Montana Court Records Search
In Montana, court records are documents containing information about a court proceeding. These records are maintained by a court clerk in the courthouse where the case was filed or adjudicated. They may include all registers of actions, calendars, directories, files/dockets, orders, official litigation records, minutes, judgments, and any information in the state's case management system.
Per the Montana Public Records Act, court records are public records in the state. Thus, interested members of the public access them by performing a Montana court record search unless they are sealed by statute or court order. Generally, people obtain court records for teaching, research, and investigative purposes. The quality of the information in court documents also facilitates quality background checks. Persons who wish to obtain Montana court records may visit the appropriate Montana court or search online.
Are Montana Court Records Public?
Yes. Under the Montana Public Records Act, Montana court records are public records made accessible to anyone upon request. The Public Records Act is a series of laws designed to guarantee every person the right to inspect and obtain a copy of any public information about Montana. Montana defines a public record as information fixed in any medium and retrievable in a usable form for future reference; and designated for retention by the state records committee, judicial branch, legislative branch, or local government records committee.
Note that not all court records are available to be accessed publicly. The Montana Public Records Act authorizes record custodians to withhold part or complete records where public disclosure jeopardizes the safety of facility personnel, the public, students in a public school, or inmates of a facility. A public officer is not required to withhold information from public access any more than is required to protect the privacy and security of these parties. Some court records have also been expunged or redacted in line with a state or federal law. Such records are forbidden from public disclosure.
Montana's Public Record Act was first passed in 1895, six years after Montana achieved statehood. The Act has undergone several modifications, with one of the recent amendments expanding the definition of "records" to include all items in electronic format or other non-print media. Hence, Montana court records in electronic formats can be accessed by anyone.
Montana makes no distinction in the status of a public record requester. Any citizen of Montana or another state, or anyone else, can directly request the record custodian to obtain public records. The purpose of a public record request is not usually required of the requester.
How Do I Find Court Records in Montana?
The first step to take when trying to obtain court records in Montana is to ascertain the court where the case was filed. The Clerk of the Montana Supreme Court provides access to public court documents filed with the court. Interested persons may view the records at the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court. However, they are not allowed to "check out" the records for review off-site without having obtained express permission by order of the court.
The Montana Supreme Court records are categorized into:
- The territorial period through 1937 - These records have been placed on microfiche and are accessible at the Montana Historical Society and the Montana State Law Library.
- Records from 1938 to 2012 - These are stored in two off-site locations. To retrieve a document in this category, contact the Clerk of the Supreme Court at (406) 444-3858. Allow for two days for retrieval.
- Records from 2013 - present - These are kept onsite in the vault in the Office of the Clerk of the Supreme Court. Interested persons can review these records in-person and without a prior reservation during regular office hours.
Montana Court Records Public Access
The Montana Supreme Court Case Public View Docket Search tool offers remote access to public case information. With the tool, inquirers can search for both active or closed cases. Closed dockets are separated into two categories: 1979 -2005 and 2006 - present. Users can search by case number, case party, or case attorney.
For in-person requests to the Montana Supreme Court, visit:
215 N Sanders St #323
Helena, MT 59601
The Office of the Clerk of court opens between 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays.
The following rates apply for obtaining court transcripts in Montana:
- $2.20 - Ordinary Transcript rate per page (furnished to any state or local government agency)
- $2.70 - Ordinary Transcript rate per page (furnished to any non-governmental party)
- $4.35 - Expedited Transcript rate per page
- $5.45 - Daily Transcript rate per page
To obtain court records from the lower courts in Montana, visit the location of the appropriate court. The Montana courts website provides a court locator tool to find the locations of all courts in the state.
How to Conduct a Montana Court Record Search by Name
To conduct a court record search by name, requesters may visit the courthouse where the case was heard or use the online case management system for the relevant court. The name in this case can be the record holder's name, the parties in a case, the attorneys involved, or even the judge(s) are potential search parameters.
Online name-based searches for Supreme Court records can be conducted using the Montana Supreme Court Case Public View Docket Search tool. Persons interested in court records from trial cases may use the Montana District Court Public Access Portal or the Montana Courts of Limited Jurisdiction Public Access Portal.
