South Carolina Court Records
What are South Carolina Civil Court Records?
South Carolina Civil Court records refer to all documented information detailing civil court proceedings. These records, which typically include but are not limited to sworn affidavits, trial transcripts, depositions, litigant(s) information, witness testimonies and records of court actions, motions filed and judgments, are usually maintained by the clerks of court for the South Carolina judicial branch. In accordance with South Carolina’s Code of Laws, interested members of the public may find South Carolina civil court records in the jurisdiction where the case was heard.
Understanding the South Carolina Civil Court System
South Carolina operates a unified court system which comprises a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals and Trial Courts. These trial courts are further divided into Circuit Courts, Family Courts, Probate Courts, Magistrate Courts, and Municipal Courts. The South Carolina court system is explained in detail as follows:
The South Carolina Supreme Court is considered the state’s highest court. It’s composed of a chief justice and four associate justices and it has appellate and original jurisdiction over all the other state courts. Under its original jurisdiction, certain actions may be initiated in this court. However this only happens under unusual circumstances such as significant public interest in a particular case. The Supreme Court also exercises exclusive jurisdiction in all matters of appeal involving circuit court cases with a death penalty sentence, family court cases involving an abortion by a minor, judgments involving constitutional challenges to state statutes or local ordinances and state Grand Jury investigations, as well as circuit court judgments involving public bonded indebtedness, elections, and public utility rates. In carrying out its appellate duties, the Supreme Court does not hear new testimony or evidence but makes rulings by reviewing the transcripts and all other relevant documents involved in the court proceedings of the appeals brought before it with the aim of affirming, modifying or reversing the decisions of the other courts.
Court of Appeals
The South Carolina Court of Appeals is responsible for hearing all appeals from the circuit and family courts. It has a chief judge and eight associate judges.
The Circuit Courts are the state’s courts of general jurisdiction. This means that they exercise general jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases in the state of South Carolina, however, they usually handle only cases outside the jurisdiction of the other trial courts. In addition to this, the Circuit Courts also have limited appellate jurisdiction over appeals from the probate, magistrate and municipal courts. The South Carolina judicial branch is divided into sixteen judicial circuits, and at least one circuit court can be located in each county in the state. The criminal and civil divisions of the circuit courts are sometimes referred to as the Court of General Sessions and the Court of Common Pleas respectively.
Under state law, the South Carolina Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all matters involving domestic or family relationships as well as over minors under the age of 17 accused of violating state laws or municipal ordinances and is solely responsible for hearing all cases involving marriage, legal separation, divorce, division of marital property, custody and visitation rights, adoption and termination of parental rights, child support, alimony and change of name. However, even though the Family Courts have exclusive jurisdiction in matters involving minors, cases in which these minors face serious criminal charges may be transferred to the circuit court.
The Probate Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over trusts and share concurrent jurisdiction with circuit courts over powers of attorney. They also have jurisdiction over cases involving settlements under $25,000, guardianships of incompetents, involuntary commitments of either the mentally ill and/or chemically dependent persons to institutions, marriage licenses, estates of the deceased and conservatorships of estates belonging to minors and incompetents.
Magistrate Courts generally have jurisdiction over criminal cases involving offenses subject to the penalty of a fine not exceeding $500 and/or imprisonment not exceeding 30 days and civil cases in matters involving a maximum of $7,500.
Municipal Courts have general jurisdiction over all offenses which are subject to a maximum fine of $500 and/or a sentence of imprisonment not exceeding 30 days which occur within the municipality as well as over any criminal cases arising under municipal ordinances of the municipality. In addition to this, Municipal Courts may also hear cases transferred from circuit courts that have a penalty not exceeding a period of imprisonment for one year and/or a fine of $5,000.
This is a specialized division of the Circuit Courts that hears cases without a jury. Masters-in-Equity Courts have the power to take any and every necessary proper measure required to carry out an efficient performance of their duties when regulating proceedings in matters brought before them. Some of these measures include ruling on motions, calling witnesses and examining these witnesses under oath, requiring the production of evidence and ruling on the admissibility of any evidence produced. These courts only handle cases referred to them by the circuit courts and any appeals from these cases go to either the court of appeals or the supreme court.
Cases heard in South Carolina Civil Courts
Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction over criminal and civil cases in the state of South Carolina. Civil cases are heard by the Court of Common Pleas division and they typically involve civil disputes between two or more parties who are usually private citizens, businesses or organizations. These cases may or may not include the involvement of a jury before a judgment is rendered. Types of civil cases tried in South Carolina civil courts include:
- Automobile arbitrations
- Post Conviction Relief and other inmate litigation cases
- Sexually Violent Predator Cases
- Bond issues
- Breach of contract, unlawful termination and related cases
- Libel and slander cases
- Tenancy cases
What’s included in a South Carolina Civil Court Record?
Once a civil suit is initiated, records are generated which document every information pertaining to the case. Given the wide scope of these types of cases, as well as the various types of courts that handle different civil cases in the state of South Carolina, the information documented on these records tend to have slight variations. However, most civil case records typically contain the following information:
- Case number
- Case type
- Summons and Complaint(s)
- Personal information of the litigants
- Attorney information
- Memorandum of opinion
Obtaining South Carolina Civil Court Records
In accordance with the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, requests for public records can be made by any member of the public. Interested parties who wish to obtain copies of civil court records may do so by any of the following means:
- Inspecting and/or obtaining records in-person
- Sending mail-in requests to the appropriate record custodian
- Accessing records online
- Utilizing a third-party aggregate site
How Do I Access South Carolina Civil Court Records in Person?
