Washington Courts Overview
It helps to understand how the Washington state court system works when you’re trying to find court records. The Washington trial court system consists of Superior Courts, District Courts, Municipal Courts, Traffic Violations Bureaus, and Toll Courts.
Superior Courts have general jurisdiction over all cases that are not within the exclusive jurisdiction of another court. District Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of civil, criminal and traffic cases. All District Courts have a Small Claims department and some may have a Municipal department or a Violations Bureau. Municipal Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain criminal cases and most ordinance violation cases. Traffic Violations Bureaus are specialized municipal courts with limited jurisdiction over city ordinance violations. Toll Courts adjudicate contested civil penalties associated with unpaid toll fees.
If you prefer, you can start your search by going to Washington courts by county.
Washington Superior CourtsSuperior Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil and criminal cases, except when jurisdiction is limited by law or granted exclusively to another court. If no other court has jurisdiction over a particular case, it will likely be heard in Superior Court.
Superior Courts have original jurisdiction over felony criminal cases, misdemeanors that are not heard by District Court or Municipal Court, actions for forcible entry and detainer, insolvency proceedings, abatement or prevention of a nuisance, probate matters, divorce, annulment, and all other cases not exclusively assigned to another court.
Superior Courts have original jurisdiction over civil cases that involve a dispute over the title or possession of real property, or a question of the legality of any tax, impost, assessment, toll or municipal fine, and all other cases involving debts, damages or property valued in an amount beyond the limits of District Court jurisdiction. Superior Courts also hear naturalization cases, as well as habeas corpus, mandamus, and quo warranto cases.
Some Superior Courts have a separate Family Court department with jurisdiction over parenting plans, child custody, child visitation, child support, custodial interference, distribution of marital property and other domestic relations cases. Some Family Court departments also handle divorce or dissolution cases, and juvenile matters that overlap with other family-related cases. A few Family Court or Family and Juvenile Court departments regularly hear both family law and juvenile cases.
All Superior Courts, except those with a combined Family and Juvenile Court department, have a juvenile department or division with exclusive jurisdiction over most juvenile cases, including but not limited to juvenile delinquency, diversion, probation, detention, truancy, child dependency, termination of parental rights, and foster care. Programs and services for both juvenile offenders and non-offense juvenile matters are integrated, and may be referred to as Juvenile Services. Juvenile Courts share some jurisdiction over cases that overlap with Family Court jurisdiction.
Some traffic infractions by juveniles may be heard by District Courts and some delinquency cases may be transferred to the regular criminal division of the Superior Court for prosecution as an adult.
Superior Courts may have a Youth Court or Teen Court diversion program for juvenile offenders, in which other youth serve as jurors, judges, lawyers, and court personnel. Eligible cases include misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors, civil and traffic infractions, and truancy.
Washington District CourtsDistrict Courts have limited jurisdiction over certain types of civil, criminal and traffic cases.
The criminal jurisdiction of a District Court includes misdemeanor criminal cases, gross misdemeanor criminal cases, preliminary hearings for all criminal cases, and traffic infractions. District Courts may also have jurisdiction over city ordinance violations under an "interlocal agreement" with a city that does not operate its own Municipal Court. These agreements may provide for a Municipal Court department in the District Court, or for municipal cases to be filed directly into District Court.
The civil jurisdiction of a District Court includes cases with amounts in dispute of less than $75,000, exclusive of interest, costs and fees. Civil cases heard by District Court include, but are not limited to: contract cases that seek the recovery of money, damages to a person, damages to personal property, damages to real property if no issues about title or possession are in dispute, actions for a penalty, and personal property fraud cases. Some civil cases may be transferred to Superior Court if necessary to assert jurisdiction over a third party or if a claim exceeds the limits on District Court jurisdiction.
