State court

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A state court is a court established by state rather than federal law. It is typically a court of general jurisdiction, except when established by state law to handle only a particular type of claim, such as small claims court.


Since Article III of the United States Constitution limits the jurisdiction of the federal courts, all other jurisdiction remains with the state courts. Also, some jurisdiction of the federal courts is non-exclusive, i.e., concurrent with that of the state courts. As a result, state courts handle over 98% of all litigation in the United States.[1] The jurisdiction of each specific state court is determined by the constitution and laws of that state.

Selection of judges

For a more detailed treatment, see State judges.
The selection of state judges differs from that of federal judges; it also varies from state to state and, in some states, between trial and appellate courts. State judges typically serve terms of a number of years. Common methods of selection include partisan elections for each term and gubernatorial appointment for the initial term followed by retention elections for subsequent terms.[2]

Overview of organization

A typical state court system has four levels:

Traditionally, the trial court of limited jurisdiction has handled non-jury trials for traffic offenses, misdemeanors, and civil lawsuits seeking damages up to a certain amount, while the trial court of general jurisdiction has handled felonies, civil lawsuits seeking damages above a certain amount, jury trials, and (in states not having separate courts of equity) cases seeking equitable relief. However, there is a trend toward consolidation of the first two levels into a single level of trial courts.

Typically, all state courts except the trial court of limited jurisdiction are courts of record. In states where the lower-level trial court is not a court of record, when a decision of such a court is appealed to the higher-level trial court, the higher-level trial court hears the matter de novo, as there is no record on which to base an appeal.

The trial court of general jurisdiction typically sits in the county seat, although counties with large populations may have multiple locations in which it sits. Depending on the state, the trial court of limited jurisdiction may have countywide venue or venue within a judicial district or municipality within the county.

As states reorganize their court systems, the names of the various courts can become anachronistic. For example, California, the District of Columbia, and Vermont have superior courts that are not superior to any other courts, New York has two levels of courts above the Supreme Court, and Maryland calls its court of ordinary appeals the Court of Special Appeals

The lower-level trial court (or, less often, the upper-level trial court) can have specialized divisions, such as a family court, a probate court, and a small claims court.

By state


Since Alaska is not completely divided into counties or county-equivalents, the state is instead divided into venue districts for the Superior Court and the District Court.


For a more detailed treatment, see California Judiciary.


The Connecticut trial courts are organized not by county, which is no longer an important administrative division of that state, but by groupings of towns known as geographic areas[3] and judicial districts.[4]


Delaware still has separate courts of law and equity. Because of the number of corporations incorporated in Delaware, the Delaware Court of Chancery is the nation's most important court for corporate law.[5]

District of Columbia

The District of Columbia has a single trial court (the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, although it has numerous divisions) and a single appellate court (the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, not to be confused with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit).


In addition to the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Superior Court, Georgia has five types of inferior courts: municipal courts, magistrate courts, probate courts, juvenile courts, and state courts.[6]


The current Kentucky court system, including the Supreme Court, was established pursuant to an amendment to the state constitution in 1975.[7] Before then, the highest court was the Court of Appeals. That constitutional amendment provides for a fairly conventional court organization: a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, circuit courts, and district courts.


The courts of Louisiana include:

  • the Supreme Court;
  • the Courts of Appeal for five circuits;
  • the district courts, which are the trial courts of general jurisdiction, each serving a judicial district including one to three parishes; and
  • various trial courts of limited jurisdiction, which vary from parish to parish.


The Maine judiciary includes:

  • the Supreme Judicial Court;
  • the Superior Courts (upper-level trial courts);
  • the District Courts (lower-level trial courts, of which the family division and the small-claims courts are divisions);
  • specialized drug courts; and
  • a statewide Business and Consumer Court.[8]


The Maryland judiciary includes:

  • district courts, which sit in the county seats and, in more populous counties and Baltimore City, other locations;
  • circuit courts, which sit in the county seats;
  • the Court of Special Appeals, which is the state's intermediate appellate court; and
  • the Court of Appeals, which is the state supreme court.

The Court of Special Appeals originally had jurisdiction only over criminal appeals. It is now, despite its name, the court of general appeals. Both of the appellate courts sit in Annapolis.


