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Arizona Small Claims Law

Small Claims – General – Arizona

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Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law and procedures of small claims in Arizona, but it does contain basic and other information. This summary only discusses civil claims (property and money claims that may be filed in small claims court). Criminal charges are not discussed.

Definition – Small claims courts, also sometimes called “Peoples Court”, is a court of limited jurisdiction. Limited jurisdiction means only certain matters may be filed and heard by the small claims court. There is also a maximum claim amount limitation. Small claims court offer a quick, informal and inexpensive way of resolving many types of disputes you may have with particular individuals or companies.

Maximum Amount of Claim Small Claims Court may hear in Arizona: $3,500.00

Which Court hears small claims in Arizona? Every justice of the peace court in Arizona has a small claims division.

Who hears the claims in small claims court? In small claims court, the trial is an informal hearing before a judge. There is no jury and the plaintiff presents his or her evidence and witnesses. The defendant is also responsible for presenting his or her witnesses. After hearing both sides of the dispute, the judge will render a judgment based on the law and the facts presented.

Claims over which the Small Claims Court has Jurisdiction:

The small claims court in Arizona may hear any of the following claims, pursuant to the Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 22, Chapter 5, Article 1, Section 22-5-3, if the amount in controversy does not exceed $3,500.00:

1. money debts
2. personal injury
3. property damage
4. cancellation of a contract
5. The above list is not exhaustive but does contain most of the common claims.

The following claims MAY NOT be filed in small claims court: 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, and claims greater than $3,500.00.

Who may file a claim in small claims court? An individual, partnership or corporation (or LLC) may file a claim against another individual(s), partnership or corporation (or LLC) in small claims court if jurisdiction exists to hear the claim and the amount of the claim or property involved does not exceed $3,500.00.

Must you be represented by an attorney? A party may represent himself or herself or obtain an attorney if all parties agree. If all parties do not agree, attorneys are prohibited from representing any party unless it is transferred out of the small claims division.

Things to do before you File a Claim: Get the facts straight so you can complete the forms correctly and answer any questions court personnel may need to know. Be sure to obtain the correct legal name of the defendant, correct address and place/address of employment. If the defendant is a Corporation or Limited Liability Company you would use the legal corporate or LLC name as the defendant. If the defendant is a Corporation or LLC, you may need to contact the secretary of state in your state and obtain the proper name and address to serve with a copy of the suit. This person is called a registered agent and is designated by the corporation to receive process or summons when the corporation is sued. Be sure to also contact the small claims court to determine the filing fee for filing the claim.

How to File the Claim: The plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney should go to the small claims division of the district court in the particular county where the person or business to be sued has an office or is domiciled and file a Statement of Claim form.

The plaintiff is responsible for furnishing the court with the correct and complete address of the defendant. The clerk will assign the plaintiff a case numbered this number must be used whenever contacting the court concerning the particular case.

A filing fee is required at the time the claim is filed. If the plaintiff cannot afford to prepay the fee at the time of filing, he or she can submit an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship and request that the judge delay payment.

Who serves the Defendant with summons or process and how is the defendant served: When the complaint is filed, the court clerk will issue a summons ordering the defendant to appear in court. The summons and complaint may be served by registered or certified mail, return receipt requested. If the court provides this service, there may be an additional fee.

Return of Summons: The sheriff, constable, or other process server shall, after effecting service, must endorse that fact on a copy of the summons and return it to the court clerk who will make the appropriate entry on the docket sheet of the action.

Removal to another Court: The defendant does have the right to remove the claim to another state court before the case is heard by the small claims court. In Arizona, if the complaint has been filed in the wrong precinct, the defendant may file a Change of Venue form, which may be obtained from the court.

How are hearings scheduled? The clerk of the court will provide you with the procedure to set the case for trial or hearing at the time you file your claim.

Subpoena of Witnesses: If witnesses are required but unwilling to voluntarily attend unless they are subpoenaed, you may obtain a subpoena issued by the court clerk for service on the witness. The subpoena is an order for the witness to appear at the hearing and testify. Some employers may require that an employee be subpoenaed in order to be excused from work.

Trial Procedures: The trial procedure is generally informal than other courts although the formality will vary from county to county and judge to judge. The case will usually be called in open court and you will respond that you are present and ready to proceed. You will then be advised when to present your claim. Be prepared to present your claim in your own words. Be prepared to question witnesses if witnesses are needed.

What happens if the defendant does not appear at trial? Usually, if the defendant does not appear at trial, a default judgment will be entered in your favor for the amount of the claim or other relief.

Judgment: If the defendant fails to appear, or if the court rules for you after the hearing, a judgment will be entered by the court for the amount of the claim, or other relief sought.

