The mission of the Unified Court System is to promote the rule of law and to serve the public by providing just and timely resolution of all matters before the courts.
The Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals is New York State’s highest court and court of last resort in most cases. The Court, which sits in Albany, is composed of a chief judge and six associate judges, each appointed by the governor, with the advice and consent of the senate, to a 14-year term of office. The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, in addition to presiding over that court, also serves as the chief administrative judge for all of New York State. This court articulates state-wide principles of law in the context of deciding law suits. There is no jurisdictional limitation based upon the amount of money at stake in a case or the status or rank of the parties.
There are four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, one in each of the four judicial departments. These courts resolve appeals from judgments or orders of the superior courts (Supreme, County, Family and Surrogate) in civil and criminal cases. Justices of the Appellate Division are appointed by the governor from amongst sitting Supreme Court Justices. Each Appellate Division Department has a Presiding Justice of that court who, in addition, serves as the overall supervising judge of the districts encompassed within the department.
The Fourth Department of the Appellate Division is located in downtown Rochester. This department encompasses all of the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Judicial Districts, which includes the major metropolitan areas of Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse.
The Eighth Judicial District
In addition to the four Appellate Division departments, New York State is broken into 12 judicial districts. The Eighth Judicial District includes the Supreme, County, Family and Surrogate Courts in the 8 counties of Western New York: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming. There are also 11 city courts in our district: Batavia, Buffalo, Dunkirk, Jamestown, Lackawanna, Lockport, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Olean, Salamanca, and Tonawanda. In each judicial district there is an Administrative Judge who oversees the courts contained in each district. In the Eighth Judicial District the Administrative Judge is the Honorable Paula L. Feroleto.
Certain judges within the Eighth Judicial District have been appointed to be supervising judges. See the Supervising Judges in the 8th Judicial District for more information.
The Supreme Court is the state-wide trial court with the broadest jurisdiction, both in criminal and civil matters. It can hear virtually any type of case brought before it, with the exception of claims brought against the state which must be heard by the Court of Claims. However, it generally hears only cases that are outside the jurisdiction of other trial courts of more limited jurisdiction. The Supreme Court must be involved in proceedings to end a marriage since it is the only court which can grant divorce, annulment, and separation. As noted above, the Supreme Court is broken into twelve judicial districts state-wide. Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to serve 14-year terms.
The County Court is established in each county outside New York City. It is authorized to handle the prosecution of all crimes committed within the county, although in practice arraignments and other preliminary proceedings on felonies, and trials of misdemeanors and minor offenses are handled by courts of limited jurisdiction. The County Court also has limited jurisdiction in civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000. Additionally, this court has jurisdiction over certain types of real property actions with no monetary limitations such as foreclosures of property located wholly within the county in which the court is situated. The court also serves as an intermediate appellate court for review of various city and town court actions. In some more rural counties outside of New York City, the County Court judge also functions as an acting Supreme Court Justice, Family Court judge and Surrogate. In these instances, the judge is referred to as a “multi-hat judge”.
Court of Claims
The Court of Claims is a state-wide court having exclusive jurisdiction over claims for monetary damages against the State. The court does not have any jurisdiction over individual state employees. Judges in the Court of Claims are appointed by the governor for terms of 9 years.
To access forms to file a claim and for additional information on the Court of Claims, please visit their website at http://nyscourtofclaims.courts.state.ny.us/
The Family Court handles most cases involving youths between 8 and 16 years old who are charged with offenses that would be crimes if committed by adults. It also hears cases involving child custody, adoption, determination of support payments, and the paternity of children. The Family Court deals with all types of family disputes except the termination of marriage which, as mentioned above, is handled exclusively by the Supreme Court. Judges in the Family Courts are elected to serve 10-year terms.
The Family Court in Erie County currently is broken into nine specialized parts with presiding judges, support magistrates and court attorney referees assigned to each one.
- Abuse and Neglect
- Family Offense
- Juvenile Delinquency
- Persons In Need of Supervision (PINS)
- Custody and Visitation
- Family Treatment
- Juvenile Treatment
In the Support and Paternity Parts, proceedings are heard by a presiding support magistrate. In Erie County there are six support magistrates that conduct hearings on these issues to assist the judges.
The Permanency Compliance Part of the Family Court monitors compliance of the court directives issued by the abuse and neglect part of the court. These cases are referred by the presiding judge to a court attorney for review.
