Written By: Jonathan Barnes
The Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure contemplate three steps for obtaining a judgment after arbitration: (1) the arbitrator’s notice of decision; (2) the arbitrator’s award or other final disposition; and (3) the superior court’s entry of judgment. Failing to complete this process by timely applying for entry of judgment in the superior court requires dismissal of the case under Rule 76(d). See, e.g., Phillips v. Garcia, 237 Ariz. 407, 412, ¶ 20 (App. 2015). Thus, winning or losing at arbitration does not mark the end of your journey. If you won, be sure to timely apply for entry of judgment in the superior court after the arbitrator’s award or other final disposition. If you lost, be mindful of the 120-day deadline to request a court judgment because it could provide grounds for dismissal.
In any case, also be sure that the proposed form of judgment does not ask for more than what the arbitrator awarded, which could spell disaster. In Klesla v. Wittenberg, 2016 WL 4398010 (App. Aug. 18, 2016), for example, the Kleslas paid a heavy price for failing to follow this simple rule. They sued for (1) the return of their residential lease security deposit; (2) statutory treble damages; (3) punitive damages for alleged fraud committed by the landlord, Wittenberg; and (4) statutory and contract-based attorney fees. Wittenberg counter-sued for unpaid rent and alleged damage to the property. The arbitrator signed and filed an arbitration award in early December 2013 awarding the Kleslas $10,000 on their complaint and Wittenberg $904 on his counterclaim. The arbitrator did not award attorney fees or costs to either party. Neither party timely appealed from the arbitration award, the deadline for which passed in late December 2013.
The Kleslas moved to amend the arbitration award, which the arbitrator granted in relevant part by awarding the Kleslas $8820 in attorney fees. The Kleslas then filed a motion for judgment on amended award of arbitrator, noting the April 11 Amended Arbitration Award. The court denied the motion, finding that (1) the December 2013 arbitration award was never appealed; and (2) the filing of the December 2013 arbitration award divested the arbitrator of jurisdiction so that the April 11 amended arbitration award was a nullity. The court extended the Kleslas’ time to submit a request for entry of judgment on the original December 2013 arbitration award. The Kleslas moved for entry of judgment on the December 2013 arbitration award, but they also requested attorney fees. The court denied the motion, and the court of appeals affirmed, because the Kleslas sought a judgment encompassing more than what they were awarded in the original December 2013 award.
The moral of the story: be sure to follow through after arbitration, and be sure to stay within the arbitrator’s award when seeking judgment in superior court.