Case Brief 002 — Small Claims Court
My case brief summaries this week are seriously interesting! One has to do with wedding planners from hell, and a home renovation gone horribly wrong. Read on to find out more!
Note: The cases this week are a bit longer and more complex than last week, and given I was down with the flu last weekend I am posting 3 this week instead of 4. I do notice there are several procedural details I am not able to explain very well, since I haven’t taken Small Claims Court in school yet. However, I do intend to do some research so I can come back and do an edit in the near future. If any of you are a bit confused I do apologize, but rest assured that I am working on it so stay with me! 😀
Graham v Total Wedding & Event Centre Ltd., 2015 CanLII 46106 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Ms. H.C. Graham & Mr. J.R.Heibein (plaintiffs are self-represented); Mr. Timothy C. Ellis (Paralegal for the Defendant)
- Plaintiffs are a couple, and they hired the defendants as wedding planners to help with their wedding ceremony and reception on August 16, 2014
- Plaintiffs suing for breach of contract – claim they were grossly overcharged for service provided, caused them mental distress
- suing for $5,616.05 in total including aggravated and punitive damages
- Confusion over the actual names of the defendants; issue with their credibility
- Plaintiff claim sum of $992.30 were overcharged for “add-ons” they did not agree to
- Defendant collected additional $2,121.00 from the plaintiffs 6 days before the wedding
- Defendants gave plaintiffs only $710 credit for a reduction in the guest list from 130 to 88
- Defendants did not pay the sum of $123.75 to the caters of the reception, even though they were contracted to pay the caterers in full; Plaintiffs paid this amount instead to ensure the caterers would actually show up
- Defendants did not show up at the wedding
- Decorations and overlays provided by defendants to decorate the ceremony venue had “unduly large and unsightly creases, that some were torn and some had foodstains or other defects”
- Contracting Parties – Plaintiffs were initially given business cards to weddingplus.ca where in fact they were dealing with Mr. Usmani and Ms. Angeles. Charges to the plaintiff’s credit cards showed several different names and entities which adds to the confusion as to whether they were dealing with the company or just Mr. Usmani and Ms. Angeles. Email communication between the parties only ever listed personal identification. Mr. Usmani’s first name also differs between what is shown on documents and how he refers to himself in court and in emails. In his closing submissions, the defendants agreed that the contract was between the plaintiffs and Mr. Usmani and Ms. Angeles, that the corporate identity of “Total Wedding Events Ltd” would be dismissed as one of the defendants. The court agrees. Judge Winny also points out that this confusion of names and identities “does nothing for the credibility” of Mr. Usmani and Ms. Angeles.
- Overcharge – Mr. Usmani testifies that Ms. Graham agreed to the charge over the phone, and the “add-on” items were included in the contract and there was email confirmation, but no evidence was put forward to prove this. Ms. Angeles later agrees that there was billing errors on their part but never paid this money back. Mr. Usmani demanded that the plaintiffs pay the balance of $2,121.00 6 days before the wedding. The plaintiffs did pay under protest despite no resolution on the billing errors. Judge Winny finds that the add-on charged for chair covers were clearly covered in the contract and NOT an add on. Mr. Usmani claim there was an error on the contract which Judge dismisses. The court does find that Ms. Graham agree to some of the extra charge, just not the total amount.
- Caterer’s fee – It is the defendant’s obligation under the contract to pay the caterers in full. They failed to do so, and the plaintiffs had to pay the remaining balance so the caterers would show up at their wedding. The court finds that the plaintiffs are entitled to recover this money back.
- Ceremony and Reception Deficiencies – The defendants provided defected wedding decorations, failed to set up the venue, and did not show up for the actual day to make sure everything was running smoothly. They had failed to do what they were paid and contracted to do, and task were left for the bride and groom to deal with. The court finds this sort of behavior and attitude inexcusable.
- Damages – Court rules in favour of the plaintiff and grants them $2000 total in aggravated damages. Dismisses their claim for punitive damages given other damages already awarded.
Conclusion: The plaintiff’s claim is granted in part, they were overcharged, and the defendants are found to be liable jointly and severally. Judgment is $4,233.75 against the defendants, with costs fixed at $300 all inclusive.
Prykas v CPR Media, 2015 CanLII 56071 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Mr. Richard Bowers (Paralgel for the Plaintiff); Rajneesh Sharda (Counsel for the Defendant)
Background: Plaintiff Robert Prykas was working for the defendant corporation on contract providing handyman work in Brampton, ON. The defendant corporation is a “media planning and buying agency”, and Mr. Prykas was described as a “versatile, dependable, and industrious man” working full time for the company. There are no complains about Mr. Prykas’ quality of work. Issue for this claim arises out of several clauses in their service contract where it states that Mr. Prykas is required to pay for his own insurance out of his wages ($30/hr). Mr. Prykas started working for the company in 2008 and this was never an issue until January 2013 where the defendant company insisted that Mr. Prykas get his proof of insurance sorted out. Evidently this never got sorted out and starting July 2013 the company stopped paying Mr. Prykas wages until when he quit in December 2013. The company’s position is by docking months of wages, it was to pay for all the insurance coverage Mr. Prykas never paid for ever since he started working for them. Mr. Prykas now sues for lost wages totaling $33.448.10. The company arrived at this amount by way of the accountant informing Mr. Prykas that they were going to deduct $5 from his hourly wage for his failure to secure the insurance coverage for all these years. It is unclear how the amount of $5 was arrived.
