Montano v. Luff (12/21/2020)

February 11, 2021

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that no inherent conflict exists between A.R.S. § 12-1176’s right to a jury trial in forcible entry and detainer actions and Ariz. R. Proc. Eviction Act. 11(d)’s allowance for bench trials in cases lacking factual disputes.

A buyer bought a real property at a trustee’s sale and filed a forcible entry and detainer action against the tenants, who refused to vacate.  At the eviction hearing, the superior court denied the tenants’ request for a jury trial and entered a guilty verdict against them. 

The tenants appealed.  Among other things, they argued that the superior court erred by granting judgment against a party who was not actually a tenant, by awarding damages in the form of rent in the absence of a landlord-tenant relationship, and by denying their request for a jury trial under A.R.S. § 12-1176. 

Division Two of the Court of Appeals vacated the judgment against the non-tenant party, but otherwise affirmed the superior court’s judgment.  Regarding the damages award, the Court concluded that A.R.S. § 12-1178(A) allowed the superior court to award damages equal to the fair market rent value of the property in a forcible entry and detainer action.  Next, the Court disagreed that A.R.S. § 12-1176(B) requires the superior court to hold a jury trial upon request, even though that statute states that a court “shall” grant the request for a jury trial by a defendant in a forcible entry and detainer action.  Because the case did not involve any factual issues, the Court concluded that Rule 11(d) of the Arizona Rules of Procedure for Eviction Actions allowed the superior court to hold a bench trial notwithstanding the tenants’ demand.  The Court analogized a bench trial under Rule 11(d) to a grant of summary judgment, explaining that neither procedure deprives a party of a constitutional or statutory right to a jury trial.

Judge Espinosa authored the opinion; Judges Eckerstrom and Staring joined.