Courts and Civil Procedure in Arizona

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Maureen Garmon
Faculty Services Librarian

Introduction | State Courts | Federal Courts | Resources | Court Opinions


Introduction

Civil procedure is the set of rules and procedures which governs the actions of all parties involved in a civil court action. It is not the law, but the means by which substantive legal issues are decided in the courts. These rules are promulgated by the Arizona Supreme Court. For more in-depth information on these rules and for the text of the current rules, see Civil Trial Practice and Arizona Court Rules respectively, listed under the resources section below.

This guide is written primarily as an aid to the pro se patron who is encountering the complexity of the courts system for the first time, or for those who may be represented by an attorney but simply want to know more about the structure and process of civil litigation in Arizona courts.

There are both state and federal level courts operating within Arizona. Generally, cases dealing with interpretations or violations of state and local laws, or matters between citizens or institutions of Arizona, are heard in state courts. Federal courts hear issues which involve federal laws and issues (e.g. immigration, civil rights, issues involving non-U.S. citizens or foreign governments).

State Courts

The state courts system in Arizona consists of five distinct jurisdictions: City Court, Justice Court, Superior Court, the Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court. Whether a matter is heard in one court or another depends upon a variety of factors, including whether state or local laws are at issue, the dollar amount of the claim, and whether the matter is being appealed.

City Court (also known as Municipal Court or Magistrates Court) and Justice Court handle a limited range of criminal and civil matters, and are known as inferior courts or courts of limited jurisdiction. Justice Court has a Small Claims Division for civil matters which involve dollar amounts under a certain limit. (For a detailed description of these two courts and their specific functions and limitations, please see Civil Trial Practice by Charles Marshall Smith listed in the resources section below. Also consult the web sites for both Tucson City Court and Pima County Justice Courts.

Superior Court is the trial court for many civil and criminal matters in Arizona and is known as a court of general jurisdiction. It is also called a court of record, meaning that its decisions are preserved as part of the public record. (This does not mean they are published. You will not find them in case reporter volumes in the law library. To access records of these proceedings, you can do a record search on the website of the City Clerk or contact that office.Every county in Arizona has at least one judge who sits on the Superior Court bench. The Superior Court also functions as an appellate level court for judgments arising from inferior courts.

The Court of Appeals for Arizona consists of two divisions, one serving the northern and central counties (Division One), and one for southern Arizona counties (Division Two). The Court of Appeals provides for review of all civil judgments arising from Superior Court and for all criminal judgments except those where the death sentence has been imposed (those judgments are automatically appealed directly to the Supreme Court).

The Supreme Court of Arizona is the court of final review of lower court decisions and is also the rule-making body for all Arizona courts. It consists of five members including a chief justice and a vice-chief justice. Sometimes, the entire bench decides a case (en banc), but only three members are needed for a decision to be made.

Federal Courts

There are also federal courts operating within Arizona. Federal district court, with divisions in Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson, is the trial court for all issues over which the federal government has jurisdiction. Bankruptcy court is a specialized federal court hearing cases in Arizona and other states.

Court Opinions

Opinions from the Arizona Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court are reported in the Arizona Reports. These are located in the Arizona Collection of the Law Library. This set is a chronological arrangement of cases. The only way to find a case on a particular subject is to use the Arizona Digest, shelved nearby. The Descriptive Word Index in volumes 26, 27, & 28, allow you to search by subject. Judgments from the lower courts are not published.

Resources

Law Library Resources
  • Black's Law Dictionary. KF 156 .B53 2014. Law Reference, Law Reserve, Compact Shelving lower level. — Currently in its10th edition, this source gives definitions of the terms you may encounter in legal documents.
  • Civil Trial Practice. Daniel J. McAuliffe. KFA 2938 .M32 2001 (Supp. 2014) Law Reserve, Law Arizona Reference — This source gives a thorough analysis of the Arizona courts system, procedures, limits on the jurisdiction of certain courts, and examples of forms. It is updated annually with a pocket part supplement.
  • Arizona Courts Manual: A Guide to Filing Documents and General Procedure.  KFA 2915 .Z9 B58 Law Reserve, Law Arizona Reference — State Bar of Arizona Continuing Legal Education. Most recent 2005. Includes separate sections for all individual courts, state and federal, in Arizona. There are rules for each court, and examples of cover sheets where applicable. Updated twice a year (April & October).
  • Arizona Legal Forms.Civil Procedure. KFA 2468 .A57 201 (Supp. 2013-14). Law Reserve and Law Arizona Reference. — This ten volume set is arranged by broad legal topic areas. Volumes 1, 2 & 2A deal specifically with civil procedure. These forms may be photocopied in order to serve as models for filing documents in Arizona courts.
  • West's Legal Forms. KF 170 W47 2009 (5th ed.). Law Reserve. — A much larger forms set than above. These forms are not state-specific but can be modified for use in Arizona courts. Useful when you can't find a suitable form in Arizona Legal Forms.Updated with pocket parts annually.
  • Arizona Rules of Court. Unclassified. Law Reserve (annual) and online. — These are the rules governing procedure in all Arizona courts. They are also included in volumes 16, 16A, 17, 17A, and 17B of the Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated.
  • Arizona Civil Remedies. Clark, Marilee Miller. KFA 2947 .A955 2015. Law Arizona Reference & Law Reserve. — This two-volume set published by the State Bar of Arizona is designed mainly for attorneys but may be useful for anyone wanting to know what remedies are offered by Arizona courts for specific legal issues. It also includes relevant forms.
  • Membership Directory. State Bar of Arizona. KF 192.A7 S8 (annual). Law Reserve and Law Arizona Reference. — This is the official directory of all current lawyers eligible to practice in the state of Arizona. An online version is also available from the State Bar of Arizona .
  • Handling Child Custody, Abuse, and Adoption Cases. Haralambie, Ann M. KF 547 .H37 2009 (annual pocket part). Law Reserve. — This is actually an attorney practice aid, but is the most comprehensive tool for child-related legal issues in Arizona. If you have questions relating to adoption, custody disputes (both within Arizona and between Arizona and other states), this may be a valuable resource for you to consult.

Online Resources: Arizona Courts and Legal Forms

Online Resources: Other Forms

Note: Many other websites provide access to legal forms; it is important to carefully evaluate any form before using it.

Law Dictionaries

  • Findlaw — Findlaw continues to provide reliable legal information for a wide range of users.
  • Everybody's Legal Glossary — From Nolo Press, a publisher of self-help legal guides.

Rules of the Court (includes Rules of Civil Procedure)

  • The State Bar of Arizona website provides users with a link to West's online court rules.
  • The Supreme Court of Arizona's Judicial Branch Court Rules Forum lists current rules as well as proposed amendments to those rules.

Attorney Directories

  • The State Bar of Arizona website offers tips on how to find a lawyer, how to know when you need one, and the state bar directory. Click on Find a Lawyer to find a lawyer by location and/or specialty.
  • The online version of Martindale-Hubbell also provides directory listings for attorneys practicing in Arizona and other states.


General Legal Information

  • The Arizona State Bar also offers information on specific legal topics and resources especially for the Arizona public.

Research Category