A court is simply a place where justice is administered. As described below, Ontario has different courts that hear civil matters. Civil law is the law of civil or private rights, as distinct from criminal law. A civil case is a lawsuit that usually deals with contracts, property or torts. Torts, broadly speaking, are wrongful (negligent) acts that result in damage or injury. As with all courts, Ontario’s various courts have jurisdictional limits on what kinds of cases they can hear.
Small Claims Court
The Small Claims Court (OSCC) is a branch of the Superior Court of Justice and the lowest court in Ontario’s civil court system. This court’s monetary jurisdiction is an important consideration. The Small Claims Court hears civil actions involving claims up to $25,000 (note than any reference anywhere to a lower monetary limit is at least a few years out-of-date).
In other words, you can only sue for money or the return of personal property valued at $25,000.00 (Cdn.) or less (not including interest and costs). If the amount of your claim is more than the current limit, you may still choose to use Small Claims Court because it is simpler and less expensive. But you will have to give up trying to recover the excess amount over the Small Claims Court limit, even in another court.
You cannot divide the amount of money you are claiming to try to recover it in separate cases. You cannot, for example, divide a $40,000 claim into a $25,000 claim and a $15,000 claim to be dealt with in a second case. If you believe you are owed an amount higher than the Small Claims Court limit and you want to try to recover all of it, you will have to take your case to a higher level in the Superior Court of Justice.
You must file your claim in the court office in the area where one of these conditions applies:
- where the problem occurred (the location of the cause of action);
- where the party against whom the claim is filed (the defendant) lives or carries on business; or
- the court’s place of sitting (courtroom) nearest to where the defendant lives or carries on business.
Superior Court of Justice
The Superior Court of Justice (SCJ) has jurisdiction over civil matters (as well as certain criminal cases). A judge, or a judge and jury hear trials in the Superior Court of Justice.
If you are proceeding with a claim for more than $25,000, you must start your claim in the Superior Court of Justice.
The Superior Court of Justice deals with almost all types of civil cases except:
- Cases where a law says that the matter must go to a special government agency or tribunal. These include labour relations, residential tenancy complaints and workers’ compensation matters.
- Cases where the Federal Court has control. These include federal tax matters, immigration matters, and patents and trademarks.
A claim above $25,000 up to $100,000 can be started in the Superior Court of Justice using the Simplified Procedure (rule 76.01(1), Rules of Civil Procedure) process.
1-The simplified procedure must be used in a civil action if:
- Your claim is only for one or more of the following:
- real property (e.g. land)
- personal property
2-The total amount is $100,000 or less, exclusive of interest and costs, including the amount of money claimed (if any) and the fair market value of any real property and personal property, as at the date the action is started.
The Simplified Procedure does not apply to:
- Class proceedings
- Construction lien actions (except trust claims)
- Case managed actions (rule 77)
- Family Law actions
- Small Claims Court actions
Divisional Court is an appellate branch of the Superior Court of Justice. It reviews the decisions of administrative tribunals (e.g., labour relations board, municipal board, energy board, securities commission, workplace insurance and appeals tribunal, and human rights tribunal).
Divisional Court also hears certain appeals from civil cases heard in the Superior Court of Justice, appeals of final orders from the Superior Court involving payment below a certain level and appeals from the Small Claims Court.
Divisional Court also hears combined appeals, appeals of interim orders and final orders of masters and case management masters.
Court of Appeal for Ontario
The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the province. It hears appeals from lower Ontario courts. Its function is to rule on “final” trial judgments, applications, and motions that have already taken place in lower courts.
The Court of Appeal sits in panels of one to five judges. Usually a panel of three judges decides each appeal. Motions are heard by one judge. Its decisions may be further appealed on a question of law to the Supreme Court of Canada, if the Supreme Court grants leave.
The Court of Appeal is located in Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto.