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Instant Access to State, County and Municipal Records

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Are North Dakota Court Records Public?

The rights of members of the public to inspect and make copies of court records in North Dakota are guaranteed by Section 6, Article XI of the North Dakota Constitution. The section mandated government departments and agencies, courts inclusive, to open every record or document in their custody for public inspection as and when required. Exemptions were made for records sealed or made confidential by law. Although the North Dakota Legislature passed another Open Records Statute, its jurisdiction was not extended to court records.

The North Dakota Supreme Court, following the state’s open government policies, formulated some policies to guide public access to court records. The court’s Administrative Rule 41 revealed that both administrative and case records of the court are accessible to members of the public, either remotely or in person. The Administrative Rule, however, excluded some records from public disclosure. Declarations and affidavits submitted for the issuance of search or arrest warrants are not public. Files relating to sexual assault restraining orders are also confidential. Personal information of jurors, juvenile court proceedings, and documents filed during in-camera examination are also among those barred from public view.

Parties involved in criminal or delinquency cases may also request that some information in case records be concealed. Such requests may be forwarded to the court in writing, with notices served to other parties to the case. Upon careful consideration, the court may approve the request and prevent public access to such case information. Government officials, especially law enforcement, retain access to court records barred from public disclosure to enable them to perform their duties without restraint.

How Do I Find Court Records In North Dakota?

 

Written Requests

The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in North Dakota is to identify the court case type and the court within which jurisdiction it falls. North Dakota has three permanent court levels, with a temporary fourth, the Court of Appeals, sitting at the Supreme Court’s discretion.

The Municipal Courts in North Dakota have limited jurisdictions and cover cities in which they are located. They hear cases such as traffic violations, infractions, and Class B misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and theft of cable television services. Interested persons may visit the municipal courthouses and request copies of court records in their custody. Fees charged by the different Municipal Courts vary. For instance, the City of Fargo Municipal Court charges requestors $10 per copy of court records made available to them. Additional copies attract a fee of $10 per case. The Municipal Court in West Fargo also charges $10 for each court record requested. The turnaround period for responding to records requests in West Fargo is usually under 48 hours.

The District Court has exclusive jurisdiction over all criminal and civil cases. Interested persons can obtain court records from the North Dakota District Courts by submitting written requests to the clerk of court at their various locations.

The North Dakota Supreme Court is the court with the highest authority in the state. It reviews decisions made by the lower courts and the state’s administrative agencies. To request court records from the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, interested individuals may forward their requests to:

Clerk of The North Dakota Supreme Court
600 E Boulevard Ave
Bismarck, ND 58505-0530
(701) 328-2221

The clerks of the courts are empowered to limit each requestor to a search of ten records daily. This limit may be extended to more case files if such requests do not disrupt the routine court activities. Some record requests may be entirely denied if they are exempt from public disclosure. Court record requests, where the clerk is not sure of public availability can be referred to the court for clarity.

North Dakota courthouses are open to requestors whose intention is only to inspect court records. Inspection must be done in the full glare of the court personnel and inspecting individuals will not be permitted to leave the court premises until such records are safely returned.

 

Court Public Terminals

Interested persons can access public court records by visiting courthouses and using the available public terminals. North Dakota courts are enrolled in the Odyssey case management system, which the public can access by using the public terminals at the courthouses. The Fargo Municipal Court does not charge any fee for inspecting and printing copies of court records at their courthouse public terminal.

 

Remote Access

Court records from different courts in the state are available online. Members of the public can access these records from anywhere and at any time. Opinions and orders of the Supreme Court are also publicly accessible online.

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 North Dakota Courts Work?

The court system in North Dakota has three levels, and each handles various types of cases. A temporary Court of Appeals sits when summoned by the state’s highest court.

