May Corporations and LLCs Represent Themselves in Arizona Courts


May Corporations and LLCs Represent Themselves in Arizona Courts?

Please note that, while this article accurately describes applicable law on the subject covered at the time of its writing, the law continues to develop with the passage of time. Accordingly, before relying upon this article, care should be taken to verify that the law described herein has not changed.
One of the hallmarks of the American judicial system is that individuals can represent themselves in both civil and criminal courts, as well as other tribunals and administrative agencies. The same, however, does not apply to corporations in Arizona. The Supreme Court of Arizona has recognized:
While a natural person can always appear pro per, a corporation is an entity unto itself quite separate from its owners and officers. Thus, to respect the corporate form, we long ago adopted the rule that a corporation cannot appear in court without a lawyer.[1]
“Until a corporation appears in court by counsel, its appearance is defective.”[2] This rule applies in state courts, as well as federal courts.[3] Additionally, it applies to tribunals, not just courts.[4]
In addition to observing the corporation form, another rationale for this rule is that Arizona defines the practice of law, in part, as “providing legal advice or services to or for another by. . . (3) Representing another in a judicial, quasi-judicial, or administrative proceeding, or other formal dispute resolution process such as arbitration and mediation . . . .”[5] As whoever would be appearing in court on behalf of the corporation would technically be providing legal services for another, i.e., the corporation, they therefore would be engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.[6] “[T]he practice of law is a matter within the exclusive authority of the judiciary.”[7]

An officer of a corporation can represent the corporation in the following limited situations, under specific circumstances:
  • Proceedings before the Department of Economic Security
  • Proceedings in Justice Court
  • Proceedings in Police Court
  • Proceedings in Small Claims Court
  • Proceedings before an administrative law judge of the Industrial Commission of Arizona
  • Proceedings before a review board of the Arizona Division of Occupational Safety and Health
  • An ambulance service in a hearing before the Arizona Department of Health Services
  • Administrative appeals of the Department of Health Services
  • Superior Court general stream adjudication proceedings
  • Administrative proceedings before the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality
  • Proceedings before the Office of Administrative Hearings
  • Administrative matters before the Arizona Department of Revenue
  • Dispute involving less than $25,000.00 before the State Board of Tax Appeals
  • Non-profit organizations, public service corporations and an interim operator appointed by the Commission in matters before the Arizona Corporation Commission.[1]
However, “[i]n all other cases, a corporation can only appear in court through an attorney.”[2] Similarly, a partner can only represent himself or herself in legal matters – “a partner, except if in an attorney-client relationship, cannot represent his partners or the partnership in legal matters.”[3] Arizona courts “do not believe a partnership can represent itself because it is not a natural person.”[4]
[1] Boydston v. Strole Dev. Co., 193 Ariz. 47, 49, 969 P.2d 653, 655 (1998); see also Ramada Inns, Inc. v. Lane and Bird Adver., Inc., 102 Ariz. 127, 128, 426 P.2d 395, 396 (1967) (“Absent statutory authority a corporation cannot practice law even in its own behalf. A corporation cannot appear in court by an officer who is not an attorney, and it cannot appear in propria persona.”); Mohr, Hackett, Pederson, Blakley, Randolph & Haga, P.C. v. Superior Court, 155 Ariz. 150, 150, 745 P.2d 208, 208 (Ct. App. 1987) (the general rule is that a “corporation, unlike a natural person, cannot represent itself in court”); Hunt Invest. Co. v. Eliot, 154 Ariz. 357, 362, 742 P.2d 858, 863 (Ct. App. 1987) (“And, of course, it has long been held that a corporation must be represented by a licensed attorney – it cannot be represented by a lay employee or appear in propria persona.”).

[2] State v. Eazy Bail Bonds, 224 Ariz. 227, 229, 229 P.3d 239, 241 (Ct. App. 2010). By employing counsel, however, you can potentially cure this defect even if default has been entered against you. Ramada Inns, 102 Ariz. at 129, 426 P.2d at 397 (“A reasonable opportunity should be given to parties to litigate their claims or defenses on the merits, so that any doubt existing as to whether a default should be set aside would be resolved in favor of the application to the end that a trial upon the merits may be had.”).

[3] The Wine Group LLC v. Oak Creek Vineyards & Winery, Inc., 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 69225, at *2 (D. Ariz. June 30, 2008).

[4] Anamax Mining Co. v. Ariz. Dep’t of Econ. Sec., 147 Ariz. 482, 485, 711 P.2d 621, 624 (Ct. App. 1985)(“corporations cannot appear before tribunals other than through an attorney”).

[5] Ariz. Sup. Ct. P. 31(a)(2)(A).

[6] See Mohr, 155 Ariz. at 150, 745 P.2d at 208.

[7] Anamax, 147 Ariz. at 485, 711 P.2d at 624.

If you would like to discuss a potential investment-related claim and the potential application of the economic loss rule, we would be happy to discuss it with you. To arrange for a consultation concerning your legal matter, please contact Robert Mitchell at rdm@tblaw.com or at (602) 452-2730.
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