While the filing of the lawsuit constitutes the formal start of the legal action, and stops the statute of limitations, service of process on the defendant must be accomplished under the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure. The complaint (lawsuit) is merely the statement of the plaintiff’s claim. The Clerk of the Court issues a summons under the seal of the court, announcing the presence of the court and gives the defendant notice that the Arizona court is assuming jurisdiction for the purpose of resolving the “controversy,” or dispute. Service is not effective until process is either served upon or accepted by an authorized representative of the person or entity to be served.
The time limit to serve a party within Arizona is 120 days after the filing of the lawsuit. The day on which the complaint is filed is not counted, but weekends and holidays are included. If service is not made on a defendant within that period, the Arizona court may grant a motion to dismiss the suit or do so on its own initiative. The complaint is dismissed “without prejudice,” meaning that the defendant may be served within a new time period usually set by the court, usually another 120 days. If the plaintiff demonstrates good cause as to why service cannot be accomplished within the initial 120-day period, the court must extend the time for service for an appropriate period. A plaintiff cannot serve his own lawsuit. He must retain a sheriff’s deputy, a constable or a certified process server to do so, and pay them directly for their service.