Alberta: adding claims to a proceeding

This post marks the return of non-Ontario jurisprudence to Under the Limit.  Our goal of reviewing appellate jurisprudence from all common law provinces proved overly ambitious for one person. So, I enlisted the assistance of my talented colleague Tyler Wentzell, and with his help we’re going to gradually return to the national scope we intended. 

Acielo v. Condominium Plan 9022497 is the first Alberta Court of Appeal decision to consider the meaning of the language, “the time provided by law for the service of process” in s. 6(4) of Alberta’s Limitations ActIt settles conflicting jurisprudence and means that the limitation period for a claim added to a proceeding is the two-year general limitation period, plus one year.  The added defendant must have “sufficient knowledge” of the claim within this three-year period.

This is the relevant portion of s. 6:

Claims added to a proceeding

6(1) Notwithstanding the expiration of the relevant limitation

period, when a claim is added to a proceeding previously

commenced, either through a new pleading or an amendment to

pleadings, the defendant is not entitled to immunity from liability

in respect of the added claim if the requirements of subsection (2),

(3) or (4) are satisfied.

[…]

(4) When the added claim adds or substitutes a defendant, or

changes the capacity in which a defendant is sued,

[…]

(b) the defendant must have received, within the limitation

period applicable to the added claim plus the time provided

by law for the service of process, sufficient knowledge of

the added claim that the defendant will not be prejudiced in

maintaining a defence to it on the merits.

The Court determined that “the time provided by law for the service of process” means the time period provided for in the rules to serve a statement of claim once issued.  Under Alberta’s Rule 26, this is one year.  This is a marked increase from other case law which had only added 20 days, the time period provided to serve a counterclaim.

Background and Chambers Decision

Ms. Acielo lived in a condo unit.  In 2009, her landlord brought an action against her in Provincial Court for unpaid rent.  Ms. Acielo’s defence and counterclaim pleaded that she had stopped paying rent because there was mold in her condo that had given her a lung condition.

In 2010, Mc. Acielo learned that her lung condition was likely permanent.  Her physician told her that she had to move out.  She provided her notice to move out.  She applied to the Provincial Court to transfer the matter to the Court of Queen’s Bench, and to add the Condo Corporation as a defendant to her counterclaim.  The Provincial Court allowed the transfer and amendment, and the Condo Corporation applied for a summary dismissal of the claim against it on the basis that it was out of time.  The chambers judge held that the limitation period for the addition of the counterclaim was the two-year general limitation period plus 20 days, the period of time for service of a counterclaim.  The chambers judge dismissed the claim against the Condo Corporation as out of time. Ms. Acielo appealed the decision.

The Appeal

The Alberta Court of Appeal discussed the discord in the case law regarding the length of time afforded under s. 6(4).  The problem principally arises from the uses of the words “process” and “pleading” in the Limitations Act.

The Court concluded that the rule permitted two possible interpretations.  The chambers judge had adopted the “narrow” interpretation: adding the amount of time required to serve the counterclaim.  The “broad” interpretation, however, would add the length of time required to serve an originating process: one year.  The Court held that a broad reading of the language was correct and more in line with public policy considerations.

The full year of additional time meant the claim against the Condo Corporation was timely.  The Court allowed the appeal.

 

Alberta: The new limitation period for contribution claims explained

Whitecourt Power Limited Partnership v. Elliott Turbomachinery Canada Inc.  is the first Court of Appeal decision to consider the recent amendments to the Limitations Act establishing a limitation period specific to claims for contribution under the Tort-feasors Act.  These are the paragraphs discussing the amendments:

[33]           By amendment assented to on December 17, 2014 the Limitations Act now provides for limitation periods specific to claims for contribution under theTort-feasors Act.

[34]           Section 3 of the Limitations Act provides:

(1.1)  If a claimant who is liable as a tort‑feasor in respect of injury does not seek a remedial order to recover contribution under section 3(1)(c) of theTort‑feasors Act against a defendant, whether as a joint tort-feasor or otherwise, within

(a)  2 years after

(i)  the later of

(A)   the date on which the claimant was served with a pleading by which a claim for the injury is brought against the claimant, and

(B)   the date on which the claimant first knew, or in the circumstances ought to have known, that the defendant was liable in respect of the injury or would have been liable in respect of the injury if the defendant had been sued within the limitation period provided by subsection (1) by the person who suffered the injury,

if the claimant has been served with a pleading described in paragraph (A), …

whichever period expires first, the defendant, on pleading this Act as a defence, is entitled to immunity from liability in respect of the claim for contribution.

(1.2)  For greater certainty, no claim for contribution against a defendant in respect of damage referred to in section 3(1)(c) of the Tort‑feasors Act is barred by the expiry of a limitation period within which the person who suffered that damage could seek a remedial order.

[35]           The applicable Hansard (Bill 8 Justice Statutes Amendment Act, 2014, December 8, 2014) states:

Bill 8 proposes amendments to … clarify … when the discovery limitations period begins for a claim for contribution under the Tort-feasors Act. So when a plaintiff brings an action, they don’t have to list all the possible defendants who may have been responsible for the injury. However, the current law allows a defendant to bring a claim against another person that they believe is also responsible for the same injury to the plaintiff. This proposed change clarifies how the limitation period runs when a defendant brings a claim against another person responsible for the same injury to the plaintiff, and these wording changes are intended to further clarify this change. These clarifications were brought forward to us by the Law Society of Alberta, and the drafters of this amendment worked closely with the Law Society to ensure that every lawyer was satisfied with the new wording of this section.

[36]           In short, subsection 1.1 creates a specific limitation period for tort-feasors’ claims against each other, when previously the common law informed that issue. Subsection 1.2 clarifies that expiry of the limitation period as between the plaintiff and the third party no longer prevents the defendant from claiming contribution from another tort-feasor under the Tort-feasors Act. It gives the defendant two years from the later of the date served and discoverability to seek indemnity from other tort-feasors. Those subsections overcome the difficulties addressed by this court in Howalta and in Arcelormittal Tubular Products Roman SA v Fluor Canada Ltd, 2013 ABCA 279 (CanLII), 556 AR 188, and state the law as it was interpreted in Dean per Slatter J (as he then was). The amendments are deemed to have come into force on March 1, 1999.

[37]           The amendment makes clear who as between plaintiff and the defendant “ought to have known” that the third party was jointly liable for the claimant’s injury in order to satisfy the discoverability requirements of the Limitations Act. For statutory contribution under the Tort-feasors Act, the answer must now be the defendant. This also accords with Dean, in which the court said that discoverability was when the defendant ought to have known that the third party had a duty to contribute because of their joint liability. If so, the plaintiff’s knowledge of the third party’s joint liability is irrelevant.

[38]           The mechanics of litigation associated with third party claims (r 3.44) or statutory claims for contribution (r 3.43) appear to dictate that the statement of claim must be extant before a claim for contribution can be filed. In other words, service of the statement of claim is always the earliest date the limitations period can begin (absent a right of contribution independent of the claimant’s suit, which does not apply on these facts).

[…]

[41]           We note that subsection 3(1.1)(a)(i) contemplates discoverability later than service of the statement of claim. “Under the presumption against tautology, ‘[e]very word in a statute is presumed to make sense and to have a specific role to play in advancing the legislative purpose’ …. To the extent that it is possible to do so, courts should avoid adopting interpretations that render any portion of a statute meaningless or redundant”: Placer Dome Canada Ltd v Ontario (Minister of Finance), [2006] 1 SCR 715 at para 45, 2006 SCC 20 (CanLII). Applying this presumption, there must be circumstances when the discoverability limitation period post-dates service of the statement of claim.

Alberta: Are there special circumstances?

