Small Claims Court
The Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador has limited civil jurisdiction. This means that the Court has the power to hear civil actions where the monetary value claimed does not exceed $25,000.00. Civil actions involve disputes between individuals, or between any of the following parties: individuals, corporations, extra provincial companies, partnerships, municipalities, young persons, unincorporated associations, trade unions, and the Crown.
In some jurisdictions in Canada there is no civil jurisdiction attached to the provincial court. For example, in Nova Scotia, civil actions are determined by arbitrators. In New Brunswick, the Court of Queen's Bench has jurisdiction over all civil actions.
Jurisdiction in Newfoundland and Labrador is conferred on the Court by the Small Claims Act, as amended. The Court is given jurisdiction to to try and adjudicate upon a claim for debt whether payable in money or otherwise or for damages including damages for breach of contract. The Court can also hear actions for unpaid municipal taxes. However, the Court does NOT have jurisdiction to hear any action where:
- Land title is brought into question.
- The validity of a devise, bequest, or limitation is disputed.
- Malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, defamation, criminal conversation, and breach of promise of marriage are involved.
- An action is against a judge of a court, a justice or a public officer for anything done by such a person in the course of performing the duties of his or her office.
Common cases are actions for damages arising from car accidents (i.e. negligence), failure to pay for services or goods, failure to repay loans, and failure to perform services adequately (i.e. roof repair, car repairs, plumbing, or carpentry).
Many of these actions involve oral contracts which are enforceable in law. The difficulty with these cases is that the Court has to determine what the actual terms of the contract were.
Actions are commenced in Small Claims Court by filing a statement of claim and paying the appropriate fee. A successful plaintiff will usually receive back the fee as part of the court costs as part of a judgment. In a civil action, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff (claimant) to prove his or her case on a balance of probabilities. This is to be contrasted with a criminal case where the burden of proof is on the Crown to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt.
Before the case is set for trial, our Rules require that the plaintiff and defendant attend a settlement conference to see if there is any hope of settling the case without the need for a trial. Even if the parties do not agree to a settlement, the conference is useful as it allows the parties to isolate the issues in question and potentially shorten the length of the trial.
The forms and procedures are designed to assist self represented litigants present their cases on their own. The cost of legal representation often exceeds the amount of a claim if a case goes to trial. Judges are cognizant of the fact that many self represented litigants are not familiar with legal rules and procedures and will make allowance within the limits of the law for these limitations. However, neither the judge nor the court staff can offer legal advice to litigants.
At the conclusion of the case, the judge may deliver a decision from the Bench. Such decisions are called oral decisions. Alternatively, the judge may reserve the decision and file a written ruling at a later time. In such a case the judge usually sees the need to research a point of law. When the decision is filed the court clerk will notify the parties and each party will be given a copy of the decision.
A party who is dissatisfied with the result has the right to appeal to the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador (Trial Division) and subsequently to the Court of Appeal and then if necessary with leave, to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Public Legal Information Association of NL (PLIAN) offers occasional Small Claims Legal Assistance Clinics. For more information or to book a free appointment with a lawyer for legal advice and assistance on Small Claims matters, contact PLIAN at (709) 722-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org or the Canadian Bar Association at (709) 579-5793.