This is the primary method through which copies of civil court records may be obtained in the state of South Carolina. In-person requests for records are recommended for interested parties who wish to obtain as much case information as possible, especially information which the South Carolina judicial branch may not be statutorily required to disseminate electronically. Requestors who wish to obtain civil court records in person may do so through the following steps:
Identify The Right Court
Interested parties who wish to access civil court records will need to identify the particular court where the case in question was filed/heard. Civil cases in the state of South Carolina are generally heard by the Court of Common Pleas division of the Circuit Courts. Civil cases can also be filed and heard by the Probate, Magistrate and Municipal Courts.
Gather Case Information
Even though South Carolina public records laws state that interested parties who wish to access civil court records are not required to provide the record custodian with a statement of purpose for making the request, these parties are required to provide any relevant information that may be necessary to initiate and/or expedite a search of these records. This information usually includes, but is not limited to, the names of the litigants, the case number and the date the original charge(s) was filed.
Visit the Court Record Custodian
The offices of the Clerks of Court maintain all civil court records for their respective counties in the state of South Carolina. After the right court has been identified by the interested party, a request to inspect and/or obtain copies of the required civil court records can be made in person at the office of the clerk of court in the county where that court is located. To aid members of the public with this step, the South Carolina judicial branch maintains an online county map that contains up to date contact information on the state’s clerks of court.
Provide Identification and Pay Any Required Fees
After the court, the record custodian and the necessary civil court records have been located, parties who wish to obtain physical copies of these records will be required to provide a form of identification, usually a government-issued photo ID and pay a fee, which is usually calculated by the type of record being copied and the number of copies required, and may vary depending on the court.
How Do I Find South Carolina Civil Court Records by Mail?
Interested parties who wish to obtain civil court records via mail in the state of South Carolina may do so by sending a written request to the record custodian. The details of the request may vary depending on the record custodian, but generally, the following information should be included:
- The names of the litigants involved in the case
- Case details like the case number, the date the suit was filed and any other relevant dates
- Any other general case information
- Details of the requestor
- Appropriate payment to cover any search fees and/or the total number of copies of the record(s) required. (payment is usually in the form of money orders or checks made out to either the court or the office of the record custodian)
- A self-addressed envelope.
It is important to note that these requirements are not absolute, therefore interested parties are advised to contact the record custodian for any other additional requirements. Interested parties who wish to obtain records through this method should also establish that this is an option available at the court where the records are located. South Carolina civil court record custodians can be contacted through the information made available in the online county map provided above.
How to Find South Carolina Civil Court Records Online?
The South Carolina judicial branch provides members of the public with online access to civil court records through its Case Records Search database. This database allows interested parties to search for records by county, court type, name, case number, and action type. It is important to note that statutorily exempt information cannot be accessed through this method.
Additionally, publicly available records are 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
Third-party sites are not government-sponsored websites, and record availability may differ from official channels.
How to Find South Carolina Civil Court Records Using Third-Party Aggregate Sites
A number of third party aggregate sites exist which can be utilized by interested parties who wish to access civil court records. These sites offer a geographical advantage to requestors who cannot physically obtain or send in written requests for these records. In addition to locating the necessary record custodians, these websites may also obtain and deliver copies of these records to interested parties. To search for records on these sites, interested parties are required to provide the name(s) of any parties involved in the case and the location of the record in question such as the county, city or state. It is important to note that most of these websites are non-governmental, and as such record availability and the cost of obtaining these records may differ from official channels.
Are all South Carolina Civil Court Records Public?
According to the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, public records are defined as all documentary materials prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, or retained by a public body. In line with this definition, civil court records are considered public and can, therefore, be requested for and may be obtained by members of the public, except where stated otherwise by statutory law. Some of the records which are exempt from public disclosure are:
- Trade secrets
- Information which violates attorney-client privilege
- Law enforcement records which might jeopardize an on-going investigation if divulged
- Personal information in situations where such a disclosure might constitute an unreasonable invasion of personal privacy
- Juvenile records
- Certain South Carolina Department of Revenue records
- Information that may reveal the identity of a person that makes a complaint or discloses information alleging the violation or potential violation of the law
- Autopsy records
Any interested parties who wish to request a public record may do so by contacting the appropriate record custodian. These requests are usually free, however in some instances, especially for records that prove elusive or records that require redaction of confidential information, a fee may be charged. In addition to this, there are also fees charged for obtaining copies of these records. Also, as mentioned earlier, the South Carolina judicial branch provides free online access to civil court records through its Case Records Search database.
Can I Access Sealed South Carolina Civil Court Records?
In accordance with South Carolina state law, sealed civil court records can only be accessed by authorized parties who in most instances are either members of a law enforcement agency, officers of the court or parties named in the suit. However, these civil court records may be obtained by members of the public that can obtain a court order from a judge authorizing the unsealing of the record.
Are there Public Records of Mediation Processes in South Carolina?
Mediations are a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution in which a voluntary settlement is facilitated by a third-party neutral mediator through discussions between parties. However, in the event that a voluntary settlement cannot be reached, both parties still retain their rights to proceed to a court trial. In the South Carolina judicial branch, all civil actions filed are subject to court-ordered mediation. In accordance with this judicial branch’s ADR Court Rule 8 any information disclosed during the mediation process shall be deemed confidential and not subject to divulgation except where otherwise stated by this rule or by statutory law. Information exempt from this confidentiality rule includes, but is not limited to:
- Information used in planning, committing or attempting to commit a crime, concealing ongoing criminal activity or threatening physical violence.
- Information offered in judicial proceedings relating to a settlement agreement reached during a mediation
- Information offered in relation to professional malpractice during a mediation conference.