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.
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 request forms provided by the court. They may also be able to access court records online.
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 NumberRequesters 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 NameInterested 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 AttorneyInterested 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.
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 ofJustice925 W. Ottawa StreetLasing, MI 48915P.O. Box 30052Phone: (517) 373-0120
- Michigan Court of Appeals
District I to District IV
- Michigan Trial Courts
- Michigan Court of Claims
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.
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 Do Michigan Courts Work?
The Michigan court system includes the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and Trial Courts. The Supreme Court is the highest court of law, while Trial Courts are the lowest, and they are where most cases begin and end. The Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court. Appellate courts are responsible for hearing and reviewing appeals from legal disputes that have already been heard at local trial courts to ensure that the decisions at that level are fair. They do not admit new evidence or try cases all over.
The Michigan Supreme Court has administrative oversight over all other courts in the state. As the apex court, it receives thousands of leave to appeal applications from litigants seeking review of Michigan Court of Appeals decisions. The Supreme Court grants leave to complex litigations and those with a high public significance for further briefing. It determines the rules of practice and procedures in every other court in Michigan. Besides reviewing the Michigan Court of Appeals decisions, the apex court also hears judicial misconduct cases. Seven judges sit on the Michigan Supreme Court, some elected while others are appointed. Legal proceedings typically come before the court between August 1 and July 31 of the following year.
The Michigan Court of Appeals comprises four districts. It is the state's intermediate appellate court, and it hears all appeals from the Michigan Trial Courts and other lower-level courts. A panel of three judges hear cases brought before this court and uphold the application of the law over facts. The four divisions of this court and their locations are:
- District I - Detroit
- District II - Troy
- District III - Grand Rapids
- District IV - Lasing
Hearing holds all-year round in Lansing, Detroit, and Grand Rapids but there is no courtroom in Troy. The Court of Appeal has 24 judges, and they all sit state-wide. The Michigan Court of Claims is a division of the Michigan Court of Appeals in charge of claims over $1,000 instituted against the State of Michigan or its departments.
The Trial Courts in Michigan include the Circuit Courts, District Courts, and Probate Courts. All of these courts have different jurisdictions. Cases already heard by other Trial Courts can be appealed at the Circuit Court. The Court also presides over felony cases and civil cases (with over $25,000 claims). The State of Michigan has 57 Circuit Courts, and their judges are usually elected for a six-year tenure. Residents of Michigan have more contact with the District Courts than any other courts in the state.
A District Court has jurisdiction over civil litigations under $25,000. It also handles most ordinance violations, preliminary trials on felony charges, misdemeanors with sentences less than one year, and landlord-tenant disputes. There are over 100 district courts in Michigan, with 276 district court judges distributed among them. Judges in these courts are elected for six-year terms. The Michigan Probate Courts handle cases relating to estates, trusts, and wills, including their managers. The 107 judges spread across the 78 Michigan Probate Courts are elected for a six-year term of office.
What are Civil Court and Small Claims in Michigan?
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 representations. 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
What are Appeals and Court Limits in Michigan?
An appeal is simply a request filed with a higher court to examine a lower court's decision. The process allows a person or entity who has lost in a lower court decision to have their case re-heard in a higher court, otherwise known as the appellate court. All types of cases are appealable in Michigan, but the most common ones are civil and criminal cases. Congress and the United States Constitution place limits on the authority and jurisdiction of courts in the U.S. The same restraints apply to the various levels of Michigan Courts.
Initiating an appeal involves the appellant filing a claim stating that the lower court made legal errors and that its decisions should be reversed. A request for appeal made in Michigan may go through appellate courts up to Michigan Supreme Court or even the United States Supreme Court. Filing an appeal, however, depends on the lower court, whose decision is being contested.
Decisions on cases at the District Courts can be appealed at the Circuit Court. However, a lawsuit heard before a magistrate can be appealed in the same court where such a magistrate serves. The appellant will do this by filing a written claim of appeal within seven days of the magistrate's decision.
The Michigan Court of Appeals is the appellate court for Probate Court and Circuit Court cases. The rules applicable to the Michigan Court of Appeals are contained in MCR 7.201 through 7.219. Hearings usually hold in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Detroit, and Marquette before panels of three Court of Appeal judges. A minimum of two out of the three judges must agree to decide on an appealed case. Six judges sit on the Michigan Court of Appeals and are rotated periodically for appeals filed with the court.
The Michigan Supreme Court serves as the appellate court for decisions taken at the Court of Appeals. It is the highest court in the State of Michigan. Generally, an appellant must take some steps within the time frame stipulated by the court rules to avoid dismissal of an appeal. An appeal is completed once the court releases an opinion or order deciding the case.
What Are 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 order, certified check, 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 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.
What are Michigan Bankruptcy Records?
