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How do Iowa Courts work?

In the state of Iowa, the Supreme Court serves as the highest legal authority. It has the ability to oversee decisions made by the Court of Appeals, allowing it to weigh in on any  important legal issues, conflicts, and precedents when needed. In turn, the Court of Appeals carries out a similar function with regards to the lower courts, overseeing decisions when one party decides to contest. These lower courts are made up of the 99 trial or superior courts across the 99 counties within Iowa. Other tiers of court include the District Court and the Juvenile Court.

Civil Cases and Small Claims

Civil and small claims cases in Iowa differ in a number of ways, depending on the type of the case and the value being sought by the petitioner. For example, civil court deals with cases in which the petitioner is looking for over $200,000. There are just under 175,000 of these cases each and every year across Iowa. However, the civil courts also deal with non-monetary issues, such as disputes over property, name changes, and restraining orders, to name a few. On the other hand, small claims court deals with matters in which the petitioner is seeking a value up to $4,000. This is not represented by counsel. There are close to 100,000 of these cases annually across the state. These may include disputes over warranties, loans, deposits, repairs, and much more, as long as the ultimate value is under $4,000. The small claims court also has the power to order a defendant into an action, such as paying a fee.

Appeals and court limits

There are also a number of differences between the appeals processes in small claims and civil matters, as well as the court limits. For example, the civil court allows pretrial discovery, where as the small claims court does not. A person may hire a lawyer to represent them and file papers on their behalf in civil cases, but neither are allowed in small claims court. Only the defendant may appeal an ultimate decision in small claims court, but either party may appeal in civil cases. Small claims cases have a filing fee of $30-$100, after which each party is given 30-70 days to complete their case. In comparison, the civil court has a claim filing fee of between $180 and $320, after which each party is given up to 120 days to complete their case.

Why are court records public?

The Iowa Open Records Act was passed in 1967, with amendments following in later years. This act was brought in to ensure that members of the public in Iowa could have access to public records. All public records held by local and state government can be accessed and copied by the public, as long as it is not prohibited by law. This is seen as a fundamental right of all Iowa residents. It also acts to promote transparency and safeguard government accountability.

To access records:


Iowa Judicial Branch Building
1111 East Court Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50319
(515) 348-4700 (Clerk of Court)


Iowa Court Structure
Iowa State Archives

State Archives

Contact: (319) 209-9272

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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.


Iowa’s Marshall County Courthouse was first constructed in 1886.

  • Iowa has 3 different types of courts in their state court system. They are the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, and the DIstrict Court.
  • The Supreme Court of Iowa is the court of last resort in the state. It was established in 1841, and is based in the state capitol of Des Moines.
  • The Supreme Court of Iowa has 7 judicial positions that must retire upon reaching age 72.
  • The large majority of appeals are heard by the Iowa Court of Appeals. It is composed of 9 judges, each of whom is appointed by the governor for 1 year. They then run for retention election, and can then serve for 6 years, or until reaching 72 years of age.