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Defendant's Small Claims Instructions
Information for Answering a Claim in the Small Claims Division in the Justice Court
Remember, every action is your responsibility. This is your case and there are certain steps you must follow to pursue it properly. This information is provided to assist you in general procedure in pursuing your case to conclusion. The clerks in the Justice Court are not attorneys and are not authorized to give legal advice. It is not their responsibility to advise you if you have a legal claim or what you should put on your claim. They are not responsible to advise you of any errors you may make. The court does not take sides nor render an opinion as to the merits of a claim.
You have been named Defendant in a civil action filed with this court. This instruction sheet has been prepared to assist you on how to answer the complaint / Summons / Answer form. Answer forms are available at the civil counter of any Cochise County Justice Court or through the Arizona TurboCourt e-Filing Court Forms link.
You have twenty calendar days from the date of service in which to file an answer (in writing) to the complaint [Rule 12(a) R.C. P.]. In computing the time in which to file an answer, the date of service shall not be included. If the twentieth day falls on a Saturday, a Sunday, or a legal holiday, the answer may be filed on the next immediate judicial day [Rule 6(a) R.C.P.]. Exception: If served out of state, by registered mail, or by publication, the party so served shall have thirty (30) calendar days in which to answer [Rule 4.2(m) R.C.P.].
You may make an out-of-court settlement with the plaintiff before the required appearance date. If this is done, be sure that the plaintiff files a Notice of Dismissal with the court.
If you do not settle with the plaintiff, you must complete the answer form and file it with the court with the answer fee.
You have only twenty (20) calendar days from being served to file an answer to the plaintiff's claim with the court.
Failure to answer and pay the answer fee may result in a default judgment being entered against you.
You must send a copy of your answer to the plaintiff.
An answer fee is payable at the time of filing your answer.
If you feel you have a claim against the plaintiff you may file a Counterclaim. The court can provide you with forms for filing a counterclaim. If your counterclaim exceeds $2,500, the case will be immediately transferred to the Civil Division of this court and appropriate filing fees will be assessed before processing can continue.
If you do not file a counterclaim in writing it will not be considered at the time of trial or hearing. You should file your counterclaim at the same time you file your answer. Otherwise, you must request in writing, permission from the court to file a counterclaim prior to trial.
The plaintiff must receive a copy of the counterclaim. In addition to any other available method of service, the defendant may serve the counterclaim by regular mail. Service is complete upon mailing. The counterclaim must state the method of service used by the defendant.
The plaintiff has twenty calendar days from the date of service in which to file a written reply to the counterclaim [Rule 12(a) R.C.P.]. An additional five calendar days are allowed if the counterclaim was served by mail. There is no fee for filing a reply to a counterclaim.
Arbitration & Mediation
The following cases may be settled through Arbitration or Mediation:
- Broken agreements or settlements
- Business-Customer disputes
- Employer-Employee disputes
- Juvenile disputes
- Landlord-Tenant disputes
- Other interpersonal conflicts
- Personal Injury
- Property Damages
- Small Claims/Money demand
Arbitration and mediation are methods that use third-party neutrals to settle conflicts as an alternative to litigation. The Court will review each case once an answer has been filed, and if appropriate, will refer the case to Alternative Dispute Resolution to be scheduled for a hearing with a trained, certified arbitrator/mediator from the area.
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program Office
The Alternative Dispute Resolution Program Office will notify the parties by mail of the time, date, and location for the hearing. At that time, litigants should be prepared to present and defend their case as though they were appearing before the judge.
At the hearing, the parties will be allowed to present evidence and testimony to the arbitrator and he or she will make a decision based on the facts presented during the hearing. If the arbitrator's decision is not accepted by the parties due to an error in law, the case may be appealed by any party and the Court will set a trial date.
However, if during the hearing the litigants are willing, and can work together, the facilitator may assist the parties in crafting a mediated agreement that is mutually beneficial to all parties and resolves the matter without further need for judicial intervention. Mediated agreements cannot be appealed.
For more information, contact:
Cochise County Superior Court
Office of the Court Administrator
Alternative Dispute Resolution Program
P.O. Box 204
Bisbee, AZ 85603
If your action comes to trial you should educate yourself as to court procedure and what is admissible evidence. You will be notified of the trial date and time by mail. It is your responsibility to keep the court informed of any address changes.
Be sure to come on the right day and time. If the plaintiff does not appear at the trial, the action against you will probably be dismissed. If you fail to appear, however, your absence will likely be considered voluntary and judgment may be entered against you, and any counterclaim you filed will be dismissed.
Bring to trial everything necessary to defend your position or establish your claim: books, papers, bills, photographs, or other exhibits. You should also bring witnesses to help your side of the case, if applicable.
If the matter is settled before your scheduled trial date, be sure the plaintiff files a Notice of Dismissal with the court.
If a defendant fails to submit an answer to the complaint within twenty (20) calendar days after service, the plaintiff may apply for an entry of default against the defendant for the purpose of obtaining a Judgment by Default. A default judgment is one that is obtained without a trial because the defendant failed to answer or otherwise defend the action. However, the court may request the plaintiff to furnish proof of the allegations contained in the complaint to substantiate its demand. This proof would be presented at a Default Hearing; or by attaching it to the Application of Default.
If a counterclaim has been filed and the plaintiff fails to reply to the counterclaim within twenty (20) days, then the counterclaimant (defendant) may obtain a default judgment against the counter defendant (plaintiff) on the counterclaim in the same manner as the plaintiff may obtain a default judgment against the defendant on a complaint.
An Application for Entry of Default or Affidavit of Default must be mailed to the defaulting party [Rule 55(a) R.C.P.].
If the party claimed to be in default fails to file a responsive pleading; or otherwise defend in the action within ten judicial days of the filing of the application or affidavit, a default judgment will be entered against that party, or a default hearing will be set (the defaulting party will be notified of the date).
You do not have the right to appeal the decision of the justice of the peace or hearing officer in the small claims division. If you want the right to appeal, please file your case in the Civil Division.
Judgments are due and payable upon receipt. Make arrangements with the plaintiff for payment when you receive the judgment. The court will not forward payments to the other party. If you fail to pay the other party, additional court costs could be added to what you already owe.
Enforcing Small Claims Judgments
If the court has ruled in favor of your counterclaim, first, make a written demand of the plaintiff to pay the judgment amount. If the plaintiff does not pay, the court, at your request, will provide you with papers necessary to garnish the plaintiff's assets such as bank accounts, wages, or other income property. You must provide the information and fill out and file the necessary forms. The court does not collect for you.
Once you are paid in full you must file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the court. This form is available from the court.
If your judgment is the result of an automobile accident and remains unpaid sixty (60) days after the judgment has been entered, notify the Clerk of the Court and he/she will notify the Arizona Department of Transportation, Motor Vehicle Division, pursuant to A.R.S. 28-4071 and A.R.S. 28-4072.
Should you have any questions concerning the action you have filed, you may call any justice court or go to the Civil Division of any of the Cochise County Justice Courts to have your questions answered.
Always refer to your case number; cases are filed by number, not by name.