The New York State Unified Court System, also known as the Judiciary of New York, is the judicial branch of the Government of New York. It comprises all the courts of the State of New York, excluding extrajudicial administrative ones.
- The state’s highest court is the Court of Appeals. It consists of seven judges and sits in Albany.
- The principal intermediate appellate court is the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.
- Unlike in most other states, the New York Supreme Court is not the highest court in the state. It serves as the trial court of general jurisdiction in civil cases statewide and in criminal cases in New York City. It is called “Supreme” because it has the widest range of jurisdiction, hearing almost all cases that are not specifically assigned to other courts (such as the Surrogate Court or the Court of Claims for suits involving the State of New York).
- Outside New York City, felony criminal cases are heard by the 57 individual County Courts. There are also a number of local courts, including the County Court in most counties, the New York City Civil Court, and the New York City Criminal Court, that are located in different parts of the state.
The system is administered by the Chief Judge of the State of New York. They work with the Office of Court Administration, the Chief Administrative Judge, and other administrative judges, as well as other agencies.
The judicial system is, in general, composed of the appellate courts and the trial courts. These consist of the local courts and the superior courts.
The appellate courts are the:
- Court of Appeals
- Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
- Appellate terms of the Supreme Court, a subset of the Appellate Division
- Appellate sessions of the County Court, a subset of the local County Court
The superior courts are the:
- Supreme Court
- County Court
- Specialized courts, such as Court of Claims, Surrogate’s Court, Family Court, etc.
The local courts comprise the majority of the remaining courts. These are:
- District Court
- New York City courts (Civil Court, Criminal Court)
- City courts
- Justice courts (town and village courts)
It should be noted that there are also other tribunals, but these are not normally considered part of the judiciary proper or the New York State Unified Court System.
With debt collection actions estimated to be as high as 25% of all lawsuits in state courts , bankruptcy courts are an important part of the Judiciary.
Cases are heard by the four federal bankruptcy courts in New York that have jurisdiction over bankruptcy matters. The federal court system in New York is organized into four districts :
- The Southern District of New York
- The Eastern District of New York
- The Northern District of New York
- The Western District of New York
Each of these districts has a bankruptcy court that reports up to it, as follows:
- United States Bankruptcy Court, Eastern District of New York
- United States Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of New York
- United States Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York
- United States Bankruptcy Court, Western District of New York
Court of Appeals
The state’s highest court is the New York State Court of Appeals. Appeals are taken almost exclusively from decisions of the Appellate Divisions in civil cases. In criminal cases, appeals can be heard from decisions of the Appellate Division, the Appellate Term, and the County Court, depending on the type of case and the part of the state in which it arose.
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
The state’s second-highest court is the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division. It is regionally divided into four judicial departments.
This Court primarily hears appeals from the Supreme Court in criminal cases and the County Court in felony criminal cases in the Third and Fourth Judicial Departments.
In civil cases, the Appellate Division may hear appeals from the superior courts as well as the appellate terms of the Supreme Court when these courts have heard appeals from one of the lower trial courts.
The Supreme Court
The New York Supreme Court is the court of general jurisdiction in New York. In civil cases, it primarily hears cases seeking money damages that exceed certain monetary limits (currently $25,000). It also hears requests for injunctions, declaratory judgments, and reviews of agency decisions, as well as some criminal matters. Additionally, it has jurisdiction over matrimonial matters such as annulments, divorces, legal separation, etc.
A branch of the New York Supreme Court, the New York State County Court, can be found in each of New York State’s counties except for the five counties of New York City, where the Civil Court, Criminal Court, and Supreme Court operate in place of a typical County Court. In many counties, the New York State County Court primarily hears criminal cases. Furthermore, in several counties, the Supreme Court has a specialized Commercial Division that hears commercial cases.
Specialized courts focus on specific types of offenses so that they can provide personalized attention to both offenders and victims. Such courts are the Family Court, Surrogate’s Court, and Court of Claims (cases involving the State).
The Family Court
While only the Supreme Court deals with matrimonial matters and can grant a divorce, the Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain matters involving minors. Its jurisdiction includes adoption, guardianships, termination of parental rights, child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency charges, and status offenses. It also handles aspects of domestic relations disputes such as child custody and child support.
The Surrogate’s Court
The Surrogate’s Court has exclusive jurisdiction over probate and related matters. It also has jurisdiction over certain guardianship matters, concurrent with the Supreme Court. Finally, and concurrent with the Family Court, it exercises jurisdiction over adoption proceedings.
The Court of Claims
Actions seeking monetary damages against the State of New York itself are heard by the Court of Claims.
Outside New York City, felony cases are generally heard in the County Court rather than the Supreme Court, as is the case in New York City, with its specialized Criminal Court, a specialized “Term” of the Supreme Court.
City courts handle the arraignment of felonies. They also try misdemeanors and lesser offenses, as well as civil lawsuits involving claims up to a certain limit. Some city courts also have small claims parts to ensure the speedy handling of claims up to $5,000, often called “small claims” courts . Additionally, they may have housing parts to handle landlord-tenant matters and housing violations.
Justice Courts are the starting point for all criminal cases outside cities. They are town and village courts that try lesser offenses and misdemeanors in towns and villages, handling a variety of matters such as traffic ticket cases, local zoning matters, small claims, etc. They may also hear civil lawsuits for small claims of up to $3,000.
Town and Village Justice Courts have certain key differences compared to the rest of the courts. Justices are chosen by local election and are not required to be lawyers or have any formal legal or law enforcement qualification or training: it is their standing within the community that gives them the right to hear cases rather than their profession. Furthermore, town and village Justice Courts are locally funded rather than state-funded.
Besides the above courts, which are all considered part of the judicial branch of government, there are several administrative courts that are not part of it. These include the Impeachment Court, TVB, and OATH.
The New York Court for the Trial of Impeachments, often referred to as the High Court of Impeachment or simply Impeachment Court, is for the trial of state officers who had been impeached by the State Assembly.
The Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB)
The Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) is not part of New York’s judicial branch but part of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). It adjudicates non-criminal traffic violations in New York City, excluding parking violations.
The Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH)
The New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH) conducts administrative hearings and oversees the operations of four tribunals: the OATH Tribunal, the Health Tribunal, the Taxi & Limousine Tribunal, and the Environmental Control Board. Like the TVB, it’s an agency of the New York City government rather than its judicial branch.
Contact Roemerman Law
Navigating New York’s complex judicial system can be a daunting task. If you have a claim, are facing foreclosure, or are considering bankruptcy, contact Roemerman Law today for a free consultation or click here to learn about qualifying for a NY bankruptcy. We are committed to offering clear and easy-to-understand cost estimates and will help you explore your options!
 All amounts as of May 2022