The Surrogate’s Court is located in every county in New York State and hears cases involving the affairs of decedents, including the probate of wills and the administration of estates and all matters relating to guardianships. In addition to Family Court, Surrogate’s Court also has jurisdiction in adoption proceedings. Surrogate Court Judges are elected to 10 year terms. As mentioned above, other more rural counties in the Eighth Judicial District have Surrogate’s Court judges that additionally serve as judges in other courts of the county and are called “multi-hat judges.”
City Courts exist in 61 cities and have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000. In addition, some City Courts have separate parts to handle small claims, housing matters, drug treatment, mental health, and domestic violence. City Court judges act as arraigning magistrates and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases.
Town & Village Courts
Town and Village Courts have criminal jurisdiction over violations and misdemeanors and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $3,000. As magistrates, Town and Village Court justices hold arraignments and preliminary hearings for those charged with more serious crimes. Traffic infractions are also heard in these courts.
Specialized Courts & Justice Initiatives
Small Claims Court
Small Claims Courts are informal courts where individuals can sue for money damages only, up to $3,000, without a lawyer, sometimes known as “People’s Court” because it is user-friendly. To commence a small claims proceeding, you or someone on your behalf, must come to a small claims court to file a statement of your claim. You will need to know the name and address or the person or business you are suing, the amount you are suing for, and a brief reason why you are suing. The filing fees in small claims court are : $15.00 for claims of $1,000 or less and $20.00 for claims of more than $1,000. When the claim is filed, the clerk of the court will give you a trial date for your case. After the trial, the decision may be appealed within 30 days by filing a notice of appeal in the appropriate appellate court. In the Eighth Judicial District, the proper appellate court for small claims cases is generally the County Court located in the county in which the original trial was heard.
Commercial Division of the Supreme Court
The Commercial Division handles complicated “commercial cases” in a fair, expeditious and cost effective manner. As defined in 22 NYCRR 202.70 (b), “commercial cases” are all business and commercial disputes in which the amount at issue exceeds $100,000 without consideration of interest or attorneys’ fees. Examples of business and commercial cases suited for the commercial division include: (1) breach of contract actions involving the purchase of securities, provision of goods or services to a business entity, franchise or licensing agreements (2) shareholder derivative actions (3) dissolution or liquidation of corporations and (4) actions involving general and limited partnerships.
For further information regarding the Eighth Judicial District Commercial Division (covering all eight counties) visit Commercial Division - 8th Judicial District.
Integrated Domestic Violence Courts (IDV)
The IDV Courts respond to a historic problem in the court system which requires domestic violence victims and their families to appear in different courts before multiple judges to address their legal issues. This court allows a single judge to hear multiple case types - criminal, family, and matrimonial - which relate to one family where the underlying issue is domestic violence. The IDV Courts aim to provide more informed judicial decision making and greater consistency in court orders, while reducing the number of court appearances. Criminal allegations of domestic violence should form the threshold requirement for entry into the IDV Court.
Drug Treatment Courts
The basic concept behind drug treatment courts involves a dramatic intervention by the court in cooperation with an entire team, including the defense, prosecution, treatment, education, and law enforcement. In return for a promise of a reduced sentence, appropriate non-violent addicted offenders are given the option of entering voluntarily into court-supervised treatment for their addiction. In the Eighth Judicial District, many of the city and local town and family courts house drug treatment courts.
Alternative Dispute Resolution
The New York State Unified Court System has developed a number of ADR programs in the courts at every level for different types of cases throughout the state. Alternative Dispute Resolution represents a variety of processes through which potential litigants may resolve disputes as an alternative to litigation.
Erie County offers neutral evaluation, mediation, arbitration and summary jury trial for non-matrimonial civil cases through its ADR Program. Cases are referred to the program by court order with a 45 day stay of proceedings. No referrals are permitted to interfere with existing trial dates.
The majority of cases in the program are referred to neutral evaluation at the present time. Neutral evaluators meet with the parties and their counsel both in joint session as well as private caucus to hear presentations, offer opinions on their claims and explore settlement options. The court also maintains a general roster of experienced attorney and non-attorney mediators from which parties may choose to assist them in achieving resolution. In mediation, parties are required to sign consent to mediate and confidentiality agreements.