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Courts and Civil Procedure in Arizona: Basic Information and Law Library Resources

Maureen Garmon
Faculty Services Librarian& Assistant Adjunct Professor of Legal Research

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State courts
Federal courts
What is meant by civil procedure?
Books and Materials in the College of Law Library
Where to find court opinions on the same legal topic as yours
Links to web resources

Introduction

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 below in the section Books and Materials in the College of Law Library. Also consult the web sites for both 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 must go to the City Clerk's office in the Superior Court building where they are stored on microfiche.) 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.

What is Meant by Civil Procedure?

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 (immediately following).

Books and Materials in the College of Law Library

Where to Find Court Opinions on the Same Legal Topic as Yours

Opinions from the Arizona Court of Appeals and Arizona Supreme Court are reported in the Arizona Reports. In the Law Library these are located in the Arizona Collection. 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 beside it. The Descriptive Word Index in volumes 26, 27, & 28, allow you to search by subject.
Judgments from the lower courts are not published.

The Law Library also provides public access to Westlaw, an online database continuing court opinions from both federal and state courts. You may access this on two computers outside the reference office in the library. Lexisnexis Academic Universe also provides access to federal and state case law. You must be on campus to access this database.

Links to Web Resources

Arizona Courts and Legal Forms Web Sites:

Other Forms Sites:

Note:  these are just a couple of the legal forms sites on the internet. You may find many more and will need to evaluate these as you use them.

Law Dictionaries:

Rules of Court (includes Rules of Civil Procedure):

Attorney Directories:

General Legal Information:

 

Page Updated: 21 Feb 2012