The Massachusetts court system is organized as follows:

  • The Trial Court, which is divided into the following departments:
    • Boston Municipal Court Department;
    • District Court Department (most counties have multiple districts; Middlesex County has 12);[9]
    • Housing Court Department;
    • Juvenile Court Department;
    • Land Court Department;
    • Probate and Family Court Department; and
    • Superior Court Department;
  • The Appeals Court; and
  • The Supreme Judicial Court.[10]

Decisions are available online.[11]

The Supreme Judicial Court is the oldest appellate court in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere.[12]


The Michigan courts include:

  • three types of trial courts (circuit, district, or probate), plus municipal courts in the few municipalities that still have them;
  • the Court of Appeals, of which the Michigan Court of Claims (for money damages against the state) is a part; and
  • the Supreme Court.[13]


For a more detailed treatment, see Minnesota Supreme Court.


Missouri has the following courts:

  • the Circuit Courts, of which all trial courts, including municipal courts and specialized courts, are divisions;
  • the Court of Appeals, which has three districts; and
  • the Supreme Court.

A circuit consists of one or more counties or of the independent city of St. Louis. A circuit may lie in one or more district of the Court of Appeals; an individual county never does.[14]

New Hampshire

New Hampshire has the following courts:

  • the Circuit Court, of which all lower-level trial courts (district, probate, and family courts) are divisions;
  • the Superior Court, the upper-level trial court; and
  • the Supreme Court, the only appellate court.

New Jersey

The New Jersey judiciary includes:

  • the municipal courts;
  • the Superior Court, which is the trial court of general jurisdiction for both law and equity;
  • the Tax Court, a specialized court;
  • the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which is the state's intermediate appellate court; and
  • the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The municipal courts sit in every municipality, although smaller municipalities in a county may share a judge, and are under the supervision of the Superior Court. Unusually, the Superior Court, not the municipal courts, functions as the Small Claims Court.

New York

New York has an unusually complicated state judicial system, with different organizational details for New York City, suburban Long Island, and Upstate New York. Most notably, the court called the Supreme Court is actually a trial court, roughly analogous to a circuit or superior court elsewhere. The highest court is called the New York Court of Appeals, and the intermediate appellate court is called the Appellate Division.[15]

North Dakota

For a more detailed treatment, see North Dakota Supreme Court.


Oklahoma is one of two states with separate courts of last resort for civil and criminal matters.[16]


The Pennsylvania judiciary includes:

  • the minor courts, including the Philadelphia Municipal Court, the Philadelphia Traffic Court, the Pittsburgh Municipal Court, and magisterial district judges elsewhere;
  • the Courts of Common Pleas, the upper-level trial courts;
  • two intermediate appellate courts: the Commonwealth Court, for matters concerning state and local government; and the Superior Court, for all other matters; and
  • the Supreme Court.

The Commonwealth Court also serves as a trial court for suits by or against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.[17]


Tennessee still has separate circuit and chancery courts, as mandated by its state constitution.[18]


The courts of Texas are unusual in the following respects. First, Texas has five levels of courts: municipal and justice courts of limited jurisdiction, county courts of limited jurisdiction, state district courts of general and special jurisdiction, intermediate appellate courts, and the courts of last resort. Second, Texas is one of two states with separate courts of last resort for civil and criminal matters.[19]


Vermont has a Supreme Court, the court of appellate jurisdiction, and a Superior Court, the court of trial jurisdiction. The Superior Court has five divisions in each county (Civil, Criminal, Environmental, Family, and Probate) and a sixth division, the Judicial Bureau, that has statewide jurisdiction over certain matters.


In Virginia, the district court (lower-level trial court) is split into the General District Court and the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. In some large cities, the General District Court is further subdivided into Criminal, Civil, and Traffic General District Courts; Richmond has a fourth division, the Manchester General District Court, serving the south side of the city. Another peculiarity of the Virginia court system is that the Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court, has narrowly defined jurisdiction; in particular, it does not hear appeals of contract or tort cases.[20]


For a more detailed treatment, see Wisconsin Supreme Court.


  1. What sorts of cases do state courts decide?
  2. Judicial Selection in the States
  3. Geographic Area Courts of Connecticut
  4. Connecticut Judicial District Map
  5. Welcome to the Delaware Court of Chancery
  6. Courts of Georgia
  7. Text of amendment to Kentucky Constitution
  8. State of Maine Judicial Branch
  9. District Court Courthouses and Areas Served
  10. The Massachusetts Court System
  11. Massachusetts Cases
  12. Supreme Judical Court: About the Court
  13. Courts
  14. Your Missouri Courts
  15. New York State Unified Court System
  16. Oklahoma State Courts Network
  17. The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania
  18. Article VI of the Constitution of Tennessee
  19. Texas Courts Online
  20. Virginia State Courts