On the trial court public portal, search must be done on a court-by-court basis. The search drop down menu allows party search, case search, or judgment index search. The field for searching by name may include:
- The record holder's name.
- The case parties' names.
- The attorneys involved.
- Even the names of the judges.
For each search result, users will see the case number, party name, filing date and time and pertinent case information. Requesters might need to wait after a court session, as recent data from courts may take longer to be available because data is usually updated every 24 hours.
How to Get Court Records Online for Free
In Montana, citizens have access to the state's trial court public portal at no cost. By visiting the website, users can get pertinent case information by inputting case information in the search query for the court where the case was filed or heard.
In addition, many courts permit individuals to use their public access computers to conduct free court record searches. Requesters may also utilize third party sites, which are low-cost online court records access options. However, note that when accessing court records on free, third-party websites, there is no guarantee that the records obtained will be accurate or up-to-date.
Considered open to citizens of the United States, court 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.
What are Montana Judgment Records?
Judgment records in Montana show the adjudication of a criminal or civil case filed in a court of competent jurisdiction in the state. The court's decision, issued in the form of an order or a declaration of legal rights and responsibilities, becomes binding when the Clerk documents it. This action makes judgment records available to the public per the Montana Public Records Act.
Persons who wish to obtain judgment records in Montana must identify the record custodian and provide the necessary details to facilitate a search. Furthermore, the individual must cover the associated court fees. Next, the individual may visit the Clerk's office in the court where the case was adjudicated. Generally, this court is in the county where the defendant lives or where the incident happened.
The requester must provide the information needed to identify the court record, such as case number, litigants' names, and the year of judgment. The administrative fees that courts charge cover the labor cost of searching and making copies of the documents sought. Most courts accept cash, money orders, certified checks, and credit cards for these fees.
While judgment records in Montana contain information that reflects the case type, there are similarities. A typical judgment record contains the judge's name, the names of the litigants, the claims of the parties involved, and the judgment issued by the court.
What are Montana Bankruptcy Records?
Montana bankruptcy records are records of individuals or companies who have filed for bankruptcy in courts within the state of Montana. Records of bankruptcy in Montana contain financial information of the person or party filing for bankruptcy, some of which may include:
- Identification documents: Copy of driver's license or social security number.
- Assets: Bank statements, real estate deeds, insurance policies, vehicle titles, and any business they may have or invest in.
- Income: Copies of tax returns from 2 previous years and pay slips from six months to the present.
- Debt: Recent credit report, outstanding bills such as utilities, medical bills, credit card statements, any extant legal proceedings (foreclosure document, debt collection), creditors' list, addresses, and amount owed.
Bankruptcies in Montana are filed at the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of Montana. The bankruptcy records are public and can be accessed electronically through PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). However, certain information, such as social security details, the full name of the children, birth date, and the residential address of the debtor, is not revealed.
Bankruptcy records and records of Montana liens, contracts, writs, and judgments are made accessible to the public under Montana's public information act. However, requestors may be required to meet specific eligibility requirements before accessing a record of interest and provide any information required to facilitate a record search.
How to Find Bankruptcy Records in Montana
Per Mont. Code Ann 2-6-1002.13 and the Freedom of Information Act, Montana bankruptcy records are public records, and they are available to the public unless the sought record is sealed by a court order or exempted from disclosure due to legal concerns by the record custodian.
To obtain Montana bankruptcy records, parties can visit the courthouse or use the Multi-Court Voice Case Information System (McVIS) by calling (866) 222-8029, ext. 618, to listen to the information they seek. Additionally, interested parties can search the PACER platform for the bankruptcy record of interest.
Furthermore, obtaining physical copies of Montana bankruptcy records is possible by visiting the court. The Clerk's office attends to such requests physically and also accepts written requests via U.S. mail. The Clerk will search records for a fee of $32.00 per search and provide copies of records for $0.50 per page.
U.S. Bankruptcy & District Court, Butte Division
Mike Mansfield Federal Courthouse, 2nd Floor
400 North Main Street
Butte, MT 59701
Phone: (406) 497-1240
U.S. District Court, Billings Division
James F. Battin Federal Courthouse
2601 2nd Avenue North
Billings, MT 59101
Phone: (406) 247-7000
Fax: (406) 247-7008
U.S. District Court, Great Falls Division
Missouri River Federal Courthouse
125 Central Avenue West
Great Falls, MT 59404
Phone: (406) 727-1922
Fax: (406) 727-7648
U.S. District Court, Missoula Division
Russell Smith Federal Courthouse
201 East Broadway
Missoula, MT 59802
Phone: (406) 542-7260
Fax: (406) 542-7272
Can You Look Up Court Cases in Montana?
