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How do Montana Courts work?

The Supreme Court serves as the highest legal authority in the state of Montana. It resides over the decisions made by the Court of Appeals, allowing it to review and weigh in on key debates, conflicts, and questions of law. In turn, the Court of Appeals carries out a similar function over the lower courts, when one party contests a decision made. These lower courts are made up of the 56 trial or superior courts found across the 56 Montana counties. There are also other tiers of court such as the Water Court, the Worker’s Compensation Court, and the Courts of Limited Jurisdiction.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

There are a number of differences between how court records are structured in civil and small claims matters. For example, civil court deals with cases in which the petitioner is looking for over $200,000. There are close to 175,000 of these cases each and every year across the state. However, they can also include non-monetary cases, such as disputes over name changes, restraining orders, and property, among others. On the other hand, small claims court exists to look at cases in which the petitioner is seeking $3,000 or under. These are not represented by counsel, and there are close to 100,000 each year across Montana. These can include disputes over loans, warranties, repairs, deposits and more. The small claims court can also order the defendant into paying a fee.

Appeals and court limits

There are also a number of differences between the appeals process and what is allowed in each of these courts. For example, pretrial discovery is not allowed in small claims court, but can be used in civil court cases. People are also not allowed to hire a lawyer to represent them and file papers on their behalf in small claims court, but both are allowed in civil court. Either party can appeal in civil court, where as only the defendant can appeal in small claims cases. As for the filing fee, in small claims cases a person must pay between $30 and $100 per claims, and both parties are then given 30-70 days to complete their cases. Whereas, in civil court, there is a filing fee of $180-$320, and each party is given up to 120 days to complete their case.

Why are court records public?

The Montana Public Records Act was passed back in 1895, with the most recent changes coming in 2005. This act ensures that members of the public in Montana can access all public records. Records at state and local government level can be accessed and copied by all residents. This promotes transparency and safeguards government accountability.


Montana Court Structure
Montana State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (406) 384-5812

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The Daniels County Courthouse was built in the year 1913.

  • Montana has 7 different types of courts in their court system. They are the Supreme Court, the District Courts, the City Courts, the Municipal Courts, the Justice’s Court, the Workers’ Compensation Court, and Water Court.
  • The Montana Supreme Court was established in 1864, predating the statehood of Montana in 1889.
  • The Montana Supreme Court holds 7 judicial positions, each who serve 8 year terms.
  • The Montana District Courts consist of 56 courts arranged into 22 judicial districts. There are 46 District Court judges distributed amongst these courts.