The Courts of Common Pleas are Pennsylvania's courts of general trial jurisdiction, and handle major criminal and civil cases. Allegheny County is the Fifth Judicial District of the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania. The Superior Court and the Supreme Court handle appeals in criminal and civil cases. Knowing which court is appropriate for your particular issue is critical to your success, so here is a useful guide to some of the key courthouses in Pittsburgh.
The Courthouse which can be found at 436 Grant Street was erected in 1884 under the direction of Henry Hobson Richardson. The current courthouse is actually the third courthouse of Allegheny County. The first of which was built of wood was replaced in 1841 with a much sturdier structure made of gray sandstone. The poor construction lead to corrosion caused by coal smoke. In the spring of 1882, a fire broke out and ruined the building. The current courthouse is built with large rusticated blocks of granite making for a heavy, stable dignified appearance. (Allegheny County Sheriff’s Page)
The Courthouse handles all levels of criminal prosecution for the Fifth Judicial District of the Court of Common Pleas.
The City-County Building serves as the City Hall for Pittsburgh. The City-County Building houses offices for the Mayor, city council, and various departments of the city government.
The Civil Division of the Fifth Judicial District Court of Common Pleas is located in the City County Building on the 7th and 8th floor. The Civil Division cases involve Mortgage foreclosures, Landlord tenant issues, Name changes, Medical Malpractice, Vehicle accidents, Slip and fall accidents, Credit Card debt etc. Arbitration is also located on the 7th Floor of the City-County Building.
The Adult Section of Family Court has jurisdiction in family matters which involve such types of cases as non-support of spouses, indigent parents and children, complaints of custody or visitation rights, divorces and annulments and protection from abuse.
This branch of the Court handles cases involving individuals under the age of 18 and handles cases involving juvenile delinquency where minors have been accused of crimes, dependency cases arising from allegations of neglect or abuse, truancy petitions and adoptions.
Orphans Court resolves disputes about estates, trusts, guardianships for incapacitated persons, and issues related to the conduct (or misconduct) of agents under powers of attorney.
The Municipal Courts Building opened in mid-December 1995. Tenants include Arraignment Court, City Court, Domestic Violence Court, Housing Court, Night Court, and Traffic Court. During normal Monday through Friday working hours, police officers outside the City of Pittsburgh take arrested persons to the local District Justice for arraignment. During all other hours and on weekends, police officers take arrested persons to Night Court for arraignment. Night Court is currently located in the Municipal Courts Building in downtown Pittsburgh.
There are three appellate courts in Pennsylvania but there are no set courthouses in Pittsburgh for them.
The Superior Court was established in 1895. It is one of Pennsylvania's two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Superior Court is often the final arbiter of legal disputes. The Supreme Court may grant a petition to review a decision of the Superior Court, but most petitions are denied and the ruling of the Superior Court stands. Cases are usually heard by panels of three judges sitting in Philadelphia, Harrisburg or Pittsburgh, but may also be heard en banc by nine judges. The Superior Court often travels to locations throughout Pennsylvania to hear cases.
The Commonwealth Court was established in 1968 and is unique to Pennsylvania. It is one of Pennsylvania's two statewide intermediate appellate courts. The Commonwealth Court is primarily responsible for matters involving state and local governments and regulatory agencies. It also acts as a trial court when lawsuits are filed by or against the Commonwealth. Cases are generally heard by panels of three judges in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, although, on occasion, they may choose to hold court in other locations. Cases may also be heard by a single judge or by en banc panels of seven judges.
Dating to 1684, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the Commonwealth and the oldest appellate court in the nation. The Supreme Court’s administrative powers and jurisdictional responsibilities are vested with the seven-member court by the Pennsylvania State Constitution and a collection of statutes known as the Judicial Code. Administratively, the courts within the Unified Judicial System are largely responsible for organizing their own staff and dockets; however, the Supreme Court has several committees and boards responsible for writing and enforcing rules for judges, attorneys, and litigants to ensure an efficient and fair judicial review.
Annually, the seven justices receive over 3,000 requests for appellate review
U.S. Courthouse only handles federal cases.
If you have feedback, questions or suggestions about this guide, please contact the Allegheny County Law Library at ACLL@duq.edu.
This guide was last updated on January 27th, 2022.