The Municipal Courts in North Dakota have jurisdictions within the cities where they operate and hear cases involving violations of city laws. Cases involving minors and those that violate state laws are outside the jurisdiction of Municipal Courts. Out of the 357 cities in North Dakota, Municipal Courts only exist in about 90 of them. Cities with a population below 5,000 residents can decide whether or not to have Municipal Courts. Other cities may choose to make agreements with the District Court in their locations to hear offenses violating municipal laws. North Dakota has about 75 Judges presiding over cases at the 90 Municipal Courts in the state. The state laws require Municipal Court Judges in cities with more than 5,000 residents to be licensed attorneys. In cases where that condition cannot be fulfilled, volunteers serving as Lay Municipal Judges are assigned to the Municipal Courts. Typically, Municipal Court Judges serve for four years in office.

North Dakota District Courts have exclusive jurisdictions over most cases, except stated otherwise in the laws. They supervise the Juvenile Courts. These are courts that have jurisdiction over trials involving minors. The courts also receive appeals on cases decided by the Municipal Courts and hear cases involving the state’s administrative boards and agencies. Each of the 53 counties in North Dakota has one District Court, and are divided into eight judicial districts for administrative purposes. These districts and the counties under them are:

  • Northwest District: Divide, McKenzie, and Williams Counties.
  • Northeast District: Benson, Bottineau, Cavalier, McHenry, Pembina, Pierce, Ramsey, Renville, Rolette, Towner, and Walsh Counties.
  • North Central District: Burke, Mountrail and Ward Counties.
  • Northeast Central District: Grand Forks and Nelson Counties.
  • East Central District: Cass, Steele, and Traill Counties.
  • Southeast District: Barnes, Dickey, Eddy, Foster, Griggs, LaMoure, Ransom, Richland, Sargent, Stutsman, and Wells Counties.
  • South Central District: Burleigh, Emmons, Grant, Kidder, Logan, McIntosh, McLean, Mercer, Morton, Oliver, Sheridan, and Sioux Counties.
  • Southwest District: Adams, Billings, Bowman, Dunn, Golden Valley, Hettinger, Slope, and Stark Counties.

There are a total of 52 District Court Judges in North Dakota. They are distributed across the state. The South Central Judicial District has ten judges, seven are assigned to the Southeast District, and the Southwest Judicial District has four. The Northwest Judicial District has six judges, five sit in the North Central District, five at the Northeast Central, while six judges are assigned to the Northeast Judicial District. At the East Central Judicial District, nine Judges preside over the courts. The judges in each district elect one from among them to serve as a Chief Judge for three years.

North Dakota District Courts judges are elected through nonpartisan elections to serve for six years. At the end of their tenure, they may choose to seek re-election. If a vacancy exists in this court, the Supreme Court has the right to transfer that seat to another district or abolish it. The Supreme Court may also decide to fill that vacant seat. The Governor may appoint a judge from a list of nominees drawn by the Judicial Nominating Committee to fill the vacant position. Otherwise, a special election to fill a vacant Judge’s position will be conducted. If a seat is filled by appointment, the appointed judge only gets to serve for two years before an election is conducted, and the winner will serve the rest of the term.

The North Dakota Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state. It has appellate jurisdiction to review cases decided by the lower courts. The Supreme Court is also tasked with the duty of regulating the practice of law in North Dakota, as well as establishing procedures and policies for other courts in the state. It was created in 1861 and has five justices presiding over the court who are elected to a ten-year term. A Chief Justice, elected by other justices and the District Courts judges, is the administrative head of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice serves for five years in office. The Supreme Court Chief Justice presides over Supreme Court arguments, represents the judiciary at state functions, and serves as the administrative head of North Dakota courts.

Where necessary, the Supreme Court can constitute a panel of active and retired Justices and Judges to serve on the Court of Appeals. The provision for the temporary Court of Appeals was enacted in 1987. The Court of Appeals provides appellants at the Supreme Court with access to quick, free, and fair trials. Once approved by the Supreme Court, the Chief Justice constitutes a panel of retired Supreme Court Justices, active or retired District Court Judges, and lawyers to review cases assigned by the Supreme Court. The panel sits at Bismarck and other cities across the state. The Clerk of the Supreme Court provides clerical services to the Court of Appeals panel.

