Rhode Island Court Records

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How Do Rhode Island District Courts Work?

Rhode Island District Courts are courts of limited jurisdiction as these courts only hear certain types of cases. However limited, these District Courts may exercise jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases, mainly depending on the cases’ facts and severity.

The Rhode Island Judiciary does not authorize District Courts to perform jury trials. Regardless, these courts exercise jurisdiction over criminal matters, including misdemeanor and felony cases. For misdemeanors, District Courts may not hear cases punishable by more than one year in prison or cases fined more than $1,000. Also, District Courts hear cases where parties waive their right to a jury trial. The courts also handle municipal ordinance violations. If no Municipal Court has jurisdiction over housing code violations, such violations are handled by District Courts.

Rhode Island District Courts also exercise jurisdiction over several civil matters. The courts have exclusive jurisdiction over most general civil claims with amounts lower than $5,000. Furthermore, District Courts may hear cases involving disputes between landlords and tenants, as well as replevin cases. Note that Rhode Island District Courts are restricted to replevin cases involving personal property valued at less than $5,000.

District Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Superior Courts for most general claims worth more than $5,000 and less than $10,000. This concurrence allows defendants to file for removal of the District Court’s action to the Superior Court. In such instances, the case will proceed as if it was originally filed at the receiving Superior Court. 

Cases heard at District Courts should satisfy specific requirements. For landlord and tenant cases, the tenant may send the landlord a written notice with details of the particular problem faced. This could be noncompliance with the rental agreement or the landlord’s failure to handle repairs, especially when such repairs solve substantial health and safety problems. The tenant may specify when the original rental agreement will be terminated if the landlord does not handle the problem on the written notice. However, note that the proposed termination date must be more than 30 days after the landlord receives the notice.

If a previous notice contains the same issues as another notice within six months, the tenant may terminate the original rental agreement after 14 days of a written notice. The notice must contain all relevant information, including a termination date. Note that a tenant cannot terminate an agreement over an issue caused by a negligent or deliberate act for which the tenant is responsible. Depending on case facts, tenants may be eligible to receive prepaid rent and recoverable security. In some cases, the landlord may be asked to pay the tenant’s attorney fees if the landlord’s noncompliance was intentional.

A landlord may also bring a case against a tenant for a breach of the rental agreement. For example, if a tenant does not pay the rent within 15 days of the due date, the landlord may send a written notice to the tenant. The notice should contain both the outstanding and overdue amounts, and state that the outstanding amount must be paid within five days after the tenant receives the notice. If the tenant still does not pay, the landlord may file a “Complaint for Eviction for Nonpayment of Rent” at the District Court. Note that the court will not agree to the eviction if the tenant provides evidence that there was a rejected attempt to make the payment.

Rhode Island District Courts also have Small Claims Divisions handling cases where parties claim damages not more than $2,500. The division only entertains cases where the disputes are based on retails sales, contracts, or other services. 

Small Claims Divisions provide quick case resolution methods to matters heard. As such, these divisions may suspend many parts of the usual District Court Rules of Civil Procedure in hearing cases. Also, the District Court simplifies Small Claims procedures using forms that do not require legal knowledge. This ensures the process is easy and cost-effective for interested parties. However, note that the District Court does not suspend the rules of law for Small Claims cases. Rules of evidence still apply.

The Small Claims Division does not have the authority to force a party to do something or desist from doing something. Small Claims cases may only end in a money judgment. 

The Rhode Island Judiciary operates four District Courts. The following are contact details for each District Court, including the days each court hears Small Claims cases:

Murray Judicial Complex

2nd Division District Court

45 Washington Square

Newport, RI 02840–2913

Phone: (401) 841–8350

Day and Time: Monday, 9:00 a.m. 

Noel Judicial Complex

3rd Division District Court

222 Quaker Lane

Warwick, RI 02886–0107

Phone: (401) 822–6750

Days and Time: Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, 9:00 a.m. daily

McGrath Judicial Complex

4th Division District Court

4800 Tower Hill Road

Wakefield, RI 02879–2239

Phone: (401) 782–4131

Day and Time: Monday, 9:00 a.m.

Garrahy Judicial Complex

6th Division District Court

One Dorrance Plaza

Providence, RI 02903–2719

Phone: (401) 458–5401

Day and Time: Thursday 1:30 p.m.

The Rhode Island District Court comprises 16 judicial officers, including one chief judge, one administrative judge, twelve associate judges, and two magistrates. The Rhode Island governor appoints each judge by merit.

The Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) is responsible for receiving applications from prospective judges and screening all applicants. When there is a vacancy, the Commission makes a public advertisement in state newspapers, calling all eligible candidates to send in an extensive application. The Commission then goes through all applications, conducts background checks, and seeks public opinion. 

After the review, the JNC goes through a voting process and submits a list to the governor, containing between three and five qualified candidates. Note that the Rhode Island Senate must confirm the governor’s choice candidate before the person’s position becomes official. Except for incapacity or disciplinary action, all judges serve lifetime judgeship terms.

Rhode Island District Courts provide public access to case information. District Courts have computer terminals in all clerks’ offices, accessible by members of the general public. Requestors may use these computer terminals to find case information during the court’s regular business hours by providing details on the desired case.

Remote access is also available via the Rhode Island Judiciary Public Portal. Access to the portal may only be authorized by the Judicial Technology Center (JTC). Interested persons must request access by contacting the JTC by email. Requestors must attach a request form and signed agreement to the email. 

Note that sealed records and confidential documents are not available to the public.

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