
Search By Party Name: Interested persons may find court records on the Search portal by searching with party names. A party name can be that of an individual or a company. However, cases such as termination of parental rights and adoption typically hide party names in order to preserve the privacy concerns of minors. Finding records by party name in such cases may not return any information. To search, enter the party name, either individual or company, into the Party Name field and click the Search button. Enter individual party names in the order of Last Name, First Name, Middle Initial, and for company names, input the organization names. After the search, the party name results are displayed, and requesters can check out matching records and then select them.
Search By Case List Of Attorney: Interested individuals can search court records on the Case Search portal using particular Attorney names or bar numbers. To use an Attorney bar number, enter only the numeric portion in the Attorney Number box. For search with an Attorney name, input the last name and the first name with one space in-between. For instance, "Tom Jerry". Click the Search button to display a list of records for the selected Attorney. Navigate the page and choose the matching records.
How to Find Michigan Court Records in Person
The contact information and addresses of Michigan State Courts for persons who may wish to request Michigan court records via mail and in person are listed below:
- Michigan Supreme Court
- Michigan Hall ofJustice 925 W. Ottawa Street Lasing, MI 48915 P.O. Box 30052 Phone: (517) 373-0120
- Michigan Court of Appeals
- District I to District IV
- Michigan Trial Courts
- Contact Information
- Michigan Court of Claims
- Contact information
MCL 600.2546 permits the courts to charge a fee for obtaining a certified copy of a record. A court may charge a nominal fee of $10 for certifying a copy of a court record. Certification refers to stamping a certification onto a document as per Component 10 of the Michigan Trial Court Case File Management Standards.
How to Conduct a Michigan Court Record Search by Name
To conduct a court record search by name, visit the Michigan Court website or the website of the county court where the case was heard and use the case search feature available. An interested searcher may find court records online with the name of either of the parties, whether an individual or an organization. However, the court protects the identities of juveniles and other minors for their safety.
To begin your search, select advanced search, and enter the following details in this order - last name, first name, middle name, or initial. For organizations, one only needs the business name. After inputting the details, click the search button. Then select the matching records from the results that are displayed.
Alternatively, requesters may perform a court record search via the Case Search platform with the attorney's name, bar number, and case/docket number. If the attorney's name is known, enter the last and first name of the attorney with a space between the characters; for example, "Claire Pritchett". Click on search to display a list of records the selected attorney has represented clients in, and find the court record of choice.
How to Conduct a Michigan Court Record Search Via Mail or in Person
To search for court records in person, file a formal request in writing to the court clerk or visit the court of interest and fill out the request forms for court records. Requesters who choose to request Michigan State Court records via mail or in person may use the trial courts directory to find the record custodian's contact information.
Meanwhile, certain courts allow record requests via email. For example, the Michigan Court of Claims has online court records request form requesters can complete and submit via email. Note that per Michigan Rules of Court, clerks can charge a fee to certify a copy of a record. Section 22.214.171.124 of Michigan Trial Court Records Management Standards explains that the fee to certify one page of a document is $1.00, accompanied by a compulsory $10.00 fee for the certification process itself.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
The Michigan Courts Case Search portal is completely free. To find court records, the searcher needs stable internet connection and information on the case, i.e., name of the party, name of the attorney, type of court, docket number, or attorney bar number.
There are other low-cost options for accessing court records online, such as the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) portal, especially for federal court records. PACER charges searchers a small fee per page of case information. Interested individuals may also use third-party record sites.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court 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.
Types of Courts in Michigan
The court system in Michigan has four levels. In order of hierarchy, the first is the Supreme Court, then the Court of Appeals, the Trial Courts, and other courts. The Michigan Supreme Court is the highest in the state, and generally the court of last resort. The Court of Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in Michigan; the court reviews the decisions of lower courts and has the power to overturn or uphold the decisions of lower courts.
Michigan Trial Courts are local courts. They include the Circuit Court, Probate Court, District Court, and the Court of Claims. Every county in the state has a Trial Court. A large number of cases begin and get resolved at Trial courts. However, if a person is unsatisfied with the judgment of the Trial Court, they can appeal to the Court of Appeals. The last category of Michigan courts are Tribal Courts and Federal Courts. Tribal Courts are judicial systems for federally recognized Indian tribes in Michigan and disputes between tribe members.
What Shows Up on Michigan Judgment Records?
Michigan judgment records are typically created at the end of a case when a judge issues a decision regarding a civil complaint or criminal charges. There are various types of these records, including summary judgment, declaratory judgment, and records of default judgment.
These judgments are issued under various circumstances and become binding when the court clerk enters the judgment in the court record. The clerk will also maintain a copy of the judgment for official purposes. Per the Michigan Freedom of Information Act, these documents are public records.
Persons who wish to obtain judgment records in Michigan must visit the clerk's office in person during regular business hours. The administrative staff will require the case number or litigants' names to process the request and retrieve the record sought. The requester must also pay for the search as well as regular or certified copies of the judgment record. Cash, money orders, certified checks, and credit cards are accepted payment methods.
Persons who obtain Michigan judgment records can expect to see the litigants' names, the judge's name, and the judgment date. In addition, judgment records contain the specific claims of the parties involved (civil cases) or the charges against the defendant (criminal cases), as well as the issued judgment.
Meanwhile, the electronic case information is available on the Michigan Judiciary portal. Here, the searcher must provide the litigants' full name or case number to find information about the case of interest. While court records are unavailable, the portal is helpful for checking case status and other case actions.
