Pennsylvania Courts Overview
It helps to understand how the Pennsylvania state court system works when you’re trying to find court records. The Pennsylvania trial court system consists of Courts of Common Pleas, Magisterial District Courts, Philadelphia Municipal Court, and Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
Courts of Common Pleas have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, but typically only handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts. Magisterial District Courts, Community Courts, Traffic Courts, Philadelphia Municipal Courts and the Pittsburgh Municipal Court have limited jurisdiction over certain types of cases.
If you prefer, you can start your search by going to Pennsylvania courts by county.
Pennsylvania Courts of Common PleasCourts of Common Pleas have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, and generally handle cases that are beyond the jurisdiction of other courts.
Criminal cases typically heard by Courts of Common Pleas include felonies and lesser-included offenses.
Civil cases heard by Courts of Common Pleas include general civil claims without financial limits. Courts of Common Pleas also handle domestic relations, juvenile matters, adoptions, delayed birth certificates, appeals of some administrative agency decisions and some arbitration reviews.
Each Court of Common Pleas has an Orphans' Court division that handles estates, wills, trusts, guardianships, adoptions, and termination of parental rights. Courts of Common Pleas may have other specialized divisions for certain types of cases, such as Family Court, and a Domestic Relations Section that handles child and spousal support and related issues.
The Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas generally exercises jurisdiction over cases beyond the jurisdiction of municipal courts and traffic courts, but also shares jurisdiction over small claims cases.
Pennsylvania Magisterial District CourtsMagisterial District Courts have jurisdiction over certain types of civil and criminal cases.
Criminal cases heard by Magisterial District Courts include most summary offenses, most preliminary hearings, certain DUI cases, certain third-degree misdemeanors and some ordinance violations.
Civil cases heard by Magisterial District Courts include certain landlord/tenant cases and some general civil claims subject to financial limits. Magisterial District Courts do not have jurisdiction over civil cases brought by or against the State.
Judges in Magisterial District Courts are referred to as "District Justices" and "Magisterial District Judges," but the jurisdiction of a judge in a Magisterial District Court is the same regardless of their title.
Pennsylvania Philadelphia Municipal CourtPhiladelphia Municipal Court exercises limited jurisdiction over certain types of civil, criminal, and traffic cases within the territorial boundaries of the City and County of Philadelphia.
Jurisdiction over criminal cases includes preliminary hearings, most summary offenses, offenses that are punishable by less than five years of incarceration and some motor vehicle offenses.
Philadelphia Municipal Court does not offer jury trials for criminal cases, but a jury trial may be conducted in the Court of Common Pleas if a request for a new trial is granted on appeal.
Jurisdiction over civil cases includes certain landlord-tenant cases, breach of contract or other agreements, some general civil claims for less than $10,000, certain local tax matters involving less than $15,000 and actions to abate certain nuisances. Financial limits on civil jurisdiction are exclusive of interest and costs.
The limited jurisdiction of the Philadelphia Municipal Court is generally shared with the Court of Common Pleas, but the Municipal Court may have exclusive jurisdiction over certain criminal offenses.
Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Municipal CourtThe Pittsburgh Municipal Court handles certain types of criminal, housing and traffic cases.
Criminal cases handled by the Pittsburgh Municipal Court include summary offenses, traffic offenses, violations of most city ordinances and all preliminary hearings for all types of criminal cases that occur in Pittsburgh, including private criminal complaints.
The Pittsburgh Municipal Court may also handle cases for Emergency Protection in its Arraignment Court division.
Pennsylvania Court NotesAll appellate courts exercise some original jurisdiction over certain types of trial court cases.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has original jurisdiction over habeas corpus, mandamus, quo warranto, some administrative agency decisions and any matter of public importance that may be pending in any court.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court has original jurisdiction over habeas corpus, mandamus and applications for wiretapping and electronic surveillance.
The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has original jurisdiction over cases that include habeas corpus, mandamus, some civil actions against state government and state officers, some civil actions by state government, certain insurance cases, and certain statewide election matters.
Pennsylvania has a Court of Judicial Discipline that is a court of record for cases related to the conduct of Pennsylvania judges.
Pennsylvania Problem Solving CourtsMany Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas have specialized "problem solving" court divisions or programs which provide alternative methods of handing certain types of cases. These include adult and juvenile Drug Courts, adult and juvenile Mental Health Courts, Veterans Courts, DUI Courts, and Treatment Courts. They can set up treatment and supervision programs in lieu of incarceration for some non-violent offenders with substance abuse and mental health problems.
Where to Find Court Cases in Pennsylvania
The chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of Pennsylvania court.
|Case Type||Court Type|
|Civil||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|General Civil - Unlimited|
|General Civil - Limited|
|Foreclosures and Liens|
|Real Estate Title and Boundary|
|Landlord / Tenant|
|Protection, No Contact, and Restraining Orders|
|Administrative Agency Appeals|
|Criminal||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|Felony Preliminary Hearings|
|Traffic and Infractions|
|Domestic Relations||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|Child Custody and Visitation|
|Domestic Violence Protection Order|
|Juvenile||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|Child Abuse and Neglect|
|Termination of Parental Rights|
|Children in Need of Supervision|
|Mental Health||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|Other Mental Health Cases|
|Probate||Courts of Common Pleas||Magisterial District Courts|
|Wills & Estates|
|Guardianships and Conservatorships|
Note: Some courts in Pennsylvania are not included in the chart above. Please use the following links for descriptions and types of cases heard:
Philadelphia Municipal Court Pittsburgh Municipal Court