Find Your Way Around the New York Unified Court System

If you are considering filing a lawsuit, it’s important to learn the ins and outs of the court system.

Most residents know that New York has a large and complex court system. Within New York City, there are lower courts, state courts, and federal courts that handle a diverse range of civil and criminal cases in all five boroughs.

Citizens seek justice in numerous courthouses throughout the city. Some of these courthouses are well-known and have been regularly featured in movies (The Godfather, Miracle on 34thStreet, Wall Street) and television shows (Night Court, Law & Order, Kojak).

Statewide, in 62 counties, the New York Unified Court System handles nearly four million cases a year.  New York City Courts process almost one million of those cases.

From the New York Unified Court System 2018 Annual Report - https://www.nycourts.gov/legacypdfs/18_UCS-Annual_Report.pdf
From the New York Unified Court System 2018 Annual Report - https://www.nycourts.gov/legacypdfs/18_UCS-Annual_Report.pdf

Trial Courts

All cases begin in trial courts.  Cases that are decided in a trial court can be appealed in the higher Appellate courts. Note:  This is the main reason you want to be sure there is a court reporter at your trial. The court reporter creates an official record of the trial proceedings, which is vital for any appeal.

A growing number of civil and criminal cases involve self-represented (pro se) individuals.  If you are a pro se litigant, it is important for you to learn as much as you can about the law and the legal process applicable to your case.  Knowing the ins and outs of the court system, as well as the specific filing procedures and rules, will help you to confidently face biased attorneys and judges.

Remember, Court Clerks and other staff will not be able to give you legal advice, so it’s best not to call and ask “What should I do?”  All courthouses have a public-access law library that you can use for research and library staff will help you find what you’re looking for. Also, the New York Unified Court System, like most court systems around the country, has recognized the needs of self-represented individuals.  Visit their website to find basic information, guidelines, and sample forms.

Whether you are considering filing a lawsuit or preparing to defend yourself in one, what follows is a breakdown of the courts of New York – city, state and federal – and the types of cases they process.

The Civil Court of the City of New York

  • Claims for damages up to $25,000
  • Small claims up to $5,000
  • Landlord-tenant matters of unlimited amounts
  • Housing code violations

The New York Civil Court has a busy docket. In the first quarter of 2019, there were 58,883 civil suits filed, 4,295 small claims cases, 52,819 landlord-tenant filings, and 3,562 housing code complaints.

A New York City Civil Court action may be filed in Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island, Bronx or Brooklyn. As a rule, you can sue in the county where either party resides or transacts business.

To initiate your case, go to the Civil Court Clerk’s Office to file your complaint and pay the fee. Pro se litigants must also submit an Application for a Pro Se Summons.  After you receive the Complaint and Summons from the clerk, you must have it delivered to the other party.  You are not allowed to serve the papers yourself. You can pay a process server, or anyone, to deliver it.  Once the summons has been served, you will need to submit an Affidavit of Service.

When the other party has answered your summons, you begin preparing your case for trial.  This preparation, called “discovery” includes determining the facts of your case, requesting documents, and scheduling witness depositions.

Read and follow the rules in the Uniform Civil Rules for the New York City Civil Court.

For more information on starting your civil case, visit the New York Civil Court web page.  They also have a CourtHelp section offering guidance to self-represented individuals in New York City Courts.

New York City Civil Court
111 Centre Street (75 Lafayette Street)
New York, NY 10013

The Criminal Court of the City of New York

  • Misdemeanors and lesser offenses
  • Arraignments
  • Preliminary hearings for felonies

The Criminal Court processes nearly a quarter of a million case filings per year.  You can find a complete list of criminal court locations for all five boroughs here.

