by Mark Mason, MCR Partner and Justin Anisman
Tucked away in the middle of the Rules of the Small Claims Court is a relatively unknown and underused provision which allows a settlement conference judge to dispose of small value claims at the conclusion of the settlement conference.
Rule 13.05(4) states:
A judge may order final judgment at a settlement conference where the matter in dispute is for an amount under the appealable limit and a party files a consent (Form 13B) signed by all parties before the settlement conference indicating that they wish to obtain final determination of the matter at the settlement conference if a mediated settlement is not reached.
So long as the quantum of the claim is for an amount under the appealable limit of $2,500, and all the parties consent, the settlement conference judge can summarily dispose of the action. In other words, the settlement conference judge is given all of the powers of a trial judge, ranging from awarding monetary damages to the plaintiff or dismissing the action outright. In essence, the Rule allows the parties to turn what would otherwise be an attempt at mediation into a final and binding court decision without the necessity of engaging in the formal trial process.
Obtaining consent of all parties may be the most significant road block to proceeding under Rule 13.05(4). Self-represented or difficult parties may be unwilling to agree to a process they do not understand, they may want to delay or increase costs by proceeding to trial, or they may simply want their day in court. If an opposing party acts unreasonably in refusing to consent to the summary process, this could form the basis for a future argument for costs.
A final determination of a claim at the settlement conference will not only eliminate the need for further attendances by all parties but will substantially reduce the costs of proceeding with low value claims.
If you have any questions about the article, please do not hesitate to contact Mark Mason at Mason Caplan Roti LLP.