Nova Scotia Man’s Struggle to Collect $20K Judgment Highlights Challenges in Small Claims Court

Peter Dobson has been trying for over seven years to collect on more than $20,000 he was awarded as a judgment in small claims court. (Pat Callaghan/CBC)

In a case that highlights the challenges of enforcing small claims court judgments in Canada, Peter Dobson’s ongoing battle to recover nearly $20,000 from a contractor offers a sobering view into the legal system’s limitations.

Dobson, a resident of Lake Echo, N.S., won a small claims court judgment in 2016 against contractor Nelson Grosse, also known as Larry Nelson Grosse, and his company, Grosse Contracting. The court ordered Grosse to pay nearly $21,000 for unfinished work on a second-storey addition to Dobson’s home, a project initially valued at $117,500.

Despite the court ruling, Dobson, seven years later, has yet to receive any payment. His story, detailed by CBC’s “Go Public,” underscores the difficulty plaintiffs face in collecting money even after a legal victory.

“I do not have any faith whatsoever that we’ll be able to collect money,” Dobson expressed to Go Public, pointing to the ineffectiveness of the small claims court in such situations.

According to court documents and provincial registry records, at least eight other individuals and companies have successfully sued Grosse but haven’t been paid either. The cumulative owed amounts, including Dobson’s, exceed several hundred thousand dollars.

The challenges Dobson faced were multifaceted. After winning the case, he discovered that Grosse had operated under various company names over two decades, complicating asset tracking. Efforts to place a lien against a residential property associated with Grosse also failed when it was found that the contractor’s name had been removed from the land title.

A Nova Scotia man was awarded more than $20,000 in small claims court when he sued his former contractor in 2016. More than seven years later, he says he hasn’t seen a dime.

An attempt to intercept an insurance settlement following a garage fire also hit a dead end when Grosse ignored a subpoena to disclose his financial assets. Dobson refrained from pursuing a contempt of court order, which could have led to jail time or fines for Grosse, due to the high legal costs involved.

James Legh, a B.C. lawyer specializing in civil law, likened winning a small claims lawsuit to climbing a mountain, where getting the judgment is only halfway. He highlighted that unlike family court, small claims court does not offer enforcement support, leaving plaintiffs to fend for themselves.

Nova Scotia’s Department of Justice has no immediate plans to establish an enforcement branch for small claims court, leaving claimants like Dobson with limited recourse.

In response to similar struggles, British Columbia recently passed the Money Judgment Enforcement Act, aiming to simplify the process for plaintiffs to collect judgments. However, such measures are yet to be seen in Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, Tanya Walker, a civil litigation lawyer, suggests that potential plaintiffs assess the likelihood of payment before suing, considering the defendant’s assets and financial status.

Dobson, though disheartened by his ordeal, has not given up on seeking justice. He, along with another victim of Grosse’s practices, has taken to platforms like Kijiji and Trusted Pros, a website that reviews tradespeople and companies, to warn others and compile complaints that may lead to fraud charges against Grosse.