Case Brief 003 — Small Claims Court
It was Canadian Thanksgiving over the weekend, so I hope everyone got a chance to sleep in, rest up and ate lots of pumpkin pie 😀
The case brief summaries this week have a focus on the issue of jurisdiction. It is not uncommon that a case before the Small Claims Court has to do with a decision made by an administrative tribunal. Because not all administrative tribunals have the power to grant monetary damages for the winning party, some cases can be brought before the Small Claims Court to seek a judgment for damages and costs, even if the matter has been dealt with in another tribunal. It is not always allowed, so it really depends on the facts of the case. The first case summary Sharma v Singh, is a great example of how the court goes through the details of the case to decide whether the specific issue before the court has already been decided. If the issue is exactly the same, it cannot be tried again in an attempt to “get another kick at the can”.
Another scenario would be where a Plaintiff submits his/her Statement of Claim to the Small Claims Court, only for the judge to realize that the matter can only be dealt with by a separate, designated tribunal. Such is the case in Liang v Brock University. The Plaintiff’s problem falls strictly under the jurisdiction of the university, so it is best that she goes through the appropriate channels at school to seek remedies. Courts are extremely reluctant to “step on others’ toes”, and will usually defer the matter back to the appropriate boards and tribunals. In other words, although Small Claims Court is always available for a Plaintiff, to get the result/remedy/damages, he/she must find out if the matter falls under the jurisdiction of a specific board or tribunal, and if so, proceed with that appropriate channel. Generally speaking, Small Claims Court is most effective with matters dealing with tort and breach of contract.
The third case in Kaur v Singh, is a classic case where there is clearly a breach of contract, and falls neatly into Small Claims Court’s jurisdiction. And of course, also a great example of why we should think TWICE before lending money to family :p
Without further ado, here are this week’s cases!
Sharma v Singh, 2015 CanLII 56069 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Pooja Lal (Counsel for Plaintiff); Harpreet Luthra (Paralegal for Defendant)
Background: This case is a ruling on whether or not the Small Claims Court at Brampton, ON will allow the Defendants’ motion to strike the Plaintiff’s claim. If the motion is granted, a trial will not be issued for this matter. The matter relates to a dispute in commissions earned by real estate agents/brokerages during the purchase of a residential property. There has been a prior ruling by the Toronto Estate Board (the Board).
The Plaintiff, Sharma, is a real estate agent working for the other plaintiff in this case, Century 21 People’s Choice Realty Inc. (Century). The defendants, Singh and Bains are a couple who was purchasing the residential property in question. Sharma conducted the open house for the property and the Defendants were very interested and serious about buying. Sharma allegedly asked them if they were already working with their own real estate agent, and have signed a Buyer Representation Agreement (“BRA”), the defendants allegedly said no. Turns out Defendants claim they were in fact working with their own agent, Tejvir Dhugga (Dhugga), and Sharma knew but assures them it’s all good they can just split the commission once they buy the house. Sharma allegedly made Defendants believe they need to put in an offer for the house right away, with Sharma acting as their agent or it will be gone. The sale of the house was finalized and the commission was $13,625.00. After Dhugga found out the was left out of the picture he launched an objection through the Toronto Real Estate Board, and prevented the release of the commission money to Sharma. A full Arbitration Hearing was conducted for the matter, and the tribunal found that:
1) Dhugga was in reality acting as the Defendant’s agent but a BRA was never signed and executed
2) Sharma and Century did not explain the process to the buyers properly, and did not exercise a reasonable standard of care [required by licensed real estate brokers]; Did not exercise due diligence
3) Board finds in favour of HomeLife (real estate brokerage that Dhuggar works for); Ruling is final and binding among parties to this award
Back to our case at hand:
(Clarification: by the Board’s decision, Sharma lost his commission to Dhuggar)
Sharma’s position (Plaintiff):
-Although the Board’s finding was final and binding, he was not a party of that decision, so he should be allow to proceed in a civil litigation against the Defendants
-Seeking damages against the Defendants for “intentional concealment [that they were not working with a real estate agent already]” and breach of contract
-The Board already dealt with this issue, wishes to have this matter dismissed Court’s Analysis & Discussion
Can this matter still be tried in a civil court after the Board’s decision? (Principles of res judicata and issue estoppel)
- Supreme Court rulings have said that although the principle of issue estoppel should be upheld where an issue that has already been decided in a previous case should not be retried again, there is room for judges to exercise discretion to NOT apply it, if there will be injustice
- Goes through the test (provided by the Supreme Court ruling of leading cases in this area) of whether issue estoppel applies here:
- Was the same question dealt with?
