In Arizona, every justice of the peace court has a small claims division that provides an inexpensive and speedy way of resolving disputes that don't exceed $2,500. Court procedures are informal and simple enough for a person to file a complaint or to answer a claim without a lawyer.
The person or business that files a claim to sue another is called the plaintiff. The person or business that is sued is called the defendant.
Clerk of Court
The clerk of the small claims division should be able to answer most questions relating to jurisdiction, venue, pleadings or procedures; these are the basics of the small claims process. However, the clerk can't give legal advice.
Cases Heard by Judge or Hearing Officer
All cases are heard by either a judge or hearing officer, who then makes a decision. The decision is final and binding on both parties.
No Right to Jury Trial or Appeal
There is no right to a jury trial or an appeal in small claims cases. There are three requests allowed in a small claims action. They are:
- Request for change of venue, which is a change of location
- Request to vacate a judgment
- Request for debtor's examination
Individuals or Businesses May Sue
An individual, partnership, association or corporation can file a claim in small claims court.
Either party may object to the proceedings being held in the small claims division and, as long as such objection is made in writing at least 10 days before the hearing, the case will be transferred out of the small claims division. Once a case is transferred from the small claims division to the justice court, the rules of procedure governing justice courts apply to the case, permitting claims in excess of $2,500, attorney representation, jury trial and appeal.
Small claims court can't hear disputes involving more than $2,500. If the amount you are asking for is over $2,500, you can't file in small claims court. If you wish to recover more than $2,500, you must consider another court.
Cases Suitable for Small Claims Court
Small claims court may be used only for certain types of cases. The types of claims that can be filed in the small claims division include:
- Money debts
- Personal injury
- Property damage
- Cancellation of a contract
Cases Not Suitable for Small Claims Court
The types of claims that can't be filed in the small claims division are those for:
- Libel or slander
- Injunctive relief
- Class actions
- Criminal matters
- Forcible entry or detainer
- Actions against the State of Arizona
- Prejudgment remedies
- Specific performance
- Traffic violations
- Claims greater than $2,500
Statute of Limitations
Under the law, there are limits on how long you have to bring any lawsuit. These limits are called "statute of limitations." The law won't allow you to sue if you wait too long. In many cases, you must bring your lawsuit within two years of when the problem arises.
Self-Representation or Attorney
Because proceedings in small claims cases are simplified, lawyers are generally not necessary; however, they are allowed to participate if all parties agree. A stipulation for use of attorneys form may be obtained from the court. If all parties don't agree, attorneys are prohibited from representing any party in the case unless it's transferred out of the small claims division.
Answering a Small Claims Complaint
After receiving the summons and complaint, the defendant has 20 days to file a written answer with the court. If the defendant fails to file an answer within 20 days, the court may rule in favor of the plaintiff.
A counterclaim is a statement by the defendant alleging other facts to establish a claim by the defendant against the plaintiff. The defendant's counterclaim may also demand money from the plaintiff but may exceed $2,500 unless the case is transferred out of the small claims division.
Questions for Your Attorney
- If my claim is for just over the dollar limit, should I still file a lawsuit in small claims court?
- Will an attorney assist me with my small claims case if I want to represent myself at the trial?
- Can I sue a federal agency in small claims court?