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How do District of Colombia Courts work?

In Washington DC, the court system only consist of two levels: the Court of Appeals, and the Superior Court.

The Court of Appeals is the highest-ranking court in the District of Colombia, with the ability to review any decisions made by the superior courts. These cases have to be contested by one party from an original superior court case. The Court of Appeals holds exclusive appeals by right and interlocutory appeals for criminal cases, civil cases, and cases involving administrative agency. They hold exclusive appeals when granted for misdemeanours and small claims cases.

The Superior Court serves as the first line of courts in the District of Columbia. They hold jury trials, and hold exclusive trials for civil cases, small claims cases, criminal trials (including juvenile trials), and cases involving domestic relations.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Civil and small claims matters are very different in the District of Colombia, each dealing with different types of cases and sums of money. For example, the civil court in the District of Colombia deals with cases in which one party is looking for $250,000 and above. There are around 175,000 of these cases across the District of Colombia every year. However, some non-monetary cases are also handled by the civil court, such as name changes, restraining orders, and disputes over property. Small claims courts, on the other hand, deal with cases in which the petitioner is looking for $5,000 or less. There are nearly 150,000 of these cases annually across the District of Colombia. Small claims courts deal with cases involving disputes over loans, warranties, repairs, deposits, rent, and more. Small claims court also has the power to order a defendant into an action, such as paying a sum of money.

Appeals and court limits

The appeals process is also different in the civil courts and small claims courts in the District of Colombia. In a small claims court in the District of Colombia, a person does not have to be a US Citizen to file or defend. If they do not speak good English, they can also hire an interpreter to help with their case. Only the sued party can file for an appeal in a District of Colombia small claims court. In civil cases, either party can appeal the ultimate decision. Pre-trial discovery is not allowed in small claims court in DC, but it is allowed in civil court. A person cannot hire a lawyer to represent them or file papers on their behalf in a District of Colombia small claims court, but both of these things are permitted in civil court. There is a fee of between $30 and $100 for small claims cases in the District of Colombia, before a period of 30-70 days for case completion. In civil court, the filing fee is $180-$320, with each party given up to 120 days to complete their case.

Why are court records public?

In 1976, the District of Colombia passed a law by the name of the District of Colombia Freedom of Information Act. The latest changes to this law came as recent as 2005. This Act aims to ensure that all DC residents have the fundamental right to access all public records. All public records, apart from those exempt by law, are accessible and available for copying by any person in the District of Colombia.

To access records:


Cases for superior court can be inquired about at:

430 E St NW,
Washington, DC

Cases for superior court can be inquired about at:

500 Indiana Ave NW,
Washington, DC


Court cases in Washington DC can be searched online through the dccourts website. The Court of Appeals features both case dockets and electronically submitted files. Submitting files is free of charge, though searching for a case file will require some knowledge of the case itself, such as the appellate case number, the superior court or agency case number, and the date at which the file was created.

Superior Courts also feature an online case search system, and hold files pertaining to civil, criminal, criminal domestic violence, tax cases, probate cases, wills and more.

Washington D.C. State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (202) 816-5519

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Results are based upon available information from state, county and municipal databases, and may not include some or all of the above details.

B.F. Hastings Building in Sacramento circa 1853 – 1st Building of the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court was built, in its modern form, between 1932 and 1935.

  • The District of Columbia Court of Appeals is the court of last resort for the District of Columbia. It was established in 1970, and is located in Judiciary Square in the city of Washington DC.
  • The DC Court of Appeals has 9 judicial positions. They serve 15 year terms and are appointed by the President of the United States. It is seperate from the National Court System.
  • The Superior Court of the District of Columbia has 62 judges. They also serve 15 year terms.
  • They serve as the court of general jurisdiction in the area of Washington DC.