Small Claims

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EFFECTIVE JANUARY 1, 2014:  COURT JURISDICTION INCREASES TO $3,500 IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT.

Small Claims cases (SC) are a type of Civil case of low dollar, simple issues. There are two main distinctions between SC cases and other civil cases. The first is the value; the plaintiff’s claim is limited to $3,500 or less. If there is a counterclaim, it also is limited to $3,500 or less.

The second biggest reason for creating the SC court is to make the legal process simple enough that anyone can file a small case, make a claim or defense, and argue their position in front of a judge. To accomplish that purpose, nearly all of the rules of evidence that apply to other civil cases, and all the discovery rules that courts must follow in other types of cases, don’t apply here. That is, if you want to tell the judge what happened, you can. If you want to show some evidence, you can. If you want to rebut an argument, you can. If the information seems important, the judge can listen to it and use it to decide what is fair.

To accomplish these goals, the legislature has given the Small Claims Courts their own set of rules, which are laid out in Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 22 –Courts, Chapter 5 (or the 500 section). In fact, the entire set of rules for SC courts is only about 8 pages long. The legislature carved down these specific rules for these smaller civil cases to save time and money for the unrepresented person. The SC court is where one party can bring a $100 claim against another, argue the case, and possibly get a judgment, all without spending a fortune on legal representation or court costs. Where other types of cases get expensive all too fast, the SC court works to keep everything simple, quick, and cheap.

An additional advantage is that although the court staff typically cannot answer questions or assist in the filing of a civil case, the clerks here can provide more assistance;

A designated clerk of each justice court shall provide such assistance as may be requested by any person regarding the jurisdiction, venue, pleadings or procedures of the small claims division. However, these clerks shall not engage in the practice of law. . . . shall inform the parties to a small claims proceeding of their rights, including that the parties do not have the right to appeal a decision rendered . . . . shall upon request provide all necessary forms to the parties.  ARS 22-507

However, there are still some rules. For example, there is a small token filing fee and answer fee, and if either party wants to move the case up to Civil Court, that move is made upon application of either party (but this application does not happen very often). There are some subject-matters that is not allowed in SC court, such as evictions, action for “specific performance,” injunctions, traffic or criminal cases, and others (22-503). The Plaintiff still has to “file” the complaint officially, but the court provides a simple form. The plaintiff must still serve the defendant a copy of the complaint, but that service may be by certified mail rather than a process server. The defendant still must “answer” within 20 days, but the answer can be less complicated too, etc., for cases that is simple. At trial, the case is left up to the judge to help the parties work through their differences and to render a judgment that is fair. (see Title 22-Chapter 5)

Wyatt J. Palmer
Justice Court #2, Graham County