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How Small Claims Court Works | Arizona

Updated: Dec 22, 2022


The Arizona small claims court is an excellent place to start if you want to sue someone for money. Understanding how this procedure works can help you get the desired results without wasting time or money on lawyers. Here is an extensive guide to Arizona's small claims court.


What is a small claim case?

A small claims case is a legal proceeding filed in a local court of law. It is not an actual court but a division within the regular court system that handles minor disputes between parties. This can include unpaid debts, personal injuries, or damaged property. A small claims case differs from other types of lawsuits because it has much lower filing fees and limits on how much money can be awarded at the end of the trial.


Small claims cases are less formal than regular civil lawsuits. They are heard at the district level instead of the county level by judges who do not require attorneys to present evidence or represent their clients during trials (although you may choose to hire one).


You must file your protest within six months after receiving any written correspondence about damages incurred by your opponent; after this period expires, it becomes impossible for you to receive compensation for any damage done by them before then unless there was some outside intervention like fraud committed by someone else involved with this dispute which forced action forward against them earlier than expected time frame would allow.


How Does the Arizona Small Claims Court Work?

The small claims court handles disputes between citizens who cannot resolve their issues through other means. Attorney representation for parties in a Small Claims action is only permitted if both parties consent to it. There are no jury trials, instead, it's a simplified process where the plaintiff and defendant each offer their side of the case, then go home with a decision from the judge.


Sending a Demanding Letter

Did you know you have one more option before small claims court? Before filing a claim, you can send a letter demanding payment. This often allows people to resolve the dispute outside of court and avoids the time and fees associated with court. If you haven’t tried this option yet, read more about how to write an effective demand letter and how best to send it to the person who owes you money. Alternatively, you can use tools such as JusticeDirect to generate and send a custom demand letter for free and leave the headache out of it!


Filing Your Claim

If you are filing a claim, some basic requirements must be met before the court accepts your claim. These requirements include paying a filing fee and submitting the following:

  • An original copy of the complaint (an affidavit).

  • A blank copy of an answer form with instructions for completing it (a summons).

  • Proof that service was issued; this can be done in person, by mailing, or through an authorized process server.

You can refer to the Small Claims Checklist for Plaintiff or the Small Claims Checklist for Defendant available on Arizona's government website for Small Claims Forms.


Fees

Filing fees are based on the value of your claim and courts may charge different filing costs. To learn the filing fee amount, get in touch with the court where you intend to file. Visit the Arizona Court Locator to find the courts in your county.


Serving the Defendant

Once you have filed your complaint, you will need to serve the defendant with a copy. This makes them aware that a case has been filed against them so they have to respond accordingly and show up to the hearing.


You have different options when serving the defendant, and the options may differ depending on what is allowable by your county court. Some of the options may have a fee, but if you win the case, it will become reimbursable by the other party.


You may be able to serve through:

  • A professional process service

  • Certified mail

  • County's sheriff/marshall

You may also have a friend/family member serve the complaint if it's allowed by the court. Most importantly, you cannot do it yourself if you are a party in the case.


The Court Hearing

After filing the complaint, the court will schedule a hearing for the case. It will typically be several weeks to months from the date of filing.


Both parties will have the opportunity to present their case and any evidence they have to support their claims. The judge will listen to both sides and make a decision based on the law and the evidence presented.


Enforcing the Judgment

If the judge rules in your favor, you will be awarded a judgment that the defendant will have to pay, this is a formal way for the court to indicate that the defendant now owes you money. The court will not be paying you directly.


If the defendant does not pay the judgment voluntarily, you may "collect" on the judgment, which may include garnishing the defendant's wages or seizing their assets.


What is the deadline for filing your claim?

In Arizona, cases must be filed within a certain amount of time called a statute of limitation. In each case, you must calculate the time limit from the date the contract was broken or the date the damage/injury/fraud occurred.

Contract Type

Statute of Limitations

Property Damage

2 Years

Oral Contracts

3 Years

Written Agreements

6 Years


FAQ

How do I start?

What is the difference between the civil division and the small claims division?

I want to file a lawsuit against someone who resides in another state or county. Where should I file?

Is there a limit to how much money you can get in Arizona's small claims court?


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