Using Arizona’s lower courts
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Civil lawsuits involving $10,000 or less can be processed relatively inexpensively and quickly in Arizona’s justice of the peace courts (“justice courts”). This chapter contains information on justice courts and small claims in Arizona.
Arizona’s Justice Courts
Every county in Arizona has at least two justice courts. The justice courts have exclusive authority to hear cases in which the amount in controversy is $10,000 or less. Cases in which the amount in controversy is greater than $10,000 must be filed in the superior court.
If a defendant files a counterclaim in justice court for more than $10,000, the case will be immediately transferred to the superior court.
An action should be filed in the justice court located where the person or company being sued resides or does business, or where the cause of action occurred. Location information for all of the justice courts in Arizona may be obtained from the Arizona Supreme Court’s Web site, www.azcourts.gov/AZ-Courts/AZ-Courts-Locator.
The rules of procedure for the superior courts are followed in justice courts, but fewer of the courtroom formalities are observed. Many people choose to represent themselves in justice court, because the system is fairly user-friendly. The justice court clerks generally furnish, free of charge, all of the forms needed in a civil case. (In Maricopa County, court information and forms are available online, at justicecourts.maricopa.gov/.)
Because civil cases are processed quicker in justice courts than in superior court, it takes less time to obtain a final determination. This means that the parties spend less time and money in court. It also means quicker collection of amounts owed.
Small Claims Court AZ
Every justice court in Arizona has a small claims division to provide an even more inexpensive and speedy method for resolving civil disputes involving no more than $3,500. The small claims division is available to any person or company who wishes to file a small claims action. Lawyers are not allowed to participate in a small claims case, unless all of the parties agree, or unless they are representing themselves.
Any party may object to the proceedings being held in the small claims division. The case will then be transferred out of the small claims division. Once the case is transferred, the small claims rules (see next paragraph) no longer apply.
All cases in the small claims division are heard by either a judge or hearing officer, who makes a decision. The decision is final and binding on both parties. There is no right to a jury trial or an appeal in a small claims case. The formal rules of procedure do not apply. The procedures in small claims cases are intended to be simple enough for a person to file all of the necessary forms and represent himself at an informal hearing. The hearing will be scheduled within 60 days from the date the defendant files an answer with the court (about 83 days from when the complaint is filed).
If you have a claim involving $10,000 or less, consider filing it in the justice court. If the claim does not exceed $3,500, file it in the small claims division of the justice court, for an even more inexpensive and speedy resolution.
The above article is an excerpt from Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, 2nd Edition (Fenestra Books, 2012), by Donald A. Loose, republished with the author’s permission.
Disclaimer: Laws change constantly. Specific legal advice should be obtained regarding any legal matter. The information contained on this website does not constitute legal advice and no attorney-client relationship is created.
Donald A. Loose is an Arizona attorney, and the author of Arizona Laws 101: A Handbook for Non-Lawyers, and Estate Planning in Arizona: What You Need to Know. Mr. Loose is a regular guest on radio shows featuring local newsmaker interviews. He may be contacted at email@example.com.