All District Courts have a Small Claims department with jurisdiction over civil cases that qualify as small claims. Cases that involve less than $5,000 in dispute are generally considered small claims, if the case involves claims for the recovery of money and if the case meets all of the other requirements for small claims jurisdiction.
Other types of cases heard by District Courts include civil protection orders, domestic violence protection orders, name changes, vehicle impound cases, and cases assigned by another court.
Washington Municipal CourtsMunicipal Court jurisdiction is limited to violations of city ordinances, and the enforcement or recovery of license penalties or forfeitures under those ordinances. Some Municipal Courts, as defined by statute, may hold preliminary hearings, set bail, and take recognizance on warrants issued by another District or Municipal Court.
Many cities do not operate a municipal court, but instead participate in an "interlocal agreement" with their county, under which the county's District Court handles municipal cases. In some of these agreements, the District Court has a separate Municipal Court department; in others, city cases are filed directly into District Court. Some cities participate in an interlocal agreement with a nearby city to provide municipal court services. If a city does not contract its municipal court services to a county or another city via an interlocal agreement, it must operate a municipal court.
Municipal Courts may have a Youth Court, Teen Court, or Student Court diversion program for juveniles age sixteen or seventeen, in which other youth serve as jurors, judges, lawyers, and court personnel in traffic infraction cases.
Washington Traffic Violations BureausTraffic Violations Bureaus are city departments authorized by District or Municipal Courts to process the Court's traffic cases. Traffic Violations Bureaus accept fine payments, bail, and requests for mitigation hearings, contested hearings, and deferrals. Hearings and deferrals are heard in the authorizing District or Municipal Court.
Washington Toll CourtsCivil penalties associated with unpaid toll fees may be contested in writing or in person at one of two Toll Courts. Decisions made in a hearing by mail cannot be appealed. In person hearings may be requested by phone or in person at a Good To Go customer service center. An administrative judge reviews evidence presented by the Toll Enforcement Office and any evidence presented by the contestant; these judges are not authorized to offer reduced fees or settlements.
Washington Court NotesOrders of Protection:
Superior Courts, District Courts and Municipal Courts have jurisdiction over Orders of Protection against domestic violence and harassment.
District Court and Municipal Court jurisdiction is sometimes limited to the issuance or enforcement of temporary orders of protection. If the District Court or Municipal Court only has jurisdiction over the temporary order of protection, the case will be transferred to Superior Court after the District Court or Municipal Court handles the requests related to the temporary order.
Superior Courts will handle trials for certain types of protection orders, including when another case is already pending between the parties in Superior Court, or if child custody or visitation is an issue, or if sole possession of a shared dwelling is requested.
Federally-recognized Indian Tribes in Washington have their own Tribal Courts or participate in the Northwest Intertribal Court System. Tribal Courts have exclusive jurisdiction, or share jurisdiction with Superior Courts, over certain cases as defined by Federal law. When the courts share jurisdiction, cases may be transferred from Superior Court to the Tribal Court. Tribal Court orders may be enforced in Superior Court.
Superior, District, and Municipal Courts may have specialized divisions or calendars such as Adult and Juvenile Drug Courts, Family Treatment Court, DUI Court, Domestic Violence Court, Mental Health Court, and Veterans Treatment Court. These "therapeutic" or "problem-solving" court programs can set up treatment in lieu of incarceration for some offenders with substance abuse and mental health problems.
Where to Find Court Cases in Washington
The chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of Washington court.
|Case Type||Court Type|
|Civil||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|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||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|Felony Preliminary Hearings|
|Traffic and Infractions|
|Domestic Relations||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|Child Custody and Visitation|
|Domestic Violence Protection Order|
|Juvenile||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|Child Abuse and Neglect|
|Termination of Parental Rights|
|Children in Need of Supervision|
|Mental Health||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|Other Mental Health Cases|
|Probate||Superior Courts||District Courts||Municipal Courts||Traffic Violations Bureaus|
|Wills & Estates|
|Guardianships and Conservatorships|