Should I Appeal My Debt Collection Judgment?

by John Skiba
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Arizona Justice Court Appeal

Even though I think most debt collection lawsuits brought by junk debt buyers are just that – junk, there are many factors that can lead to judgment being entered against you and in favor of the debt buyer.  After the initial sting of losing in court is over you need to decide what should be your next move.  For many people they want to appeal the judgment to a higher court.

In this article I am going to discuss the appeal process in the various Arizona courts and some factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to appeal the judgment.

Appeals from the Arizona Justice Court

The other day I was talking with one of the attorneys for debt buyer Midland Funding and he said that about 95% of the debt buyer collection lawsuits are filed in Arizona’s justice court system.  In Arizona, if the amount they are suing you for is less than $10,000 then you will likely be sued in the justice court.

There are really three ways judgment can be entered against you at the justice court level: (1) you go to trial and lose; (2) you don’t respond to the lawsuit and end up with a default judgment; and (3) the debt buyer files a motion for summary judgment and you either don’t respond or you lose on the merits.

Regardless of the way in which judgment is entered against you, there isn’t a lot of time for you to make the decision of whether or not you want to appeal.  You have fourteen (14) days from the day the judge signs off on your judgment.  And here’s a quick practice pointer – many times the judge will let the parties know from the bench that a ruling will come in the mail.  A week later you receive a copy of the judgment in the mail – but note – the judge likely signed the judgment on the same day as the trial.  So even though you only received the judgment you need to calculate your fourteen (14) days to appeal the judgment from the date the judge actually signed the judgment.

An appeal from an Arizona justice court judgment will be heard by the Superior Court of the county in which you live.  If you live in the Phoenix area the appeal will likely be heard by a commissioner (not a judge) in the Maricopa County Superior Court system.  The process is not quick – typically taking 4-8 months to get a ruling.

It is important to note that when you appeal a case what you are essentially asking for is whether or not justice of the peace made an incorrect legal ruling.  Typically you are not re-trying the entire case.

Appeals from the Arizona Superior Courts

Appeals from a debt collection judgment in the superior court is much more complex than appeals from the justice court.  You have thirty (30) days to appeal the judgment however obtaining a ruling from the court of appeals can take over a year.  It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the details of an appeal from superior court to the Arizona Court of Appeals but my advice is you will need an attorney to navigate that potential minefield.

Should You Appeal?

Maybe I should have started the article with this paragraph, but before you do too much research into the mechanics of filing an appeal you should really evaluate whether it makes sense to appeal the judgment.

Just because you lost is not enough of a reason to appeal a case.  The judge must have done something wrong or ruled on a legal issue incorrectly.  If the evidence was properly admitted and the judge just came to a different result than you would have, that is not enough to file an appeal.  You will spend a lot of time and money and end up with the same result.

Debt Buyer Can Still Collect While Appeal is Pending

Another important thing to understand is that in Arizona just because you file an appeal does not mean that the debt buyer cannot proceed with trying to collect on the judgment.  This means that they can garnish wages, levy bank accounts, etc. while your appeal is pending – unless – you file a supersedeas bond.

The problem with obtaining a bond is that the bonding company is going to require that you pay an amount equal to the judgment in order for them to issue a bond.  What this means is if you have a judgment against you for $8,000 you would be required to pay the bonding company $8,000 to get the bond.  If you were able to do this the debt buyer would not be permitted to collect on the judgment while the appeal is pending. Then, if you won on appeal you get your bond money back.  If you lose, the bond money goes to the debt buyer.

Most people can’t afford to put up that kind of money so you must be aware that the debt buyer may try and collect on the judgment while the appeal is pending.

An appeal is not advisable in every case that is lost.  But judges are human and sometimes they just get it wrong and you can correct that ruling by filing the appeal.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© John Skiba, Arizona Consumer Law Group, PLC | Attorney Advertising

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