Evaluation Finds Arizona Commercial Court Has Adapted to Meet the Needs of its Users
In December 2018, the National Center for State Courts (NCSC) issued its Final Report for the Arizona Superior Court’s three-year Commercial Court Pilot Program, Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County Commercial Court Evaluation. The Final Report discusses the two previous progress reports, provides a formal analysis of the impact of the Commercial Court in cases not involving emergency relief, and offers additional recommendations to help streamline the now permanent Commercial Court.
In 2015, the Pilot Program launched with three Commercial Court judges possessing specialized knowledge of business transactions and commercial litigation with the goal of providing early and active judicial case management to business disputes.
During the first two years of the Pilot Program, the progress reports found an unexpectedly 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. The parties overwhelmingly liked the Pilot because of the judges’ specific experience in commercial litigation. Based on these findings, the Arizona Supreme Court assigned a fourth judge to the Commercial Court in August 2016. Arizona also restricted the Pilot’s eligibility criteria to help curb the high volume of cases and motions practice.
Arizona aligned the Pilot Program within its new Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, implementing a Tiered System of proportionality-driven case management.
In December 2018, the Arizona Supreme Court ordered the Commercial Court in Maricopa County be made a permanent track housed in the Civil Department and also made the Pilot’s civil rules permanent. Commercial Court cases were officially assigned to Tier 3—the most complex type of civil cases with monetary damages greater than $300,000.
NCSC’s Final Report concludes:
- The initial goal of creating a venue to manage business-to-business cases shifted to a much narrower focus with cases involving more complex legal and evidentiary issues, which included a surprising number of complex tort cases (intentional torts, medical and professional malpractice, construction defect) that would not normally be considered eligible for Commercial Court assignment, but might be appropriate for assignment to the Complex Litigation docket;
- Narrowing the eligibility of cases helped control the volume of cases, but changed the orientation of the Commercial Court from a venue available to the general business community to a more discrete pool of cases that would most benefit from that expertise and intensive case management attention; and
- The attorney survey results and focus group comments make clear that expeditious case processing is not the most important consideration; instead, the most frequently noted benefit is the assignment of highly experienced judges with specific commercial litigation expertise.
NCSC’s Final Report also made recommendations to further meet the needs of court users:
- Formal consolidation of the complex litigation and commercial cases into one docket; and
- Assessing a supplemental fee of $500 per side to cases assigned to the Commercial Court, providing funding for one or more law clerks or staff attorneys to support the Commercial Court judges.
The IAALS Action on the Ground map gives a detailed examination of Arizona’s process and accompanying documents in developing, evaluating, and adjusting the Commercial Court Pilot Program to fit the needs of its users—as well as other reforms taking place in the state and across the country.