The Washington trial court system consists of Superior Courts, District Courts, Municipal Courts, and Traffic Violations Bureaus.
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.
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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.
A Superior Court may 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. Family Courts may handle juvenile cases when a case overlaps with other family-related cases, such as domestic violence or domestic relations.
A Superior Court may have a Juvenile Court department with exclusive jurisdiction over most juvenile cases, including but not limited to juvenile delinquency, child dependency, termination of parental rights, foster care, and other juvenile cases. 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, Teen Court or Peer Court division for alternative proceedings in eligible juvenile delinquency cases, such as nonviolent misdemeanors, traffic infractions and truancy.
Superior Courts may have a therapeutic court division for some child dependency cases that involve parents with mental health or substance abuse issues, to provide alternative proceedings designed to reduce abuse, neglect, foster care and termination of parental rights.
Superior Courts may have a Drug Court division or a Mental Health Court division for cases involving eligible nonviolent offenders with substance abuse or mental health issues, in order to focus on rehabilitation and treatment as an alternative to incarceration. District Courts and some Municipal Courts may also have a Drug Court division or Mental Health Court division.
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, city ordinance violations, and preliminary hearings for all criminal cases. District Court may also have jurisdiction over infractions if a local Municipal Court does not exercise exclusive jurisdiction over infraction cases.
The civil jurisdiction of a District Court includes cases with amounts in dispute of less than $50,000, 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 $4,000 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.
District Courts may have a Youth Court division to provide an alternative process for eligible juvenile traffic infractions, such as a Student Court program associated with a local school.
District Courts may have specialized court divisions for certain types of cases, such as Domestic Violence Court, Mental Health Court, Substance Abuse Court, or Homeless Court.
Washington Municipal CourtsMunicipal Court jurisdiction is limited to misdemeanor criminal cases, gross misdemeanor criminal cases, preliminary hearings and infractions. Municipal Courts are limited to cases within maximum amounts of potential fines and incarceration.
Municipal Courts may have limited civil jurisdiction over cases such as the recovery of penalties or forfeitures associated with violations of civil ordinances. A Municipal Court may have specialized divisions for certain types of cases, such as a Mental Health Court.
Washington Traffic Violations BureausTraffic Violations Bureaus are Municipal Courts that handle violations of city traffic ordinances when incarceration is not authorized by an ordinance as a possible penalty.
Washington Toll CourtCivil 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.
Washington State has assumed some jurisdiction over "Indians" and "Indian territory," including compulsory school attendance, public assistance, domestic relations, mental illness, juvenile delinquency, adoption, dependent children, and most cases concerning the operation of a motor vehicle.
Specialized Court Divisions:
Superior Courts may have specialized divisions such as Youth Court, Drug Court, Mental Health Court or other specialized programs for certain types of cases.
District Courts may have specialized divisions for certain types of cases, such as criminal cases involving defendants with mental health issues or certain juvenile traffic infractions.
Municipal Courts may have specialized divisions for certain types of cases, such as certain types of criminal cases involving defendants with mental health issues.
Where to find court cases in WashingtonThe chart below gives general information on the types of cases heard in each type of court in Washington.