Yes, members of the public may perform a Montana court case lookup using the judiciary's resources. Montana courts provide public access to non-confidential court records of the Supreme Court through its Docket Search tool. Both active and closed dockets from 1979 to the present are available on the portal. All that is required to perform a search is to provide the case number, case party, or case attorney. This service is free to use.
Montana Court Case Lookup Exemptions
Per Mont. Code Ann 2-6-1003, all court records are public unless specifically sealed by the court. Generally, when legal exemptions happen, record custodians do so due to safety or security concerns. For example, a court may seal domestic violence or child abuse records to protect a minor's privacy. Similarly, court records containing medical information are generally sequestered from public access.
What is a Court Docket in Montana?
Montana court dockets are logs of case proceedings that courts maintain for case management, tracking, and punctual hearings. These records are typically maintained by a court clerk and available to the public during all business hours. Interested persons may visit the courthouse to request a copy or access the dedicated online case management system used by the courthouse.
Dockets for Supreme Court are available via the public view docket search tool. On the other hand, trial court dockets are accessed through the trial court case portal. The trial court portal has a search drop-down menu that allows party search, case search, or judgment index search. A scheduling drop-down menu (docket search) allows inquirers to view weekly court schedules or other relevant information.
Types of Courts in Montana
The Montana court system comprises four distinct court types: the Supreme Court, the District Courts, Courts of limited jurisdiction, and the Specialty Courts.
- Supreme Court: This is the highest court in the state and the only appellate court. It resolves all appeals from the lower courts and has original jurisdiction over some cases.
- District Courts: District Courts have general jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases in Montana. The district courts process all probate and felony cases, most civil cases, certain special proceedings, naturalization proceedings, narrowly-defined ballot issues, and all civil actions against the state that may warrant payment of money. They also may hear some appeals from lower courts having limited jurisdiction.
- Court of Limited Jurisdiction: The Montana Justice, City, and Municipal Courts. Although the jurisdiction of these courts slightly differs, these three courts broadly address cases related to misdemeanor offenses, civil cases for amounts up to $12,000, small claims valued up to $7,000, tenant/landlord disputes, special juvenile cases, and local ordinances.
- Specialty Courts: These include the Water Court that adjudicates water-related matters; the Workers' Compensation Court with jurisdiction over workers' compensation disputes in Montana; Treatment Courts that specialize in cases involving persons dependent on alcohol or drugs; Youth Court that handles the juvenile justice, which primarily functions as an informal process.
What are Civil Courts and Small Claims?
Montana Small Claims Courts are special court sessions designed for suits of $7,000 or less. These courts are focused on providing a speedy and inexpensive remedy for small claims without hiring an attorney or requiring a formal trial. The rules and procedures for handling small claims cases are set out in Title 25, Chapter 35 of the Montana Code Annotated.
Nearly any kind of case where people are suing for money or recovery of personal property can be heard in Montana Small Claims Courts. For instance, cases involving individuals suing on unpaid bills or tenants suing for a refund on security deposits are handled in the Small Claims Courts, provided the amount in controversy does not exceed $7,000. One party in a small claims case may only be represented by an attorney, where attorneys represent all parties.
Anyone, including individuals, partnerships, unions, corporations, or associations, can sue or be sued in a Montana Small Claims Court. Only the state or an agency of the state is exempted from being sued in the Small Claims Court. Claims may be filed in the county where the defendant may be served or resides. Small claims cases must be for amounts that can be easily determined and not damages claimed for some sort of wrong.
An aggrieved party in a small claims case may appeal to the District Court. An individual may not file more than 10 small claims cases in a calendar year, except claims involving shoplifting. Montana civil court places a limit of $12,000 on the amount in controversy for cases brought before the court. Unlike in Small Claims Courts, real estate eviction cases may be filed in the Civil Court. Attorneys may represent parties to a civil court case.