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How do Pennsylvania Courts work?

The Supreme Court is the highest power of legal authority in the state, and acts to reside over decisions made by the Court of Appeals in Pennsylvania. It reviews any decisions made by this lesser court, weighing in on any conflicts. The Court of Appeals in turn reviews the decisions made by lower courts such as the superior or trials courts, whenever one party contests a decision. The state is divided into six appellate districts. The 67 superior and trial courts are located in each of the 67 counties.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Civil and small claims cases differ on a number of key characteristics. Civil cases, for example, concentrate on those in which the petitioner is looking for over $250,000. Nearly 200,000 of these cases are filed on average each year. However, civil cases are not limited to monetary disputes, and can include cases over property, names changes, and restraining orders, for example. On the other hand, small claims courts deal with cases in which the petitioner is looking for $8,000 or less ($10,000 in Philadelphia). These courts are not represented by counsel. These cases can include disputes over warranties, repairs, loans, and  deposits, and the court can order the defendant to pay an amount back.

Appeals and court limits

The appeals and court limits also differ from civil to small claims. For instance, civil cases allow pre-trial discovery, where as small claims cases do not. You can also have a lawyer represent you and file papers for you in civil court, but not in small claims. Either party can appeal in civil cases, but only the defendant can appeal in small claims cases. Civil cases must be completed within 120 days of the complaint filing, with the filing itself costing between $180 and $320. Small claims cases must be completed within 30-70 days and the filing costs between $30 and $100.

Why are court records public?

The Pennsylvania Right to Know Act was passed in 1957, and aimed to allow the public to access court and other records upon request. This was also known as the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act, and says that the people of the state have the right to access information that is deemed their business. The act states that this is a fundamental right of all Pennsylvanians, and is designed to promote openness and safeguard accountability.

A person can request court records at:

Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Street Address:

601 Commonwealth Avenue
P.O. Box 61260
Suite 1500
Harrisburg, PA 17106
Phone: (717) 787-6181


Pennsylvania Court Structure
Pennsylvania State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (267) 310-0384

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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.


The Venango County Courthouse was initially erected in 1868.

  • Pennsylvania has 6 courts in the state court structure. They are the Supreme Court, the Commonwealth Court, the Superior Court, the Court of Common Pleas, the Philadelphia Municipal Court, and the Magisterial District Judge Court.
  • Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has 7 judge positions, each that serve for 10 years. 
  • The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania was founded more than 100 years before the United States Supreme Court.
  • The Superior Court of Pennsylvania is one of two appellate courts in the state. The other is the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. 
  • Superior Court Judges are elected. They serve 10 year terms, and there are 15 positions available.