- This case here is between Sharma and the defedants, the Board’s case was specifically between Sharma and Dhuggar’s brokerages to figure out which brokerage gets the commission. The issue here is whether the Defendants purposefully concealed their status to Sharma and for breach of contract relating to their BRA
- Was the Arbitral Award a final decision?
- But again, the issue before the court right now is whether Sharma is entitled to the commission from the Defendants under their BRA contract, signed as a result of the Defendant’s concealment and misrepresentation of their status — Different from the Board’s hearing
- Are parties the same as the previous case?
- The defendants were present at the Board arbitration but they were there as witnesses, not an actual party to the hearing.
- Was the same question dealt with?
The test for issue estoppel fails, and does not apply here in this case. The matter can be tried in this court. Defendant’s motion to strike is dismissed and the matter will move forward to trial.
Liang v Brock University, 2015 CanLII 31300 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Emrick Shi (Paralegal for Plaintiff); S. McHugh (Counsel for Defendant)
Background: The Plaintiff, Ms. Liang, enrolled in the Professional Masters Preparation Certification Program (PMPCP) at Brock University. She had come from China to Canada to attend this program. She had complaints about the quality of her instructor’s teaching and the school (Defendant) handled the complaints. Ms. Liang was not satisfied with how her matter was resolved before the school so she left the program and the school after two months. She is now seeking reimbursement of tuition paid for the program and rent expenses while she studied there. The school refuses to do so. Ms. Liang now brings this matter to civil court to seek remedy and/or damages.
Ms. Liang claims that a Ms. Brenda Rose (Rose) was her instructor for 3 out of the 6 classes that Ms. Liang had to take in the first semester. Rose allegedly cancelled four lectures in the course of two months and did not give adequate notice to students. Rose was also allegedly ill prepared to teach in at least one occasion. To summarize, Ms. Liang’s real concern was the quality of Rose’s teaching.
The Judge’s decision on this case is extensive, and cited many leading and relevant case law on civil litigation between student and academic institutions. The main issue before this court is to determine whether the Small Claims Court have adequate jurisdiction to try this case.
