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How do South Carolina Courts work?

The highest court authority in South Carolina is the Supreme Court, a court that reviews the decisions made by the Court of Appeals. This allows the Supreme Court to settle any important arguments, conflicts, and precedents. The Court of Appeals in turn reviews the decisions made by inferior courts when one party contests a result. The inferior courts in question in South Carolina are the 46 superior or trial courts. These are located in each of the 46 counties in SC. There are 46 different circuit court judges and they rotate through 16 judicial districts, elected for six-year terms.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Small claims court cases are those in which the petitioner is looking for $7,500 or less in South Carolina. These cases are also not represented by counsel. Just under 150,000 small claims cases are filed each year on average. These can include disputes over deposits, warranties, repairs, and loans. Civil cases involve the petitioner looking for over $250,000, although they can include non-monetary claims such as property, restraining orders, and name changes. Just under 100,000 of these cases are filed each year on average. Around 97% of civil cases are settled or dismissed before reaching trial.

Appeals and court limits

There are some subtle and some key differences between the appeals and limits within small claims and civil courts in South Carolina. Firstly, you do not have to hold a US citizenship to file or defend in small claims court, and even if you don’t speak a good level of English, you can hire an interpreter. However, small claims courts do not allow pretrial discovery, whereas civil courts do. Small claims courts only allow appeals from the defendant in a case, while any party can appeal in a civil case. You cannot have a lawyer file your papers or enter court with you in a small claims case, but you can have them do both in civil court. Small claims court allows 30-70 after a filing is made for you to complete your case, while civil courts allow up to 120. The fee for the filing in question costs $30-$100 per claim in small claims court, but between $180 and $320 in civil court.

Why are court records public?

The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act was passed in 1974, with the latest amendment coming in 1987. This Act was put in place to allow members of the public to access court records, as well as other public records, whenever they please. This FOI law is similar to the Open Meeting Law in South Carolina, which governs how meetings are conducted in the state. The South Carolina Freedom of Information Act means SC residents can access records at all government levels, declaring that this is a fundamental right of all that live in the state. This is intended to safeguard any accountability in terms of the government to the public in South Carolina. Information can be accessed by an individual, business, partnership, or any other organisation.


South Carolina Court Structure
South Carolina State Archives

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South Carolina

South Carolina’s Charleston County Courthouse was built in 1753.

  • South Carolina has 7 different court types. They consist of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Family Court, the Circuit Court, Magistrate Courts, the Probate Court, and the Municipal Courts.
  • The South Carolina Supreme Court has 5 judicial positions that serve 10 year, staggered terms. 
  • The South Carolina Supreme Court was established in 1841. It is located in the state capital of Columbia. 
  • The South Carolina Court of Appeals has 9 judicial positions, each that serve 6 year staggered terms. It was established in 1983.