 

North Dakota Court Structure

What Are Civil Court and Small Claims?

Small claims are civil suits where aggrieved persons seek damages for non-criminal offenses committed against them. The damages sought must not exceed a certain limit if it must be tried in court as small claims. Limits vary from state to state. In North Dakota, small claims must not exceed $15,000. A division of the District Courts, Small Claims Division, tries small claims cases. Landlord-tenant disputes, contractual disputes, and debts not exceeding $15,000 are tried as small claims in North Dakota. Small claims proceedings are less formal than the usual court cases. Juries or Court Reporters are not required to participate in small claims cases. Hiring an attorney for a small claims dispute is not necessary or economical since the amount sought as damages is small.

Defendants must respond after receiving small claims summons within 20 days of receiving the petition. Parties involved are allowed to bring witnesses, and the Judge makes decisions after hearing both sides. In North Dakota, court rulings on small claims cases are final and not appealable. If a defendant fails to respond to a petition within 20 days, the plaintiff automatically wins the case. Sometimes, defendants may also elect to have the suit discontinued at the Small Claims Court and tried at the District Court where juries and attorneys may be present. If the defendant loses after such transfer to the District Court, payment of fees incurred by the plaintiff in hiring an attorney is included in the judgment awarded against the defendant.

To avoid losing a case before it begins, a plaintiff must note that a small claims suit must be filed with a Small Claims Court where the defendant resides. Also, disputes involving debts must be filed not more than six years after the money was borrowed or six years after the last payment by the defendant.

There are no limits to the amount that can be sought as damages in other civil cases brought before North Dakota District Court. However, plaintiffs must ensure suits are filed within certain time limits. For cases involving breach of contracts, lawsuits must be filed within four to six years after the offense was committed. Libel suits must be filed within two years, while disputes involving personal injury must be filed within six years.

What Are Appeals and Court Limits?

An appeal is a process of approaching a court of higher authority to review decisions made by lower courts. In North Dakota, decisions of the Municipal Courts are appealed to the District Courts, while those of the District Courts are appealed to the Supreme Court or the temporary Court of Appeals.

To appeal to the District Courts, a notice of appeal must be filed with the Municipal Court within 30 days after the entry of judgment. The time limit may be extended for another 30 days for tenable reasons. The Municipal Court will typically transfer notice of appeal to the District Court within five days. New trials can be conducted at the District Court, especially if there is new evidence about a case. Appealing Municipal Court decisions at the District Court is free of charge.

It is unnecessary to hire a lawyer to appeal a District Court judgment at the Supreme Court. Parties involved may decide to represent themselves. To appeal civil cases, the notice of appeal must be filed within 60 days of the court ruling. A non-refundable $125 filing fee must be paid not later than 14 days after the notice of appeal has been filed. Indigent litigants may petition the Supreme Court to waive the appeal filing fee for them, and if approved, will not pay. However, they will pay for any other costs incurred during the appeal process. For criminal cases, the notice of appeal must be filed within 30 days after the judgment has been entered. It is convenient for the notice of appeals to be sent via email to the Clerk of the Supreme Court. However, allowances are made for petitioners representing themselves and imprisoned parties to hand-deliver or send the notice by mail.

The appeal process entails the Appellant filing briefs initially. Briefs submitted must not exceed 38 pages. The Appellee has 30 days after being served with the Appellant’s briefs to respond with a corresponding brief. This brief must also not exceed 38 pages. If necessary, the Appellant may be required to file a reply brief no later than 14 days after the Appellee’s briefs. The response must not exceed 12 pages, and it must not contain new disputes or previously stated points. It is only meant to answer questions raised by the Appellee’s briefs. Oral arguments may, sometimes, be necessary. During oral arguments, the Appellant has 30 minutes to make their case while the Appellee has 20 minutes to respond.

