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How do North Carolina Courts work?

The Supreme Court is the highest legal authority in the state of North Carolina, and deals primarily with reviewing decisions made by the Court of Appeals. This allows them to weigh in on key debates, conflicts, and precedents. The Court of Appeal itself reviews the decisions made by inferior state courts what one party decides to contest. These inferior courts include the 100 superior or trial courts located in North Carolina’s 100 counties. There are seven justices of the Supreme Court, 15 judges of the Court of Appeals, and 95 judges of the Superior Courts. They all serve eight-year terms. Each of the 15 Court of Appeals judges writes up around 100 opinions per year.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Civil cases refer to those in which the petitioner is looking for over $250,000 in their filing. In North Carolina, there are around 150,000 of these filings each year. However, the dispute does not have to be monetary, as civil court also hears cases on such things as ownership disputes, restraining orders, and name changes. Small claims court deals with those looking for $10,000 or under, and is not represented by a counsel. There are also around 150,000 of these filings on average each year. Cases can range from deposit disputes to warranty disputes to disagreements over loans. The court can also order the defendant to do something in these cases, such as pay a debt owed.

Appeals and court limits

There are a few key differences between what is allowed in small claims court and civil courts respectively. Firstly, either party can appeal a decision made in civil court, however only the defendant can appeal in small claims cases. Pretrial discovery is also only allowed in civil cases, as well as having a lawyer present and able to file papers on the behalf of a party. Small claims court allows 30-70 days after filing to complete your case, whereas civil court allows up to 120 days. The filing itself costs $30-$100 in small claims court, but between $180 and $320 in civil court. In small claims court, you do not have to be a US citizen to file or defend, and if you do not have a grasp of the English language, you may hire an interpreter.

Why are court records public?

Back in 1935, the North Carolina Public Records Law was passed by State Legislature. The latest amendments to this law came in 2005, with the aim to allows members of the public to access a range of government records. All records maintained by the government in North Carolina, both state and local, should be accessible by all residents. The state believes this is the fundamental right of the people of North Carolina, and this law ensures previously confidential court and criminal records are now open to the public. This is a way of safeguarding government accountability. This law is similar to the North Carolina Open Meeting Law, which governs how public meetings are conducted across the state.

Copies of court documents can be requested for a fee


North Carolina Court Structure
North Carolina State Archives

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North Carolina

North Carolina’s Mecklenburg County Courthouse was built between 1925 and 1928.

  • There are 4 types of courts in the state of North Carolina. They are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Superior Courts, and the District Courts.
  • The Supreme Court has 7 judge positions, each who serve 8 year terms. The North Carolina Supreme Court was established in 1818.
  • The first chief justice for the North Carolina Supreme Court was John Louis Taylor, who served from 1818 to 1829.
  • Until the 1960s, the North Carolina Supreme Court was the only appellate court in the state.
  • The North Carolina Court of Appeals is composed of 15 members that serve 8 year terms.