In October 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court by administrative order adopted a pilot program in the Pima County Superior Court called the Fast Trial and Alternative Resolution Program (“FASTAR”), effective November 1, 2017. FASTAR would effectively eliminate compulsory arbitration under A.R.S. § 12-133 by lowering the monetary limit to the threshold of the superior court’s original jurisdiction in the local court’s rules, and plaintiffs with claims valued between that threshold and $50,000 could instead choose between a fast trial or binding alternative dispute resolution without right of appeal or de novo trial (which would remain available to the defendant). Consistent with the pilot program, the Pima County Superior Court’s presiding judge filed a petition for a local rule change in October 2017 to conform Pima County’s local rules to the Administrative Order. The Supreme Court granted the petition, effective July 1, 2018. Plaintiff filed a complaint in May 2018, and certified that the amount in controversy was less than $50,000 and her case was subject to compulsory arbitration rather than FASTAR because the local rule change was not yet effective. Plaintiff also filed an objection restating this argument and arguing that FASTAR unconstitutionally denied her substantive rights to arbitration, trial de novo, and direct appeal. The responding judge overruled the objection, determining that she was not entitled to a § 12-133 arbitration and that her constitutional rights were not violated because she could opt for a fast trial instead of alternative dispute resolution. Plaintiff filed a petition for special action, and the Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction.
The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Court first determined that while A.R.S. § 12-133 provides a substantive right to appeal, it does not provide a substantive right to arbitration and was essentially procedural, as was the lowering of the jurisdictional limit and the implementation of FASTAR. A rule prevails over a procedural statute in the event of conflict. The Court held that since A.R.S. § 12-133 mandated an arbitration program, lowering the jurisdiction limit by rule so as to eliminate compulsory arbitration was such a conflict, but the change was procedural and within the Supreme Court’s authority. The Court also rejected Plaintiff’s argument that FASTAR was not effective until the local rule change was approved despite the administrative order’s earlier effective date and identical lowering of the jurisdictional threshold for arbitration. The Supreme Court, unlike lower courts, can issue rule changes by administrative order, and thus the administrative order’s effective date was the operative one.
Specially concurring, Judge Brearcliffe fully agreed with the result and reasoning, except that he would have held there was no conflict between FASTAR and A.R.S. § 12-133 because the statute did not require a minimum jurisdictional amount.
Presiding Judge Staring delivered the opinion of the court. Judges Vasquez joined, and Judge Brearcliffe specially concurred.
Posted by: Emma J. Cone-Roddy