State Courts

Supreme Court
The Supreme Court hears civil and criminal cases outside the authority of the lower courts:

  • Civil claims involving dollar amounts higher than $25,000
  • Divorce, separation and annulment proceedings
  • Criminal prosecutions of felonies

The Supreme Court of the State of New York is a trial court of general jurisdiction.  It is not the highest court in the state. New York’s highest court is the Court of Appeals, which hears both civil and criminal cases from the intermediate Appellate Courts.

Supreme Court – Civil
Supreme Court civil cases can involve medical malpractice, labor laws, motor vehicle cases, and other civil matters.  In New York City, there is a Supreme Court for each of the City’s five counties.

Locations

New York County Supreme Court
60 Centre Street
New York, N.Y. 10007
646-386-3600

Bronx Supreme Court
851 Grand Concourse
Bronx, NY 10045

Kings County Supreme Court
360 Adams Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Queens Supreme Court
88-11 Sutphin Blvd.
Jamaica, NY 11435

Richmond County Supreme Court (Civil and Criminal)
26 Central Avenue
Staten Island, NY 10301

Supreme Court – Criminal
Criminal cases can involve felonies and misdemeanors, including burglaries, murder, conspiracies, weapons charges, drug, and traffic cases.

New York County Locations:

100 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013

111 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013


Family Court
The Family Court of the State of New York handles cases involving child abuse and neglect (child protection), adoption, child custody and visitation, domestic violence, guardianship, juvenile delinquency, paternity, persons in need of supervision (PINS), and child support.

In New York City, each of the five boroughs has its own Family Court: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. There is no fee to file a case in Family Court.

New York County Family Court
60 Lafayette Street
New York, NY 10013

For additional locations, please visit the New York City Family Court page on the nycourts.gov website.

Pro se: You can find self-representation information and sample forms on the Self-Represented Services page.


Surrogate’s Court
The Surrogate’s Court hears matters involving the affairs of deceased individuals, including the validity of wills and the administration of estates. This court will sometimes also rule on adoptions.

New York County Surrogate’s Court
31 Chambers Street
New York, NY 10007

Pro se: See the New York Court System’s Surrogate’s Court page for more information.


New York State Court of Claims
The Court of Claims deals exclusively with lawsuits seeking monetary damages against the State of New York as well as state-related entities such as the New York State Thruway and the City University of New York.

Court of Claims
26 Broadway, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Some New York State Courts allow e-filing for pro se litigants.  Find out more at:  https://iappscontent.courts.state.ny.us/NYSCEF/live/help/UnrepresentedFactSheet.pdf

Federal Courts

Three federal courts reside in New York City: U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, and U.S. Court for International Trade.

District Courts hear cases related to U.S. laws, cases that deal with the constitutionality of a law, admiralty law, bankruptcy, and habeas corpus issues.

As an example, if you were intending to sue your employer for discrimination, you would do so in U.S. District Court.  Both the Southern District and Eastern District offer basic pro se guidance and specific procedures for filing. Depending on the county you reside in, you can visit the respective U.S. District Court website for detailed information.

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
The Southern District comprises the counties of Bronx, Dutchess, New York, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, and Westchester and concurrently with the Eastern District, the waters within the Eastern District.

Locations:

Daniel Patrick Moynihan
United States Courthouse
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10007-1312

The Hon. Charles L. Brieant Jr.
Federal Building and Courthouse
Southern District of New York
300 Quarropas Street
White Plains, NY 10601-4150

Pro Se Info – Southern District

Legal Clinic for Pro Se Litigants


United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
The Eastern District comprises the counties of Kings, Nassau, Queens, Richmond, and Suffolk and concurrently with the Southern District, the waters within the counties of Bronx and New York.

Locations:

United States District Court
225 Cadman Plaza East
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Long Island Courthouse
100 Federal Plaza
Central Islip, NY 11722

Pro Se Info – Eastern District


United States Court of International Trade
The United States Court of International Trade has nationwide jurisdiction over civil actions regarding the customs and international trade laws of the United States.

Location:

1 Federal Plaza
New York, NY 10278