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Dispute Resolution > Filing a Lawsuit

Civil Procedure - How a Lawsuit Works

If you have been wronged and you have a civil cause of action or if you have been served with notice of a civil lawsuit against you, this fact sheet details the basic procedure for lawsuits filed in Arizona State courts.  Lawsuits filed in Federal court (called “District Court” in Arizona) follow basically the same format, but some of the rules and time limits are different.  This information sheet only discusses the procedure for civil cases filed in Arizona State courts.  A “civil lawsuit” is any cause of action that is not criminal, but the most common types of civil actions are:  contract disputes; collections; and personal injury. 

Non-lawyers may represent themselves or file their own lawsuits, but they are still required to follow the same rules as attorneys.  Corporations and Limited Liability Companies may not represent themselves without an attorney in Superior Court, but can appoint a Non-lawyer representative to represent them in Small Claims Court or Justice Court.

One of the first decisions to make after you have decided to file a lawsuit is where should the case be filed.  There are three options: Small Claims Court, Justice Court and Superior Court.  Small Claims Court hears any matter that is valued for under $2,500.  Attorneys may not represent clients in Small Claims Court.  Justice Court has jurisdiction over any matter that is valued at under $10,000, not including attorney’s fees.  Superior Court has jurisdiction over any matter valued at over $10,000.  In Superior Court, any matter that is valued under $50,000 is subject to compulsory, non-binding arbitration prior to trial. A certificate certifying the value of the case must be filed with the Summons and Complaint (called a “Certificate on Compulsory Arbitration”).

When you decide to file a lawsuit, the first thing you must do is file a Complaint.  A Complaint is basically a listing of the facts, a description of why the court has the power to hear the case, the harms sustained by the Plaintiff (the person filing), and the relief or damages requested.  A Summons stating the time in which the Defendant has to answer the allegations contained in the Complaint needs to be issued by the court for each Defendant named in the Complaint.  There are filing fees for filing a Complaint that vary based on the Court.

After the Court has issued the Summons and the Complaint has been filed, the Summons and the Complaint must be served on each of the Defendants.  There are various ways to serve Defendants, but the easiest way is to hire a process server through a messenger service.  The Summons and Complaint must be served within 120 days from the date of filing the Complaint or the action may be dismissed.

Each Defendant has 20 days from the date of service to file an Answer to the Complaint unless the Defendant is located out of state.  If he, she or it, is located out of state, there is a 30- day deadline for filing an Answer.  There is a fee for filing the answer.  The Defendant needs to file the Answer with the court and send a copy of it to Plaintiff’s counsel or, if Plaintiff does not have counsel, then to the Plaintiff directly.

Forty (40) days from the date the Defendant files his/her/its Answer each party must file an Initial Disclosure Statement with the other parties.  The Initial Disclosure Statement itself is not filed with the court, but a notice that the Initial Disclosure Statement has been sent to the other parties is filed with the court.  The Initial Disclosure Statement must contain information on all the categories as detailed in Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure 26.1.  Basically, the Initial Disclosure Statement contains the factual and legal basis for any claim in the case and the documents and witnesses each party has to support the party’s position.  In Arizona, the idea is that each party should know precisely what the other party’s arguments, theories and evidence is prior to trial.  In short, there are no surprises at trial like there are on lawyer television shows.  Parties have a continuing duty to disclose information to each other as it becomes available.

At any time after the Answer is filed (and sometimes before), parties may make use of four types of “discovery” to find evidence to bolster their case and determine what witnesses and evidence the parties want to use.  The four types of discovery are: depositions; requests for production of documents or things; requests for admissions; and interrogatories.  In a deposition, one party can question a witness or opposing party under oath to gain information about the case.  Requests for production of documents or things are exactly that.  A party may request that a particular person or party with information produce it for review.  Requests for admissions require a party to admit or deny certain facts to limit the issues for trial.  Interrogatories are written questions that may be served on one party by the other.  There are various limits and requirements for the different types of discovery depending on the court where the case is filed.

To set a case for trial, any party may file a Motion to Set and Certificate of Readiness.  If the case is subject to compulsory arbitration (valued at under $50,000), the matter is automatically set for arbitration instead of trial.  If, after the arbitration, a party wants to appeal the arbitrator’s decision, then that party may set the matter for a trial. 

In some cases, filing a Motion for Summary Judgment may resolve the case without an arbitration or trial.  A Motion for Summary Judgment is a motion that asks the court to apply the law to the undisputed facts of the case and make a determination as to which party should prevail based on the application of the law to the facts.

The Judgment is the ruling by either the judge or a jury stating the party that won the case and any monetary or equitable relief to which either party is entitled.  In a criminal case, the final ruling is called a “verdict”.

The information provided in this website is meant only as a general description of the current laws as of the date of the writing. It is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of all the nuances of the law and is intended to be only an overview. Many issues may appear simpler than they are, and an individual should always contact an attorney to obtain a complete, accurate interpretation of the law given the individual's particular circumstances. Thompson Law Group, P.C. makes no representations as to how the law would affect a particular situation and intends only to illustrate areas of concern and give general information.

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