Appeal: After judgment is entered, neither party can appeal the decision of the judge. However, if either party believes the judgment was entered in error, or if there were good reasons for one of the parties not appearing in court, that party may request the court to set aside, or vacate, the judgment. The court will review the motion and notify both parties of its decision.

Collection of Judgment: After the judgment is obtained and the appeal time expired, you may seek to collect the judgment by acceptable means of collection. The winning party may request a Writ of Execution or a Writ of Garnishment.

Other Matters:

Are Motions allowed? Motions are allowed by the parties on a limited basis.

Continuances: Continuances will be granted by the court only for the most serious reasons.

When Payment is Received: When the judgment has been satisfied, the receiving party must send written notice to the court that the judgment has been satisfied.

Cross-Claims, Counterclaims, and Third-Party Claims: If the defendant wishes to file a counterclaim, the court clerk can provide the proper forms. The defendant must provide a concise statement of why the money is owed by the plaintiff. The counterclaim must be filed with the court and notice must be served on the plaintiff.

According to the Arizona Revised Statutes Title 22, Chapter 5, Article 2, Section 22-517:

A. In any action where a counterclaim is asserted and the amount involved in the counterclaim exceeds the jurisdictional amount of the small claims division, the court shall at once terminate the designation as a small claim action, and the action shall proceed in accordance with the rules relating to all other civil actions.

B. If, at any stage during the proceedings subsequent to the termination of the small claims designation as provided in subsection A, the justice of the peace or superior court judge determines that the amount actually involved in the counterclaim is not in excess of the exclusive civil jurisdictional amount of the small claims division, the action shall be reinstated in either the small claims division civil docket as a designated small claim action or in the justice court civil docket as a regular civil action.

C. If the court which makes a determination as provided in subsection B, that results in a reinstatement of the small claims designation, further determines that the amount requested in the counterclaim was asserted for the sole purpose of avoiding small claims proceedings, the court so finding shall award the plaintiff his costs plus his actual reasonable attorney fees incurred in defending the counterclaim.

What happens if a defendant has filed bankruptcy? If the plaintiff has filed a claim against the defendant and the plaintiff is aware that the claim is listed as a debt in a bankruptcy proceeding, federal law prohibits the plaintiff from pursuing the claim in small claims court.

Common Forms used in Small Claims Court:

Claim Statement/Complaint
Return of Summons
Abstract of Judgment
Small Claims Rules:

See Arizona Revised Statutes Title 22, Chapter 5, Article 2, Section 22-512:

A. Any natural person, corporation, partnership, association, marital community or other organization may commence or defend a small claims action, but no assignee or other person not a real party to the original transaction giving rise to the action may commence such an action except as a personal representative duly appointed pursuant to a proceeding as provided in title 14.

B. Notwithstanding section 32-261, in a small claims action:

An Individual shall represent himself.
2. Either spouse or both may represent a marital community.
3. An active general partner or an authorized full-time employee shall represent a partnership.
4. A full-time officer or authorized employee shall represent a corporation.
5. An active member or an authorized full-time employee shall represent an association.
6. Any other organization or entity shall be represented by one of its active members or authorized full-time employees.

An attorney-at-law shall not appear or take any part in the filing or prosecution or defense of any matter designated as a small claim.

C. Notwithstanding subsection B of this section, at any time prior to hearing, the parties may stipulate by written agreement to the participation of attorneys in actions designated as small claims.

D. This section is not intended to limit or otherwise interfere with a party’s right to assign or to employ counsel to pursue his rights and remedies subsequent to the entry of judgment in a small claims action.

E. Attorneys-at-law may represent themselves in propria persona.

See Arizona Revised Statutes Title 22, Chapter 5, Article 1, Section 22-503:

A. The small claims division has concurrent original jurisdiction with the justice court in all civil actions in which the debt, damage, tort, injury or value of the personal property claims either by the plaintiff or defendant does not exceed two thousand five hundred dollars, exclusive of interest and costs, and in actions in which a party seeks to disaffirm, avoid or rescind a contract, or seeks equitable relief, and the amount at issue does not exceed two thousand five hundred dollars.

B. The small claims division does not have jurisdiction over the following:

1. Those matters excluded from justice court jurisdiction as provided in section 22-201.
2. Actions involving claims of defamation by libel or slander.
3. Actions in forcible entry, forcible detainer or unlawful detainer.
4. Actions for specific performance.
5. Actions brought or defended on behalf of a class.
6. Actions requesting or involving prejudgment remedies.
7. Actions involving injunctive relief.
8. Traffic violations and other criminal matters.
9. Actions against this state, its political subdivisions or an officer or employee of the state or its political subdivisions in his official capacity.

This summary contains some of the provisions from the Arizona Revised Statutes, but does not include a comprehensive discussion of all rules.


Inside Arizona Small Claims Law