Are Michigan Bankruptcy Records Public?
Michigan's Bankruptcy Records are classified as public per state laws. Such records consist of accounting data of debtors filing for bankruptcy in the State of Michigan. Bankruptcy records and associated recordings and filings, including Michigan liens, contracts, judgments, and foreclosures, may be accessed by interested members of the public. However, requestors may be required to provide information to facilitate the record search.
The United States Bankruptcy Courts of Western and Eastern Michigan Districts serve as the repositories of bankruptcy records in the State. In the Western Michigan Bankruptcy Court, attorneys and creditor representatives must be authorized users of the Court's NextGen Case Management/Electronic Case Filing (CM/ECF) Live database to file documents electronically. These representatives must meet the court's prerequisites, receive training, and register to file electronically.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Michigan
Searchers can find bankruptcy records in Michigan by following several general steps:
- Determine if it is the Eastern or Western Court District that holds jurisdiction over the case in question.
- Use PACER to access the records. It is easier to find information when the researcher has the debtor's name, case number, and relevant Court District. PACER does not charge extra fees for bankruptcy-related searches.
- Download specific pages or the entire document from PACER for a token. It costs $0.30 to download a page and no more than $3.00 for a complete record.
If the researcher cannot access the documents online, they can go to the court to request the records in person. In-person requests may attract a fee, especially if the individual needs a certified document. The certification costs $10.00, and stamps cost an extra $1.00 per page.
The United States Bankruptcy Courts of Western and Eastern Michigan Districts are custodians of bankruptcy records in the State; they also have jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases.
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Michigan?
It is possible to look up court cases in Michigan, provided they are not restricted from public viewing. Lawsuits with confidential and sensitive information are not usually accessible by members of the public via any means. Interested persons can look up court cases online using the local courts' search portals in each county or do so in person at the courthouses where such proceedings are being heard. The Case Search portal provided on the Michigan Courts website is equally helpful in looking up court cases in Michigan. This portal provides interested individuals with three search options. These are docket number, party name, and case list by Attorney. Some third-party websites also offer court case lookup services but typically attract some fees.
Michigan Court Case Lookup Exemptions
Per Rule 8.119(I) MCR, the following are court records exempt from public access in Michigan.
- Juvenile court records: Section 712A.18, Michigan Juvenile Code states that court records, dockets, and proceedings involving minors in juvenile court are confidential and nonpublic records.
- Probate cases concerning the will and administration of a deceased person's estate. The Michigan Probate Code classifies matters related to probate cases as 'not readily available to the public.'
- Adoption records. According to section 710.67, Michigan Adoption Code, all documents related to adoption proceedings should be in separate locked files.
- Medical records. Per section 330.1748, Michigan Mental Health Code, information received while providing mental health services to a patient must be kept confidential. Whether the treatment is voluntary or not, mental health records and documents are sealed and not for public appraisal.
How to Find a Court Docket in Michigan
A Michigan court docket is a register detailing the complete history and events of each case in brief entries, documented in order of sequence, summarizing the court proceedings. Every case in the U.S. courts has a unique docket number. Researchers can use this docket/case number to search for case information and court records. A docket is beneficial in identifying other documents attached to court records (pleadings, motions, briefs, etc.).
Typically, court clerks handle the creation, maintenance, and disposition of dockets. In some counties, clerks have ensured that dockets and court filings are available online and accessible. However, this does apply to all courts. In some cases where the record sought is available online, it may be restricted from public access.
In Michigan, members of the public may find docket information for cases alongside reports on the Michigan Court case search site. PACER also grants searchers access to dockets as well as information on cases filed in the United States. Additionally, third-party organizations like legal research databases have access to dockets and other case information, but it often comes as part of premium packages which are paid subscription services or restrict it to legal professionals.
Civil vs Small Claims Courts in Michigan: Understanding the Difference
Civil Court handles cases involving lawsuits between two or more individuals or businesses in matters involving claims of $25,000 or less. A Civil Court only hears civil matters and never criminal cases. An individual starting a lawsuit is known as the plaintiff, while the person or business being sued is the defendant. The most common types of civil cases in Michigan are civil infractions, landlord-tenant disputes, and small claims.
A plaintiff can sue only for money damages in a Small Claims Court of amounts up to $5,500. Michigan small claims courts are divisions of the District Court. Plaintiffs can only get money in small claims proceedings. Cases such as slander, libel, fraud, and assault cannot be filed in Small Claims Court. Plaintiffs will have to approach other courts to get justice for these types of cases. Small claims cases do not require legal representation. Hence, plaintiffs must be able to convince magistrates or judges as to why they should get the money they are asking.
A small claims judgment is usually valid for six years from the date of entry. The court deciding in favor of a plaintiff does not translate to immediate compliance by the defendant. The plaintiff may have to seek further legal help to ensure that the defendant pays the awarded money. Once a judgment has been paid in full, the plaintiff must complete a judgment satisfaction form and submit it to the court. Examples of small claims cases in Michigan include:
- A car accident where insurance cannot cover the losses
- A money dispute between a tenant and landlord
- A check not honored by the bank
- Violations of consumer protection by deceptive business practices
- Civil Judgements
- Marriages & Divorces
- Death Records
- Birth Records
- Property Records
- Asset Records
- Business Ownership
- Professional Lic