Issues/ Court’s decisions:
- Did the defendant CPR Media give up its right to find Mr. Prykas liable? — The doctrine of “estoppel by acquiescence” or “estoppel by encouragement”, a form of equitable jurisdiction (ultimately in favour of Mr. Prykas) may be applied here, if found that by asserting the strict legal rights it would be unconscionable. In order for the court to do so, three key elements must be met:
- Inducement, encouragement or acquiescence – CPR Media chose not to assert or challenge Mr. Prykas until January 2013, and still did not take action until end of July 2013 where they finally put him on notice and was going to start docking him $5.00 per hour. The court finds that it meets the standard for acquiescence, which is non-action.
- Detrimental reliance – It is clear from evidence that Mr. Prykas relied upon the inaction of the company. Everything was business as usual for 4 years
- Unconscionability – CPR Meida is planning on not paying Mr. Prykas for 5 months worth of work in order to pay for all the insurance that he allegedly owes — even though they never did anything for 4 years. The court finds this “patently unfair and highly prejudicial”
- Is the court going to allow any deduction from Mr.Prykas’ wages? Yes. Although the court did fine some accounting errors on evidence presented by CPR Media, the court will allow CPR media its requested set-off payments of insurance owed, but only from the time they stopped paying Mr. Prykas till when he finally left the company (5 months)
Conclusion: The judgment is in favour of the plaintiff, Mr. Prykas, for wages owed for the 5 months he worked, which is around $30K but reduced to $25,000 to comply with the maximum monetary jurisdiction of the Small Claims Court. Minus $5/hr during those months for insurance deductions, and HST.
Spavest Inc. (Lu) v Wu, 2015 CanLII 36628 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Mr. Timothy C. Ellis (Paralegal for Plaintiff); Ms. Jennifer M. Krotz (Counsel for the Defendant)
Background: [Home Renovation Gone Wrong] — This was a five-day trial in the Kitchener Small Claims Court with Deputy Judge J. Sebastian Winny presiding. Mr. Lu (the Defendant) worked on renovations to a student housing property recently purchased by Mr. Bao and Ms. Wu (the defendants) for 6 weeks. Mr. Lu was under the impression that he was helping out friends, but would be compensated at a “friendly discounted” rate nonetheless. Ms. Wu used to be Mr. Lu’s vocal teacher, they were all friends, and claims Mr. Lu agreed to work for them on a volunteer basis. They also claim damages against Mr. Lu because he was allegedly liable for the cost to repair deficiencies in his work. Both parties had nothing in writing, no agreement on price. However, the defendants did make two payments of $1,000.00 to Mr. Lu during the time he was working for them, but claims they were “gifts of appreciation” and not compensation for his work.
- Parties’ credibility: Judg Winny finds significant issues in the parties’ testimony. The defendants often offer lengthy oral testimonies that had nothing to do with the case. They submitted evidence that were filled with errors and relied on evidence subject to doble-hearsay. Documents were created and presented as the trial went along, and Judge decided they were unreliable to the point that they seemed to have made up the evidence (of what Mr. Lu worked on and when) as they went along. Judge found that Mr. Lu also inflated his number of hours worked, but his version of the story was much closer to the truth
- Nature of Mr. Lu’s work: Judge found the defendant’s claim that Mr. Lu volunteered his work on this project for free to be preposterous. Defendants have never before paid Mr. Lu “gifts of gratitude”, they were also renovating this property for commercial use (student housing), and commerce most likely involves money, therefore it is not reasonable to assume money and compensation is not part of the picture
- Whether Mr. Lu was a contractor or employee: Judge found that Mr. Lu worked on this project under the direction of Mr. Bao, and the defendants served as their own general contractor because they also hired other workers to complete this entire renovation project of their properties. Mr. Lu was not working on this project on his own account so he is deemed an employee in this case
- Whether Mr. Lu was wrongfully dismissed: Both parties understand that Mr. Lu was only going to be working on this project until a Mr. Li takes over to finish the project. Judge finds all three parties were consistent that Mr. Lu was only working on this temporarily. Therefore upon terminating Mr. Lu’s involvement there are no wrongful dismissal concerns here
- Monetary Compensation: Mr. Lu originally calculated his claim based on the assumption of working $45 per hour for the number of hours he worked. Based on the common ground that he would be working for a “friendly discount”, his hourly rate is reduced to $13/hr. It is evident that he also modestly inflated the number of hours worked, so the number of hours worked will be discounted by 10%. Judge accepts that Mr. Bao also helped Mr. Lu in this project (even though he owns the property, but this is their oral agreement that he will help), but because he has zero prior experience his hourly rate will be $11/hr. Due to his significant lack of credibility, the number of hours he’s worked is discounted by 60%. Therefore the defendants are entitled to a set-off of this amount that Mr. Bao has worked. (this amount will be reduced from the amount they have to pay to Mr. Lu)
- Cost: Cost is also a point of concern in this case due to the length of the trial. Judge Winny specifically noted that this was the longest trial he’s sat on in his 8 years being judge. He criticizes the defendants for producing surprise documents during the trial. The defendants certainly took up the majority of the 5-day trial, however, the plaintiff did also exaggerate his claim. Therefore cost is awarded to the plaintiff for both his own original claim, and for his success in the defendant’s claim against him. No penalty cost award against the defendants were ordered (even though there are good grounds for them to have to pay the penalty in this case)
Until next week!