When it comes to resolving monetary or non-monetary disputes (recovery of property) that involve an amount of $35000 or less, the Small Claims Court (SCC) in Ontario offers a streamlined process. This quick guide to the small claims court process was crafted to help you understand the Small Claims Court and its procedures simply and straightforwardly, ensuring you have the necessary information to take the right steps.
Disclaimer: This guide doesn’t replace the Guide to Ontario Small Claims Court.
Monetary Jurisdiction of Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court in Ontario handles civil claims for monetary or non-monetary (recovery of property) amounts up to $35,000 or less. This limit is known as the court’s “monetary jurisdiction.” While this value may change over time, it’s essential to verify the current jurisdictional limit to ensure your claim is eligible.
Common Issues Addressed in Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court is designed to handle a variety of disputes, including but not limited to the following:
- Breach of contract
- Property damages
- Unpaid loans or debts
- Provision of unsatisfactory goods or services
- Personal injuries
- Landlord and tenant disputes over rent or property damage
- Recovery of property
It’s crucial to note that while the small claims court can order a party to pay money and award damages, it doesn’t typically force a party to perform a specific act in the contract agreement or compel the performance of a contract.
Navigating the Small Claims Court Process
The small claims process is divided into three stages: (i) Pleadings, (ii) Settlement Conference and (iii) Trial.
- Filing a Claim: Initiating a small claim action begins with filing a claim/document, typically called a “Plaintiff’s Claim: Form 7A,” detailing the nature of your dispute and the compensation or award you seek.
- Serving the Defendant: Once the claim is filed, the defendant must be served with the claim document, ensuring they are aware of the legal proceedings. The claim has to be served upon the defendant(s) within six months (180 days) of filing the claim. Proof of service (affidavit of service Form 8A) must be filed with the court after serving the plaintiff’s claim.
- Filing a defence: The defendant, upon receiving the claim, has 20 calendar days to serve a Defence (Form 9A) and file proof of service. Form 9A outlines their response to the allegations and any counterclaims they might have.
- Filing a Defendant’s Claim: If the defendant raises new issues and believes they have a claim against the plaintiff, they can file a defendant’s claim (Form 10A) as part of their defence or separately. This would detail their own grievances and what awards they seek as compensation. Must be served within six months.
- Reply to Defendant’s Claim: The plaintiff has to be served and filed with proof of service within 20 days after being served with the Defendant’s Claim.
Settlement Conference Stage
Before heading to trial, parties might participate in a settlement conference. This is an opportunity to resolve the dispute without needing a full-blown trial. Activities in this stage include:
- Preparation: Both parties and their representatives prepare by gathering evidence, proposing witnesses, identifying key points of contention, and formulating their positions.
- Attendance: Parties and their representatives must attend the settlement conference, often with a deputy judge (DP). The goal is to facilitate a dialogue and find common ground. Parties discuss the case’s merits and potential resolutions, exploring avenues for a mutual agreement. DP will provide his views on the merits of the case.
- Offer to Settle: If both sides resolve, they draft an offer to settle (Form 14A) detailing the terms of their settlement. Either party can propose form 14A at any time before the trial, not necessarily at the settlement conference.
- Trial Scheduling: After the settlement conference, any party may set the action down for trial.
- Trial Preparation: Both sides prepare their evidence, line up witnesses, and formulate their legal arguments.
- Trial: Both parties will have the opportunity to present their case, submit evidence, and call witnesses.
- Judgment: After considering the evidence and arguments, the judge may give an oral judgment on the same day or reserve for a later date.
Frequently Asked Questions for Small Claims Action
What forms are required?
Depending on the nature of your claim, different forms might be needed at different stages. Visit the Ontario small claims form section to see all forms relating to Small Claims court. Not having the correct documentation could put your case at risk, so make sure you know which form to use at each stage.
How much does it cost to file a claim?
There are associated fees with filing a claim and filing a defence. The cost of filing a claim as of 2023 is $108, and $77 for filing a defence.
How long does the process take?
The duration can vary based on several factors, i.e., the case’s complexity and other factors. Generally, Small Claims matters aim to be resolved within one year.
What is the maximum monetary limit for Small Claims Court in Ontario?
As mentioned, the Small Claims Court handles claims up to $35,000 or less as of 2023. It’s essential to verify the current limit with the court or on its official website, as this amount can change over time.
Can I file a claim for non-monetary disputes in Small Claims Court?
The Small Claims Court primarily hears cases where someone owes money or damages because of broken agreements. These agreements can include unpaid bills for goods or services, unpaid rent, or loans. Damages can consist of harm to property, personal injuries, or damages for breaching a contract. While it can order a party to pay money, it cannot compel someone to perform a specific contract performance.
How do I properly serve the defendant?
Serving the defendant is a crucial step. There are specific methods and rules for serving Small Claims court documents in Ontario. You can serve a defendant or plaintiff by personal service or alternative to personal service.
What if the judgment-debtor doesn’t pay?
If the judge rules in your favor and the judgment-debtor fails to pay, there are mechanisms in place to enforce the judgment. First, you can request an examination hearing to assess the debtor’s financial situation. After the examination hearing and If the debtor complies to pay the money owed, there is nothing else the creditor can do other than file a Writ of Seizure and Sale of Land. However, if the debtor is delinquent, the creditor can complete and file an Affidavit for Enforcement Request (Form 20P) and a Notice of Garnishment (Form 20E) to garnish the debtor’s account or wages, provided that the creditor knows where the debtor’s bank or place of work.
What happens if I miss my trial date?
Missing a trial date can have implications, including the possibility of the court dismissing your claim or rendering a judgment in your absence.
Can I appeal a decision made by the Small Claims Court?
Yes, decisions in Small Claims Court can be appealed under certain conditions. You’d typically need grounds for the appeal, such as believing there was an error in the application of the law, substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice. The divisional court usually handles appeals from SCC.
What if the defendant and I reach an agreement before the hearing?
If both parties come to an agreement before the trial date, one party can inform the court by filling out and signing a Terms of Settlement (Form 14D). It is essential to file Form 14D, signed by all parties, as soon as possible to let the court know that the case has been resolved. If a trial date has already been set, notify the court of the settlement before the scheduled trial date.
Can I represent myself, or do I need a lawyer or paralegal?
While individuals can represent themselves in Small Claims Court, having a legal professional such as a lawyer or small claims court paralegal can provide guidance, ensuring that the case is presented effectively and ensuring all procedural requirements are met.
What happens after a judgment is given?
After a judgment, the party ordered to pay has to contact the creditor and make arrangements to pay the money owed to the creditor. The creditor may send a letter to the debtor after judgment is given. Where the debtor is unable to pay, the creditor may file an examination hearing. Where the debtor disagrees with the judgment given, they may ask the court to set aside the default judgment.