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Arizona has a prevalence of default judgments that can be difficult to set aside or dismiss.  With recent changes to Arizona law, judgments are now enforceable for up to 10 years.  This means it is more important than ever to deal with a judgment as quickly as possible.  The problem for many people in Arizona is they find out later that their wages are being garnished for a default judgment from years ago.  Arizona is a notoriously tough state when it comes to making changes to a judgment.  Here is what you need to know about pursuing your legal remedies with a default judgment and the differences between setting aside a judgement and having a case dismissed in Arizona.

Setting Aside a Judgment in Arizona

A default judgment is not necessarily set in stone—it can still be “set aside.”  When a case is set aside, a change will be made to the original judgment.  The process for setting aside a case in Arizona starts with filing a motion or petitioning the court to change the court’s earlier findings.  You will be required to present sufficient evidence the original ruling should be changed.  This process can be used to have the original judgment altered or cancelled altogether.  It can be used in both criminal and civil cases.

Default judgments in civil cases can be difficult to get set aside, especially when you don’t recognize the company that has received the judgment against you.  The legal standard in Arizona is that a party will only be entitled to relief from an entry of a default judgment if it can demonstrate three things: (1) that its failure to file a timely answer was excusable; (2) that it acted promptly in seeking relief; and (3) that it had a substantial and meritorious defense to the action.  See Clair v. Burgener, 226 Ariz. 213, 216, 245 P.3d 898, 901 (App. 2010).

It is especially important to work with an experienced attorney that will be able to evaluate the case and evidence to see if you have sufficient evidence to set aside the judgment.  Often these cases involve junk debt buyers with experienced legal teams dedicated to collecting on an old debt.  Before discussing any options with the plaintiff, make sure to consult with an experienced attorney.

In some states, there is a difference between having a case set aside and having it expunged.  Arizona does not offer the option for expungement, except in very limited circumstances such as for juvenile records.  Therefore, your sole legal remedy is likely to have a conviction set aside.  This does mean those records will not be sealed even if a case is set aside and can be found as part of a background check.

Having a Case Dismissed in Arizona

Dismissing a case means that case has been closed.  During the pendency of litigation, a case can be dismissed for a number of reason, but in any event, any such dismissal must be approved by a judge in Arizona.  There are two main ways a case can be dismissed—with or without prejudice.  When a case is dismissed with prejudice, this means the case has been completely dismissed and cannot be tried again. Therefore, under the doctrine of res judicata, the party to that prior action will be barred from bringing those same claims in a later proceeding, but will also be precluded from later asserting claims that could have been asserted because they arise out of the same cause of action and therefore “merge” into the final judgment.  By contrast, when a case is dismissed without prejudice, this means that the case, and the underlying claims and issues that were previously brought, can be opened again at a later date.

It is important to note that having a case dismissed is not always tantamount to being found not guilty in a criminal case or not at fault in a civil case.  The dismissal of a case can have nothing to do with an underlying findings of lack of guilty or fault.

Get Experience Legal Representation

If you have recently discovered a default judgment or need to pursue getting a case dismissed, the attorneys at MacQueen & Gottlieb have significant experience with setting aside judgments in Arizona.  Contact us today to schedule an initial consultation at 602-533-2840 or make an appointment online.

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