University of Denver

Arizona Commercial Court

In 2014, the Arizona Supreme Court established a Business Court Advisory Committee to explore opening a separate commercial court for business disputes. In December 2014, the Committee issued its Report to the Arizona Judicial Council proposing that a separate pilot Commercial Court could handle commercial cases more efficiently, help reduce the cost of commercial litigation, and provide access to judges who are knowledgeable about business transactions. The Committee unanimously agreed that the success of the business court depended on the quality of judges and early and active judicial case management.

The Judicial Council approved the Committee’s recommendations. Effective July 1, 2015, the Arizona Supreme Court authorized a Commercial Court Pilot Program in the Superior Court in Maricopa County. Three judges with expertise in business disputes and commercial litigation were assigned to the Commercial Court. The Arizona Supreme Court required the submission of three progress reports to the Judicial Council in December for calendar years 2016, 2017, and 2018.

On December 1, 2016, the first Progress Report to the Arizona Judicial Council revealed an expectedly high volume of cases, particularly cases involving requests for emergency relief (order to show cause, preliminary injunction, or temporary restraining order.) Judges also saw an increase in complex dispositive motions translating to increased judicial workload.

To address higher than anticipated case volume and the increase in judicial workload, the Arizona Supreme Court assigned a fourth judge to the Commercial Court in August 2016. In February 2017, the Arizona Supreme Court implemented amendments to Experimental Rule 8.1 limiting the time frame within which a Civil Department judge could transfer a case to Commercial Court, narrowing the eligibility criteria for assignment to the Commercial Court, allowing eligible Commercial Court cases to be voluntary instead of mandatory, and requiring parties to meaningfully confer to cure defects in pleadings before filing a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a claim.

To align with the Arizona Committee on Civil Justice Reform’s Report to the Arizona Judicial Council recommendations on civil case management and Arizona’s new civil justice rules implementing a tiered system of proportionality-driven case management, effective July 1, 2018, the Supreme Court adopted additional amendments to Rule 8.1, including that cases in the Commercial Court are deemed to be assigned to Tier 3.

On December 14, 2017, the second Progress Report to the Arizona Judicial Council confirmed that parties overwhelmingly liked Commercial Court because of the judges’ specific experience in commercial litigation along with the Court’s active and early case management. The second report also confirmed that commercial cases require much higher amounts of judges’ time than other civil cases, but that commercial judges were becoming more adept at dealing with the heavy motions practice. The second report indicated mandatory joint reports and scheduling orders were quite useful.

In March 2018, the Supreme Court of Arizona established a Commercial Court Review Committee (“Review Committee”) to review the data and issues discussed in the two progress reports and to make recommendations about whether to make the Commercial Court rules and procedure and the pilot permanent. 

On June 18, 2018, the Review Committee issued its Report to the Arizona Council. The report revealed a high volume of emergency motions and dispositive motions. Instead of increasing the number of judges specifically allocated to the Commercial Court, the Review Committee suggested restricting the eligibility of cases, excluding cases with monetary claims less than $300,000. The Review Committee made several other recommendations including that the Commercial Court be made permanent, filing fees be imposed for Commercial Court cases to generate revenue for one or more staff attorneys to support the Commercial Court judges, and judicial assignments be extended beyond the typical three-year rotation in Maricopa County.  

In June 2018, the Supreme Court made the Commercial Court in Maricopa County a permanent track within the Civil Department and made Rule 8.1 a permanent rule of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure.

Because the June 2018 report did not include a formal analysis of the impact of the Commercial Court’s cases not involving emergency relief, the Superior Court of Maricopa County requested the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) provide a separate report offering conclusions and recommendations for leadership on managing Commercial Court caseloads and judicial assignments. 

In December 2018, the NCSC issued its final report on the pilot program, Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County Commercial Court Evaluation, Final Report, December 2018. Much like the other reports, it concluded that over the course of the three-year Pilot Program, the Commercial Court experienced higher than anticipated volume of motions practice including motions for emergency relief and dispositive motions. The Supreme Court’s revisions to Rule 8.1 restricting eligibility criteria for the Court and the addition of a fourth judge helped alleviate the judicial workload. The report concluded that over time, the rate of new filings slowly stabilized. While initially non-emergency cases took longer to resolve, the NCSC report concluded the disposition time had improved over the course of six months. The report also indicated strong consensus of support from attorneys and focus groups for the Court.

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