Michigan’s Bankruptcy Records consist of accounting data of debtors filing for bankruptcy in the State of Michigan. 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.
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.
How Do I Find My Case Number In Michigan?
A case number is a unique reference designated by the court to differentiate a criminal or civil case from others. It usually identifies the year a court case was filed, the judicial officer that filed it, and the office in which it was filed. The first step to take when presenting a case for filing is the assignment of a case number.
To find a Michigan case number, interested persons may use the MiCOURT Case Search and provide their names in the search field. Such persons should enter their names in full without a comma and then click the submit button. This search portal can provide details on traffic, domestic, civil, criminal, and probate cases. Juvenile and delinquency cases are also available through this portal. The requesters can fetch their case numbers from the result page at the end of the search. Alternatively, interested individuals can obtain their case numbers in Michigan by contacting the court of records. However, some nominal fees may apply for such searches.
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.
Does Michigan Hold Remote Trials?
The outbreak of coronavirus pandemic in Michigan in early 2020 shut judges out of courtrooms and has since taken most legal proceedings online. Meanwhile, just before the breakout of COVID-19, the Michigan Supreme Court had commissioned Zoom for almost 200 courthouses to conduct remote trials. Zoom offers internet video conferencing technology that serves many big corporations. This internet technology came in helpful with the pandemic, but it is rather a whole different experience.
Remote hearings using Zoom have helped reduce case build-ups. Although there has been adjournment of some trials, hearings are now generally being conducted faster. To ensure public participation in court proceedings, the Michigan Supreme Court launched a virtual courtroom directory where court hearings are live-streamed on YouTube. Interested persons can locate courtrooms by county or watch live proceedings from their current locations at the comfort of their homes or offices. Not everyone seems to embrace remote trials, but authorities are optimistic that Zoom hearings will be an ongoing routine in some cases, even after the coronavirus pandemic is over. Besides this virtual arrangement, some courts now conduct jury trials in open spaces or large halls to comply with the government safe distancing directive.
What is the Michigan Supreme Court?
The Michigan Supreme Court is Michigan's court of last resort. Established in 1805, this court has seven judges, and it superintends other courts in the entire state. Judges at the Supreme Court are either appointed or elected to eight-year terms. Cases heard at the Court of Appeal are mostly those from the Michigan Court of Appeal. They also hear judicial misconduct cases and try proceedings of original jurisdiction for writ applications, advisory opinions, and issues relating to the bar and judiciary. The Michigan Supreme Court grants appeal as a matter of discretion.
What is the Michigan Court of Appeals?
Founded in 1965, the Michigan Court of Appeals is an intermediate appellate court between the Michigan Supreme Court and state trial courts. It has four districts with 24 judges spread across the state. Residents have the right to appeal decisions from the final orders of a probate or circuit court to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Hearings usually take place all-year-round in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and Lansing before a three-judge panel on a rotational basis. For any decision to be biding at the Court of Appeals, at least two of the three judges must agree. The court considers applications for leave to appeal, primarily interlocutory, and grants appeal as a matter of discretion.
What are Michigan Trial Courts?
The Michigan Trial Court consist of Circuit Courts, District Courts, and Probate Courts:
Michigan Circuit Court
Michigan Circuit Court is a court with general jurisdiction over civil cases with claims of more than $25,000 and all felony cases. It handles lawsuits on adoptions, minors’ emancipation, domestic relations, child protective proceedings, and juvenile delinquency. The Family Division of Michigan Circuit Court also hears cases regarding child abuse, paternity, divorce, waiver of parental consent for abortion, name changes, and guardianships that arise from delinquency proceedings, protective proceedings, or domestic relations custody cases. Cases appealed from other trial courts are heard at the Michigan Circuit Court. There are 57 Circuit Courts in Michigan, and judges are elected on non-partisan ballots for six-year office terms.
Michigan District Court
The District Court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Residents of Michigan have more interaction with this court than other state courts, earning it the name, people's court. It handles civil litigations with claims under $25,000 and adult criminal misdemeanor offenses. Most criminal cases start from the District Court. The court also hears cases of civil infractions, land contract forfeitures, small claims, landlord-tenant matters, and ordinance violations with a sentence less than one year. Some Michigan cities have Municipal Courts serving as their District Courts. A total of 276 judges share the 105 District Courts in the State of Michigan. They are elected and usually sit in the office for tenures of six years.
Michigan Probate Court
The Michigan probate court is a trial court with limited jurisdiction. The 78 Probate Courts in the state are manned by 107 judges whose responsibility includes hearing cases involving estates, trusts, and the people managing them. The court also handles proceedings regarding guardianships, conservatorships, and protective proceedings. Certain types of cases can be appealed directly to the Michigan Court of Appeals from the Probate Court.