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How Does the Arizona Tax Court Work?

The State of Arizona has 3 types of courts in its judicial system. These courts are categorized by their jurisdiction: limited, general, and appellate. The limited jurisdiction courts handle specific types of civil and criminal cases. The general jurisdiction courts hear all kinds of civil and criminal matters. At the same time, the appellate jurisdiction courts review the final rulings of the limited and general jurisdiction courts. The courts work in synergy to enforce Arizona’s laws and ensure fairness for all who enter the judicial system.

Arizona’s court of general jurisdiction is the Superior Court. The court has locations in the 15 counties of the state, some counties having more than one Superior Court. However, one of these locations—the Maricopa County Superior Court—has a special department called the Arizona Tax Court.

Title 12, Chapter 1, Article VI of the state legislature established the Tax Court in September 1988 as a statewide court, authorized to hear civil cases of equity and at law which concern the legality of any tax, assessment, or impost (A. R. S. § 12–161).. The specific types of cases heard by the Tax Court usually involve:

  • Property taxes
  • Municipal sales taxes
  • State taxes
  • Administrative agency appeals. For example, petitions for review from the Property Oversight Commission and Arizona Department of Economic Security (e.g., employer tax appeals).

Also, the Tax Court has a small claims division. Hearings in this court are more simplified than that of the regular Tax Court, as there are no jury trials. The Small Claims Tax Court’s jurisdiction, as stated by A. R.S § 12–172, includes:

  • Claims where the valuation or classification of a class three property (a petitioner’s home) or the total cash value of all personal and real property in dispute is $2,000,000 or less.
  • Cases where the amount of taxes in controversy, penalties, and interest at the time of assessment is not above $5,000.

The procedures and practices of the regular and Small Claims Tax Courts are regulated by the Rules of Practice of the Tax Court and Title 42 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS).

From the Arizona judiciary’s Annual Report, the Tax Court had 804 filings in 2019. 629 (78.2%) of these filings were made to the Small Claims Tax Court. Property tax actions were the most commonly filed cases, totaling 383 cases in 2019, and a large percentage (79.4%) of tax appeals originated from Maricopa County.

In the Arizona Tax Court, the plaintiff (the party who files the claim) can be a person or company. However, since every tax case is against a county or county assessor, the county is the defendant and is typically represented by a county attorney.

The plaintiff can choose to have legal representation or stand as a pro se litigant (a self-represented party). However, in the Small Claims Tax Court, the litigant can be represented by an attorney or non-attorney. Only with the presiding tax judge’s approval can a non-attorney represent someone in the Small Claims Tax Court. More information on becoming a non-attorney can be obtained by calling the court at (602) 506–3442.

The Tax Court typically hears claims at the following address:

101 West Jefferson, 7th Floor

Courtroom 714

Phoenix, AZ 85003

However, the court’s Tax Filing Counter (where complaints are filed) can be found in the Central Court Building at the Clerk’s Office:

201 West Jefferson, 1st Floor

Phoenix, AZ 85003

Phone: (602) 506–3442

There is no time limit for civil hearings in the Tax Court. Regardless, cases generally take up to 30 minutes; in some cases, more.

A litigant whose case has been adjudicated by the Tax Court has the right to appeal the decision to a higher court—the Court of Appeals, Division One in Phoenix, Arizona. This court has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals from the Tax Court. All appeals of the Tax Court’s decision must be filed within 30 days of the entry of the court’s judgment (A. R.S §12–170).. However, where the Small Claims Tax Court entered the final ruling, the litigant has no right of appeal as all decisions from this court are final.

Tax Court proceedings are overseen by a Superior Court judge appointed as a Tax Court judge by the presiding judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court. This judge serves for at least two years or for the rest of a current term of office, whichever is less.

The qualifications for a Superior Court judge include:

  • Not below 30 years of age
  • Has good moral character
  • Licensed to practice law in Arizona
  • State resident for at least 5 years preceding the judicial appointment

Then, to be appointed as a Tax Court judge, the judicial officer must show enthusiasm to specialize in tax cases and be disposed to serve as a tax judge for the term of the court stated above.

Other than a judge, a court commissioner or judge pro tempore can hear cases in the Tax Court. The former (commissioner) is appointed by the Supreme Court’s chief justice and the latter (judge pro tem) by the presiding Superior Court judge of Maricopa County (A. R.S 12–164)..

Per A. R. S. § 12–409, a Tax Court judge can only be replaced or disqualified under the following circumstances:

  • The judge is related to any case party.
  • The judge is a material witness to the case.
  • The judge has a personal stake in the claim.
  • The judge was engaged as counsel in the action before being appointed.
  • The plaintiff believes or has cause to believe that a fair and impartial trial is unattainable due to the judge’s prejudice, bias, or interest.

The right to obtain records of the Tax Court proceedings is granted to citizens of the state under Arizona Public Records Law. Any individual who wants to inspect or copy this record type can query the Tax Court Clerk’s office at:

201 West Jefferson, 1st Floor

Phoenix, AZ 85003

Phone: (602) 506–3442

The interested party can also use the Maricopa County Superior Court’s Public Access to Civil Court Case Information site to view case histories, court calendars, and minute entries of the Tax Court. When using a case number as the search query, the requester can differentiate between cases filed in the regular and Small Claims Tax Court with the alphabetical prefix of the case number. A claim filed in the standard Tax Court will have the “TX” prefix, while that of the small claims will be “ST”.

Case information available via the Case History search include:

  • The filing date
  • Presiding judge
  • Location of the court hearing
  • Case type
  • Case number
  • Case party information: names, sex, attorney(s), and a party’s relationship to the case (e.g., plaintiff)
  • An index of case documents filed with the Tax Court, including the filing date, description, docket date, and the filing party.
  • Case calendar: the date, time, and type of court event (e.g., pre-trial conference)
  • Judgments

Furthermore, members of the public can access the Arizona Tax Court’s decisions online. Unlike other lower courts of the state, the Tax Court is the only court required to divulge its findings on its website (A. R. S. § 42–2077(B))..

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