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Iowa Civil Court Records

Iowa civil court records provide official records of civil court proceedings. They include documents, reports, tapes, dockets, indexes, calendars, opinions, discovery materials and more. In compliance with Iowa’s public record laws, civil court records can be accessed by members of the public. Interested persons may find Iowa civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard.

Iowa Civil Court System

The Iowa court structure is divided into two broad groups: the trial and appellate courts. Appellate courts consist of the Iowa Supreme Court and Court of Appeals while the district courts serve as the main trial courts. Most court cases in Iowa begin from the District Court and should end there if both parties to the lawsuit are satisfied.

Iowa Supreme Court

The Iowa Supreme Court is the highest court in the State. It is also called the court of last resort, which means its decisions are final on cases related to the state. The Supreme Court in Iowa receives appeal cases from the District Court and chooses the case it wants to hear while referring others to the Court of Appeal. Sometimes, it can send the case back (remand) to the District Court for a new trial.

The Supreme Court has the right to develop new laws for application in the courts. When it decides a case, the decision, which is known as opinions, becomes a law which the lower courts follow when dealing with the same circumstances. Aside from reviewing decisions from the lower courts, the Supreme Court also handles cases related to constitutional issues, public policies, and first impressions. The Court has a total of seven Justices, all of whom hear cases brought to the court and take a decision together. The Supreme Court and Court of Appeals in Iowa share the same Clerk.

The Iowa Court of Appeals

The Iowa Court of Appeals reviews cases transferred by the Supreme Court, which is about 90% of filed cases. When necessary, the Court of Appeals also remands cases to the District Court.

There are nine Judges appointed to the court. Three Judges are assigned to a panel, and there are three panels in the court. The Court of Appeal is not a trial court. It only reviews the decision made by the District Court to see if there was any error during the hearing. And so, it doesn’t need new evidence to carry out this task. The Court of Appeal, like the Supreme Court, can take any three actions after hearing an appeal case, namely:

  • Affirm
  • Reverse
  • Remand

Affirming means to agree with the previous decision or order of the District Court. Reverse means to disagree with the decision or order of the lower court, while remand means to send the case back to the lower court for a re-trial or other instruction. The decisions are called opinions.

Iowa District Court

The District Court, also known as the trial court, hears almost all cases located in its county. It hears over a million cases each year. Every one of the State’s 99 counties has a District Court. The Court has three levels of Judges that hear and decide trial cases. The first level is the District Judges. They have the authority to listen to all types of cases brought to the trial court.

The second is the Associate Judges (district, juvenile, and probate). The District Associate Judges handle civil suits up to $10,000 or less. The third is the magistrates; they have limited jurisdiction over cases brought to the court. They handle small claims, issue search warrants, and other assigned matters.

When the court makes a decision, dissatisfied parties can file an appeal with the Supreme Court. The court staff of the District Court includes the Clerk of the Court, Court attendants, Court reporters, and Juvenile Court, officers.

What is included in an Iowa Civil Court Record?

An Iowa civil court record may contain the following:

  • Date of filing
  • Time of filing
  • Details of complaints
  • The specific location of the filing
  • Details of the complainant and defendant
  • Circumstances surrounding an incident
  • Records of appearances
  • Motion and arguments
  • Evidence
  • Judgments

It may contain more or less since the case type and the extent to which the case lasts plays a crucial role in what will be included in the records.

Are All Iowa Court Records Open to The Public?

Most civil court records in Iowa are open to the public. Individuals have the right to make use of the records they obtain in whichever way they please, even if it’s for commercial purposes. The purpose of obtaining the records is of no concern to the record custodian; neither are there limitations of the use of the files. All court records are available for inspecting, copying, and making photograph copies. However, some court records are confidential pursuant to the law or statute of Iowa. Materials that are not filed with the court are not open to the public since they cannot be counted as public records. Discovery materials are not filed in Iowa courts unless the court orders for it.

How Do I Obtain Civil Court Records in Iowa?

Individuals seeking to obtain civil court records in Iowa can do so verbally or in writing. Civil court records can be obtained in person, online, telephone, or mailing. Before requesting, it is essential to have sufficient information that will help identify the records.

Additionally, 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 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

Note: Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels. Also, individuals working with the media should make their requests to the Judicial Branch Communications Directors. Others can make theirs to the Clerk of the court where the case was filed or recorded. Or they can perform an online case search.

Once a request is made with sufficient details of the case, a response will be made promptly, although this depends on the size of the file requested and other factors. If the records do not exist, the Clerk will inform the person requesting it, and if it’s a confidential one, the court personnel will deny the request while providing reasons for the action and showing the claim of confidentiality.

Obtaining Iowa Civil Court Records in Person

For those planning to get the civil court records in person, it is advisable to first find out the location of the court where the case was heard or filed. Note that while divorce records can be obtained from the Clerk of the court where the case was filed, property records can be gotten from various departments in a county such as the GIS department, Assessor’s, or the Treasurer’s office.

Visit the courthouse during office hours, which should be from 9 am–12 am or 1 pm–4 pm, Monday-Friday. 12 am–1 pm might not be a suitable time. If it’s possible to contact the Clerk by phone before coming, then do so.

Individuals can inspect the records as well as reproduce copies of it since the court won’t permit leaving with the original. However, if making copies of the documents is going to disrupt the court’s operation or use up their resources, the request may be denied. But there is the possibility of discussing alternatives to making copies.

How do I obtain Iowa Civil Court Records Via Mail?

To obtain civil court records via mail, interested parties must send a request for the records to the trial court where the case was filed. Requests for records heard at an appellate court should be sent to the Clerk of the Iowa Supreme Court. When the records custodian gets the records request, if the records are available, he or she will inform the requester about it and include the fees applicable. If there is a lack of adequate information to identify the records, additional information will be requested.

How do I find Iowa Civil Court Records Online?

Records can be found using the Iowa courts online search tool or the Iowa court eFile system. The Iowa courts online search contains case information about the trial court and appellate court. Individuals can also search online for opinions made by the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. There are also opinions of the United States District Courts in Iowa, Northern and Southern Districts online.

Accessing Sealed Civil Court Records

Civil court records sealed under the law and statute of the court can only be accessed by the court, the court’s officers, and the child support recovery unit. Other members of the public that wish to access a sealed record will have to file a request with the court. If the decision made was in favor of the requester, the court will issue a decree of dissolution to open the records.

Are There Public Records of Alternative Dispute Resolutions in Iowa?

Iowa uses alternative dispute resolutions such as mediation and arbitration to resolve legal matters before proceeding to the court if both parties couldn’t reach a compromise. It helps to avoid expensive court proceedings and also maintain the existing cordials between the parties. ADR settlement agreements do not have public records since there are no records entered during the mediation process. However, if the settlement involves government entities, it will become a public record.

How to Find Iowa Civil Court Records Using Third-Party Aggregate Sites

Civil court records can be searched online through third-party websites, provided the records are not confidential. These websites enable users to perform an extensive search of records not restricted by counties or states. However, information on these sites might not be accurate, updated or complete. To search these sites, interested parties may be required to use the name of the parties involved and the location of the record.

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