Peterson v. Newton, 668 Ariz. Adv. Rep. 30 (App. Div. I, August 27, 2013) (J. Brown)
PLAINTIFF WHO OBTAINS JUDGEMENT IN SMALL CLAIMS COURT IS BARRED BY ISSUE PRECLUSION FROM BRINGING SAME CLAIM IN SUPERIOR COURT
Plaintiff sued defendant in the small claims division of the justice court seeking the court's jurisdictional limit of $2,500 in damages for her injuries and property damage. After the justice court awarded her the $2,500 plus costs, the plaintiff sued defendant in superior court. The defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim based upon issue preclusion was granted by the superior court and affirmed by the Arizona Court of Appeals.
The three criteria for applying the doctrine of claim preclusion are (1) an identity of claims in the suit in which a judgment was entered and the current litigation, (2) a final judgment on the merits in the previous litigation, and (3) identity or privity between parties in the two suits. The court of appeals found all three of these elements were met and stated: "In sum, by holding that claim preclusion applies here, we emphasize [plaintiff's] intentional decision to initially pursue her case in small claims court. What flows from Peterson's decision, then, is that [defendant] should not be compelled to re-litigate the dispute simply because she acquiesced in the first instance to resolving the case in small claims court. Such a policy would run afoul of the small claims court's stated
purpose of allowing the inexpensive, speedy, and final resolution of legal disputes, as well as Arizona's longstanding presumption against splitting of claims."