Small Claims Court Process
NAVIGATING SMALL CLAIMS COURT
If you have a dispute with an individual or corporation where the value of the claim is for $25,000.00 or less or are looking to have personal property, valued at a maximum of $25,000, returned to you, you are likely considering pursuing an action in Small Claims Court. Although Small Claims Court is intended to be easily understood by self-represented parties, it can become confusing or intimidating for a person without a legal background. Below is a breakdown of the main components of a Small Claims Court proceeding to help you get started in navigating a Small Claims Court action.
The pleadings are the first stage in an action. Pleadings are the documents that initiate the Court process and demonstrate to the Court the nature of the dispute, the relief sought by the Plaintiff and the defence relied upon by the Defendant.
The PLANTIFF’s CLAIM
The party who commences the action is called the Plaintiff and initiates the process by preparing and filing a Plaintiff’s Claim. The Plaintiff’s Claim will be filed with the Court and delivered to the individual or business that the Plaintiff is suing. Contained in the Plaintiff’s Claim is the relief the Plaintiff is seeking, a short clear summary of the events that took place and the reasons why the Plaintiff believes they are entitled to the relief sought. Importantly, there may be a limit on how long you can wait before making your claim. Generally, a claim cannot be filed if more than two years have passed since the incident.
The party who defends the action is called the Defendant and files a Defence which responds to the claims set out in the Plaintiff’s Claim. The Defence is used to clearly outline what the Defendant disagrees with, the reasons supporting the disagreement and the statements in the Plaintiff’s Claim, if any, that the Defendant agrees with. The Defence must be filed at the Court within 20 days after the Defendant has been served with the claim. After the 20 day mark, the Plaintiff has the opportunity to note the Defendant in “default”. If a Defendant is noted in default, they cannot file a defence or take any other steps in the proceeding, except to bring a motion to set aside the noting of default and the Plaintiff may obtain default judgment against them.
The Court will schedule a settlement conference to take place within 90 days of the Defence being filed. A settlement conference is a mandatory step of the proceedings. It allows the parties to discuss the matter in the presence of a judge and will assist in clarifying the issues to be addressed at trial, help the parties reach a settlement without having to proceed to trial and require the parties to provide one another with full disclosure. The settlement conference is a confidential procedure intended to bring about a settlement of the action. The judge cannot make a decision at the settlement conference and will not preside as the judge at trial.
There are special rules for claims $2,500 or under. If Parties in this scenario are unable to reach an agreement at the settlement conference, the presiding judge, with the parties’ consent, may conduct a more thorough review of the issues and evidence and decide the case.
The trial is the final stage in the Small Claims Court proceeding and is where the Plaintiff and Defendant will present their respective positions in the presence of a judge who will render a decision.
Generally, the Plaintiff will be required to prove that the Defendant caused the Plaintiff’s loss and that they are entitled to money or personal property to rectify the situation, and to establish the amount of money or goods that the Plaintiff deserves. The Defendant, on the other hand, must explain why the loss claimed by the Plaintiff is not their fault or why the quantum of money or goods is inflated.
At trial, both parties are entitled to present evidence to the judge, call witnesses and ask them questions and question the other party’s witnesses.
After hearing all of the testimony and reviewing the evidence, the judge will make a decision. Usually, the judge will make a decision shortly after both parties have presented there case; however, it is not uncommon for the judge to decide the matter later and mail a copy of the written decision to the parties.
So you have just gone through the entire process and have been awarded judgement in your favour. Unfortunately, this does not always mean that the Defendant, now called the debtor, will make prompt payment. In this case, the Plaintiff, now known as the creditor will need to take steps to enforce the judgment. The main two ways to enforce the judgment are through garnishment of bank accounts or wages and/or the seizure and sale of personal property, assets or land. In the event that the Plaintiff is completely unaware of the debtor’s finances or assets, they can request the Small Claims Court to hold an examination in aid of execution. At this hearing, the debtor must provide information about their job, income, property, bank accounts, debts, expenses and reasons for not paying the judgment.
Informational: Navigating Small Claims Court provided by: Shaun Singh, an associate at Keyser Mason Ball, and a member of the firm’s Commercial Litigation Group.
This article is provided for general information purposes and should not be considered a legal opinion. Clients are advised to obtain legal advice on their specific situations.