It usually takes between 60 to 90 days after the scheduled date for arguments for the Supreme Court to pass judgments. The decision reached by the court will be sent to all parties involved in the case by email or fax. If the information necessary for that is unavailable, judgments will be dispatched by mail. As the court of last resort, the decisions made by the Supreme Court are final. Dissatisfied parties may apply for rehearing at the same Supreme Court within 14 days after the receipt of the initial judgment. Petitions for rehearing are hardly granted, and when they are, decisions are rarely overturned.

How Do I Find My Case Number In North Dakota?

Using the Odyssey online case management system, requestors can use other case information to find case numbers. Some parameters which requestors can use are names of the defendant, attorney’s name, attorney’s bar number, and date the case was filed.

Can You Look Up Court Cases In North Dakota?

The Odyssey online platform provides an avenue for the public to look up court cases in North Dakota. The North Dakota court website lists various courts whose records are on Odyssey and accessible by the members of the public. The public can also look up orders and opinions of the Supreme Court on the North Dakota courts website.

Does North Dakota Hold Remote Trials?

North Dakota resumed remote trials for some cases as a way of adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since limiting human contact is the only way of curtailing coronavirus spread, North Dakota courts adopt remote hearings where possible using video conferencing technology. In several administrative orders issued by the Supreme Court Chief Justice, Judges of North Dakota are encouraged to adopt electronic trials as much as possible. One of such orders approved electronic hearing for emergency and merits trials.

What is the North Dakota Supreme Court?

Established by an act of the 1889 Constitution, the North Dakota Supreme Court is the court with the highest authority in the state. It reviews decisions made by lower courts. Five Justices, including the Chief Justice, preside over cases appealed to the Supreme Court. The Justices are elected in nonpartisan elections to serve for ten years. Their elections are staggered so that only one position is vacant and up for election every two years. When death or retirement causes an unexpected vacancy, the governor can appoint a justice to fill the position pending election. The Supreme Court sets up panels to sit as temporary Court of Appeals when burdened with caseloads to ensure quick dispensation of justice. Active justices, active and retired District Court judges, and lawyers constitute such panels. The cases assigned by the Supreme Court are the only ones handled by the temporary Court of Appeals.

North Dakota District Court?

The District Courts in North Dakota are general jurisdiction courts. They hear both civil and criminal cases and also receive appeals from the Municipal Courts. The Juvenile Courts and Small Claims Courts are divisions of the North Dakota District Courts. This is the reason they have jurisdiction over cases involving minors. There is a District Court in each of the 53 counties of North Dakota. These counties are divided into eight different Judicial Districts. The District Courts have 52 Judges, distributed among the eight Judicial Districts, and are elected in nonpartisan elections to six-year terms.

North Dakota Municipal Court?

Municipal Courts in North Dakota only have jurisdiction within the cities they serve. They hear cases involving traffic violations and other offenses against city laws. However, suits involving minors and infractions against state laws are not under the purview of Municipal Courts. Municipal Courts exist in only about 90 of the 357 incorporated cities in North Dakota. Communities having less than 5,000 residents can decide whether they want a Municipal Court or not. Those that decide not to have one can seal agreements with the state to have District Court judges hear cases of municipal law violations. About 75 Judges preside over Municipal Courts statewide. Cities with more than 5,000 residents are mandated to have only licensed attorneys serving as judges unless it is not feasible. The distribution of Municipal Court judges in North Dakota is 19 legally-trained Judges and about 46 lay Municipal Judges.

North Dakota State Archives

State Archives

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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

North Dakota

North Dakota’s Richland County Courthouse was first built in 1912.

  • The state of North Dakota has 4 different types of courts in their state court system. These are the North Dakota Supreme Court, the Temporary Court of Appeals, the District Courts, and the Municipal Courts.
  • The North Dakota Supreme Court is based in Bismarck, and was founded in 1889. There are 5 judicial positions, each of whom serve 10 year terms. The chief justice is elected every 5 years by supreme court justices and district court judges.
  • The Supreme Court in North Dakota is authorized to create a temporary court of appeals when needed.
  • There are 51 judges in district court system in North Dakota. They are divided into eight different districts in the state.

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