Tiered Case Systems on the Horizon in Arizona Civil Cases

Tiered Case Systems on the Horizon in Arizona Civil Cases

At the end of 2015, the Committee on Civil Justice Reform was established as part of the Arizona Supreme Court’s strategic agenda to promote access to justice and to improve the court process to better serve the public. Recently, the Arizona Supreme Court approved the procedural reforms proposed by the Committee. These rule changes go into place July 1, 2018, and are important to note for purposes of preparing to successfully defend civil litigation claims.

The Order containing the rule changes is a 151 page document. While there are multiple rule changes we would like to explore, some of the highlights are:

  • Differentiated case-management providing for case tiering and lower discovery limits for less complicated cases.
  • Expedited procedures for resolving discovery and disclosure disputes.
  • Revised rules regarding preservation, disclosure, and discovery of electronically stored information (“ESI”).
  • Changes to better protect non-parties from unduly burdensome requests for information via civil subpoenas.
  • New procedures to resolve disputes about the duties of parties or non-parties to preserve ESI.

The biggest change is the addition of Rule 26.2 titled, “Tiered Limits to Discovery Based on Attributes of Cases.” Under this rule change, cases filed on or after July 1, 2018, are to be considered for assignment to a tier by case characteristics that are consistent with the factors that define proportional discovery in Rule 26(b)(1). Depending on which tier the case is assigned will impact the time and tools available during discovery.

There are three tiers of cases available. While the characteristics are not exhaustive, Tier 1 cases encompass matters such as automobile tort, intentional tort, premises liability, and insurance coverage claims arising from those type of claims that can be tried in one or two days.

Tier 2 cases are a little more complex than Tier 1 cases in that they have more than minimal documentary evidence and more than a few witnesses. These cases may involve expert witnesses, and multiple theories of liability along with possible counterclaims or cross-claims.

Finally, Tier 3 cases are those cases that are logistically or legally complex such as class actions, antitrust, multi-party commercial or construction cases, securities cases, products liability cases, and mass torts. Tier 3 cases will have voluminous documentary evidence, pretrial motions raising difficult or novel legal issues, large number of witnesses, and possibly coordination related to actions pending in other courts.

Depending upon the tier assigned to the specific case, certain discovery limitations are put into place. The tier assigned to a case is determined by either a stipulation or motion, placement by the court based on the characteristics of the case, or sum of relief sought in complaint, counterclaims or cross-claims. If not assigned by a stipulation, motion, or the court, the case will be assigned a tier based on damages claimed in the action. The amount of damages claimed in an action includes all monetary damages sought by all parties in all claims for relief in the original pleadings, but excludes claims for punitive damages, interest, attorney’s fees in the case to be tiered, and costs.

Cases in which the claimed damages are $50,000 or less are Tier 1 cases. Lawsuits where the damages claimed are more than $50,000 and less than $300,000 are classified Tier 2 cases. Finally, Tier 3 cases are those in which the claimed damages are more than $300,000.

The number of days available under each tier to conduct discovery runs from the date of the Early Meeting. The Early Meeting, new Rule 16(b), is required to take place no later than 30 days after a party files a responsive pleading or 120 days after the action commences. At the Early Meeting, parties are to discuss anticipated disclosures concerning witnesses, possible motions, agreements to aid in just, speedy, and inexpensive resolution of the case, and the discovery tier applicable to the subject case. Parties should also discuss the information required in the Joint Report and Proposed Scheduling Orders.

Tier 1 cases have 120 days from the Early Meeting date to complete discovery. Each side is permitted five (5) total hours of fact witness depositions, five (5) Rule 33 interrogatories, five (5) Rule 34 requests for production, and 10 Rule 36 requests for admission.

Tier 2 cases have 180 days from the Early Meeting date to complete discovery. Each side is permitted 15 total hours of fact witness depositions, 10 Rule 33 interrogatories, 10 Rule 34 requests for production, 10 Rule 36 requests for admission, and 180 days in which to complete discovery.

Finally, in Tier 3 cases, discovery must be completed in 240 days from the date of the Early Meeting. Under Tier 3, each side is permitted 30 total hours of fact witness depositions, 20 Rule 33 interrogatories, 10 Rule 34 requests for production, and 20 Rule 36 requests for admissions.

While a motion or stipulation may be filed with the court requesting authority to conduct discovery beyond the tier limits, the fact is the new tier system drastically reduces and constricts parties in the amount of discovery they can conduct to obtain information. In particular for defendants who rely on discovery to gather information to develop defense arguments, these new rules will alter the initial case strategy.

Takeaway: In a time when these rule changes are favoring plaintiffs and making it difficult to defend claims, we are constantly on the lookout and working on strategies for us to better meet your expectations and provide you outstanding results. We are available to discuss these rule changes and the impact they may have on you at 602-386-5656.

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