Part of our job here at CourtReference – in addition to making sure that court contact information and links to court websites and other resources are up to date – is to provide a brief explanation of each state’s trial court system. When you select a state on CourtReference, the next page you see has a list of that state’s trial courts, an explanation of each, and a chart showing which types of cases are heard by each court.
Most state trial court systems are fairly simple, with one or two levels of general-jurisdiction courts in each county. We’ve already noted some exceptions to that general rule in articles about court systems in California, Michigan, and Texas; consolidation of courts in some states; and relatively rare types of county-level courts such as Chancery Courts.
Many states also have courts of more limited geographical jurisdiction, i.e., covering an area less than a county. Some have jurisdiction in more than one subdivision of the county, such as several towns or townships; examples are Justice of the Peace Courts in Louisiana and Texas, and Magisterial District Courts in Pennsylvania. But most have jurisdiction in a single municipality, and the common dictionary definition of “municipality” is a single city, town, village, borough, or similar political subdivision that has powers of self-government and is included in a larger political subdivision. More details about divisions and subdivisions of government in the United States can be found in Wikipedia.
In many states, some but not all municipalities have their own courts. They may be called City Court, Town Court, or similar names, but most are called Municipal Courts – because they are the court for that municipality. Generally, a Municipal Court will have jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances (local laws that apply only to that municipality), some local disputes between local citizens or between a citizen and the municipality, and some violations of state laws that occur within the geographical limits of the municipality (most often, traffic violations). In most states with Municipal Courts, if you commit a violation or have a dispute with someone within a municipality, the only question is whether the Municipal Court has subject matter jurisdiction over that issue. If it does, then your case will be heard in Municipal Court (or City Court, Town Court, etc.). Only if your Municipal Court does not have jurisdiction over that type or case will it be heard in a county-level court.
However, as you may guess by reading some of our other blog articles, there are always exceptions to general rules about state trial courts. Ohio’s Municipal Courts are an exception. Ohio has a Court of Common Pleas in each county, usually with general, domestic, juvenile, and probate divisions. Each Court of Common Pleas (and its divisions) have county-wide jurisdiction. So far, so good. Most Ohio municipalities (cities and villages) have Mayor’s Courts, which handle local ordinance cases and traffic violations, and in which the mayor or an appointed magistrate is the judge. Not exactly typical, but not unique either; we covered Mayor’s Courts in Louisiana and Ohio, and Alderman’s Courts in Delaware here.
Where Ohio becomes an exception is at the county level. Many Ohio counties do have County Courts with county-wide jurisdiction. But many Ohio counties instead have Municipal Courts with county-wide jurisdiction. Some have Municipal Courts with jurisdiction only within one city or village, alongside Municipal Courts with jurisdiction within several cities and villages, alongside a County Court with county-wide jurisdiction.
Sound confusing? It gets worse: a Municipal Court with county-wide jurisdiction can be named “… County Municipal Court” or just plain “… Municipal Court” depending on which county it’s in. If a Municipal Court is named “… County Municipal Court” you can safely assume that it has county-wide jurisdiction. But if it’s named simply “… Municipal Court” it may or may not have county-wide jurisdiction.
Still confused? Even worse, a Municipal Court can have almost county-wide jurisdiction. It can have jurisdiction in all areas of a county except for those areas in which another Municipal Court has jurisdiction. How do you know? Since Municipal Courts’ jurisdiction is established by law, you can read the statute (Ohio Revised Code Section 1901 et seq). You can check the court’s website, which might tell you. You can call the court clerk. Simplest of all, you can just check CourtReference’s Ohio Guide. If a Municipal Court doesn’t include “County” in its name, we let you know if it has jurisdiction in more than just its own city or village. Take a look at our Allen County and Cuyahoga County pages for examples.
We even let you know if a Municipal Court that does have “County” in its name does not have jurisdiction in some parts of the county; see our Columbiana County page for an example.