HOW DO I FILE A SMALL CLAIM'S CASE?

Instructions For Plaintiff:

Step 1: OBTAIN COMPLAINT FORM

Obtain a Summons/Complaint/Answer form at the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, 160 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, Arizona, or on our public website at www.jp.pima.gov - JP 118.

Complete the Complaint as follows:

Step 2: COMPLETE THE HEADER CAPTION AT THE TOP OF THE FORM

Plaintiff: Fill out your name, address, and phone number, as well as the defendant's name, address and phone number. It's important that you name the correct party. The defendant may be an individual, landlord, corporation or business.

  • Individuals: If your lawsuit is against someone who is married, you must also name that person's spouse as a defendant because of Arizona's community property law. Most property and income acquired by a married couple during the marriage belongs to both of them equally. If you do not know the name of the spouse, or are not sure whether the person is married, use the names "Jane Doe" Smith or "John Doe" Smith. If you do not name the spouse and you win your lawsuit, you will not be able to garnish the unnamed defendant's wages or to collect your judgment out of any community bank accounts or property.
  • Landlords: If the lawsuit is against your landlord, the defendant is the individual or corporation listed on the lease. To find the property owner's name and address, contact the County Assessor's office at (520) 724-8636 or on line at www.asr.co.pima.az.us.
  • Corporations: The Corporation is the defendant, but the complaint is served to the statutory agent. Find out the name and address of the corporation's statutory agent by calling the Arizona Corporation Commission, (520) 628-6560, located at 400 W. Congress, Suite 221, Tucson, Arizona. Every corporation authorized to do business in this state must appoint a statutory agent who is authorized to accept service of lawsuits on the corporation's behalf.
  • Businesses: You can find out who holds the license and who owns the business by visiting the City of Tucson Business License Office at City Hall, 255 W. Alameda, first floor, Tucson, Arizona.

Step 3: COMPLETE THE PORTION TITLED, "PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM":

This is where you will record the amount you are suing the defendant for and the reason for your lawsuit.

Step 4: CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE OF MAILING BY PLAINTIFF:

Fill in the blanks and sign where indicated.

Step 5: FILE YOUR COMPLAINT

You can file your complaint at the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, 160 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, Arizona OR online at www.jp.pima.gov.

There is a $34 filing fee payable by cash, personal check, cashier's check, Visa, MasterCard.

The clerk will assign a case number and will complete the portion of the form titled "NOTICE AND SUMMONS".

Step 6: SERVE THE DEFENDANT

You are required by law to serve the complaint to the defendant notifying him/her that an action has been filed. If you are suing more than one person, you must serve a separate copy of the summons and complaint to each defendant. Serve the original to one defendant and make photocopies to serve to the others.

The easiest and least expensive method for serving the complaint is by mailing it to the defendant certified mail, return receipt requested, restricted delivery. Service by certified mail is handled at any post office. The postal service will require the defendant to sign for the letter on a green postcard. The postcard will be returned to you as your receipt that the complaint was received by the defendant. You must file this postcard with the court, either in person or by first class mail. NOTE: If you file your complaint on-line, the court will return the paperwork to you to serve to the defendant.

If the defendant refuses or fails to sign for the certified mail, you will have to serve him or her using a process server or constable. You may contact the constable's office at 724-5442. Process servers can be found in the local yellow pages or online at http://www.arizonaprocessservers.org. The cost of hiring a constable or process server will be added to your judgment if you win the lawsuit, along with the cost of filing the complaint.

If you attempt to serve the defendant by certified mail and it is returned to you by the post office as unclaimed, you will need to take the unopened envelop to the court. The court clerk will open the envelope and issue a replacement summons which you will then provide to the process server or constable for delivery to the defendant.

What Happens After the Defendant Has Been Served

The defendant has twenty (20) calendar days after being served with the complaint to respond. The defendant's response is called an answer. If the defendant is served by certified mail, the 20-day response period begins when the defendant signs the green certified mail postcard. If the date on the green postcard is missing or illegible, the time begins when you file the return receipt with the court.

When the defendant answers (responds) the court will assign your case a hearing date within sixty (60) days of the defendant's response. The defendant may also file a counterclaim, meaning s/he could in turn file a suit against you.

If the defendant files a counterclaim, you must answer the counterclaim within twenty (20) days. If you do not file an answer, judgment by default may be entered against you. If you choose to go to hearing, the hearing date will be set within sixty (60) days of your response. In this instance there are now two claims before the court: the original complaint that you filed against the defendant and the counterclaim the defendant filed against you.

If the defendant fails to answer the complaint (respond), you can file a default judgment packet on or after the 21st day. The fee for filing a default is $25. You must mail this form, First Class mail, to the defendant the same day you file it and if s/he fails to answer in ten (10) or more business days, the Court will generally enter a default judgment, finding in your favor.

Note: You can always settle your case outside of court up until the day of hearing. If you arrive at an agreement with the defendant, you must contact the court and file a dismissal form. The dismissal form must also be signed by the defendant if s/he has filed an answer with the court.

Instructions For Defendant:

Step 1: COMPLETE ANSWER FORM

You have twenty (20) days to file an answer to the complaint once it has been served. If you are served by certified mail, the twenty (20) days begins when you sign the green certified mail postcard. If the date on the green certified mail postcard is missing or illegible, the time begins when the plaintiff files the return receipt with the court.

Complete this section of the form . "I do not owe the plaintiff because: ___________". Sign and date the form where provided.

Complete the Certificate of Service information requested on this section of the form.

Step 2: FILE ANSWER WITH COURT

File a copy of your answer with the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court, 160 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, Arizona. Apropriate fees must be paid by cash, personal check, cashier's check, VISA or MasterCard.

If you do not answer and pay the answer fee within the 20-day time period, the plaintiff may file for a judgment by default. If you fail to answer the judgment by default summons in 10 (ten) business days, the plaintiff may win the small claims case by default.

Step 3: FILE COUNTER-CLAIM (if applicable)

If you have a claim for money against the plaintiff, you may file a counterclaim at the same time as you file your answer. Counterclaim forms are available from the Pima County Consolidated Justice Court clerk. There is no fee to file a counterclaim. On the form, list the amount the plaintiff owes and why.

Write the date of mailing on the last page of the answer/counterclaim.

Mail a copy of the answer and/or counterclaim by first class mail to the plaintiff. Keep a copy for your records.

The plaintiff must file a written reply to the counterclaim within twenty (20) days. If the plaintiff does not file an answer, judgment by default may be entered against the plaintiff.

If you respond and the case proceeds to hearing, the court will assign the case a hearing date. The hearing date will be held within sixty (60) days of your response.

Note: If the plaintiff settles after you have filed an answer to the complaint, you both must sign the dismissal form.