- Liang is essentially seeking to overturn an internal academic decision made by a university (she has previously made complaints to the university but was dissatisfied by the results) — the appropriate route for such an action is usually judicial review
- Indeed, Ms. Liang is seeking to base her action in tort (of negligence, university failing their standard of care owed to students) or breach of contract in this case, claims damages (tuition & rent refund) — In her view, this court should have jurisdiction
The court’s reasoning and decision to deny her request are based on these facts outlined in case law:
- It is understood that a student will be subject to the discretion of the university they are enrolled in to resolve academic issues – this includes competency of professors/instructors
- Claiming that…a professor is incompetent, without anything more, will not normally be sufficient grounds to base a cause of action in civil court
- In order to establish a cause of action for breach of contract: student must demonstrate that the university in question actually “fails to fulfill an express or tacit obligation to which this institution had committed by accepting the student’s registration”
- Nothing in Ms. Liang’s claim satisfies the narrow ground where breach of contract in this setting can be applied
- Liang did not agree to enroll in the program only if there are no cancelled classes and if she was 100% satisfied with the quality of teaching
- In order to establish a cause of action for negligence, breach of duty of care, the student must “plead specific facts tending to show that the conduct of the university or professor in question constituted intentional tort”
- Nothing in Ms. Liang’s claim points to any intentional tort committed by the university
- In this case, Ms. Liang’s only evidence is her Statement of Claim
- Courts have continued to wrestle with the issue of jurisdiction in civil courts involving universities
- This claim arises out of an academic dispute with the university, and courts will defer to universities in the matters of academic disputes except in very narrow circumstances
- Courts are NOT well-suited to deal with academic issues at universities. The deference of the courts to universities in these kinds of disputes is well-established in case law
- Again, courts are not well equipped to decide on specialized matters in universities
- It is important to uphold essential independence of universities and not to provide “undue interference in their academic affairs”
- Such matters are best brought up before university tribunals who has the specialized knowledge to decide on academic issues
In conclusion: The plaintiff’s claim is struck, Small Claims Court does not have jurisdiction to deal with this matter. Judicial review is heavily emphasized as the best route to proceed for Ms. Liang’s matter. Generally speaking in most cases, Small Claims Court does NOT have jurisdiction to rule on matters involving university and academic matters. The universities’ independence and power to rule on these matters according to their own discretion is upheld in civil courts.
Kaur v Singh, 2015 CanLII 56070 (ON SCSM)
Representation: Harpreet Luthra (Paralegal for Plaintiff); Kuldeep Singh (Defendant, self-representation)
Background: The defendant, Singh, immigrated to Canada from India in 2001 as a refugee. The plaintiff, Kaur and her husband are his cousin by marriage who lives in Etobicoke, Ontario. Singh stayed with Kaur at their home for one week after landing in Toronto. Singh left to move to Montreal soon after, where it is believed that his claim for refugee status would be more favourably and expeditiously dealt with. Kaur and her husband gave Singh $500.00 at first and another $500 when Singh left to go to Montreal. Both parties agree it would be a loan. Over the year until 2012, Kaur and her husband gave Singh a total of $6,000, and only $500.00 were paid back
- From 2001 until 2012, Kaur and her husband advanced a total of $6000 to Singh to help him establish himself in Canada and to pay for his immigration lawyer
- All fund withdrawals were documented in Kaur’s bank statements, put in as evidence before the court
- The matter was still not solved up to 2009, so Kaur and her husband went to Montreal to see Singh to find out why he wasn’t paying them back
- Singh paid them $500 in cash during their visit, and wrote two undated cheques $3000 each, asking them not to deposit the cheque until he told them he had enough money
- By 2012 Singh still did not allow Kaur to deposit the cheques, so Kaur went ahead and tried to cash in the cheques but they were dishonoured at the bank
- Singh denies ever receiving payment from Kaur, and only wrote the cheques because she pressured him into doing so
- Singh accuses Kaur and her husband to be in the business of cheque fraud (“cheque kiting”)
Court’s finding of fact
Taking into account that Singh is self-represented, Judge explained that in a court of law, not only are real evidence and facts important, the manner of the person’s demeanor is also very important to his/her’s credibitily before the judge. Judge in this case finds that he has no reason to disbelieve the evidence given by Kaur. They had no reason to commit cheque fraud since they had sufficient funds all along in their bank account, and treated Singh like family so they were really trying to help him out. On a balance of probabilities, which is the standard of proof in civil litigation (that one party is more likely than not, more believable than the other party, but NOT beyond a reasonable doubt like in criminal law), the judge finds that Kaur has proven her claim, combined with the convincing testimony given by Kaur’s husband.
The plaintiff has the judgment in the amount of $5,500 ($6000 minus the $500 already paid in cash). Plaintiff is also entitled to cost of retaining counsel for this case, which is set at $1000, and also the interest incurred for all monies owed, at $500, that she could have gotten if she had the money to invest.