In RVB Managements Ltd. V. Rocky Mountain House (Town), the Court of Appeal set out the special circumstances exception to statute-barred causes of action:

[21]           Under the analytical approach, the court presumes that amendments adding a new cause of action after the expiry of the limitation period will not be allowed, even in the absence of prejudice, unless the party seeking amendment can show special circumstances (see Graeme Mew, The Law of Limitations, 2nd ed. (Markham: Lexis Nexis, 2004) at 69). Courts have interpreted special circumstances to mean circumstances where all the facts required to support the claim had already been pled, there is no need to reopen discoveries, and most importantly, there is no possibility that the defendant would be prejudiced (Mew at 76).

[22]           In the case at bar “special circumstances” are not made out. When a trial has unfolded on the basis of evidence preferred in respect of issues set out in the pleadings, a new issue that sees the light of day for the first time in written argument post-trial, will almost inevitably operate prejudicially.  (See the general rule in Cels v. Railway Passenger Assurance Co. (1909), 11 WLR 706, at page 711-712, cited in Litemor Distributors (Edmonton) Ltd. v. Midwest Furnishings & Supplies Ltd., 2005 ABQB 520 (CanLII) at paras 19-21). It follows that if, as the appellants maintain, a functional rather than an analytical approach is warranted in this case, the trial judge did not err by dismissing the appellants’ application to amend their pleadings.

Curiously, the special circumstances exception no longer exists in Ontario, though its reformed limitation regime is similar to Alberta’s.

Alberta: Be wary of the ultimate limitation period

The Court of Appeal’s decision in W.P. v. Alberta is a reminder of the finality of Alberta’s ultimate limitation period. It runs from of date of injury even when the claimant is unaware of the injury or incapable of discovering it. It pauses only in narrow circumstances.  It’s harsh.

The appellants were formerly resident students at the Alberta School for the Deaf. They alleged physical, sexual, and emotional abuse by their teachers, staff, and other students. They alleged that the abuse occurred at varying times between the early 1960s until 1991.

When the appellants applied for certification of the action as a class proceeding, Alberta cross-applied for summary judgment. Alberta submitted that the appellants commenced their action after the expiry of the ultimate limitation period in section 3(1)(b) of the Limitations Act (which I don’t quote here because it’s very long, but the link takes you right to it). The chambers judge agreed and dismissed the action.

Section (3)(1)(b) provides that if a claimant doesn’t seek a remedial order within ten years after the claim arose, the defendant is entitled to immunity from liability in respect of the claim. Time begins to run from the date of the negligent or wrongful act.  Because time runs from a fixed date, the discoverability principle doesn’t apply:

[29]           […] the ultimate limitation period tolls without regard to when the alleged harm occurred, or when the fact of its occurrence was discovered or even discoverable. Rather, it begins to run merely upon the occurrence of the breach of the duty – in this case, upon the occurrence of the alleged abuse. This is not only the plain effect of the statutory language, but was its anticipated and intended effect: Limitations, Alberta Law Reform Institute Report No 2007 ABCA 347 (CanLII), 55, December 1989 at 70-71, 425 AR 123

The act does provide for the suspension of the ultimate limitation period in two circumstances. Section 4 of the act suspends time while the defendant fraudulently conceals the occurrence of the injury:

4(1)  The operation of the limitation period provided by section 3(1)(b) is suspended during any period of time that the defendant fraudulently conceals the fact that the injury for which a remedial order is sought has occurred.

(2)  Under this section, the claimant has the burden of proving that the operation of the limitation period provided by section 3(1)(b) was suspended

Section 5 suspends time when the claimant is a “person under disability”, which, pursuant to the definition in section 1(h) is either a represented adult as defined in the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act, a person for whom a certificate of incapacity is in effect under the Public Trustee Act, or an adult who is unable to make reasonable judgments in respect of the claim:

5(1)  The operation of the limitation periods provided by this Act is suspended during any period of time that the claimant is a person under disability.

(2)  The claimant has the burden of proving that the operation of the limitation periods provided by this Act was suspended under this section.

The appellants relied on both sections 4 and 5. They argued that the teachers and staff of the school concealed the injuries by instructing students to tell no one about the abuse and by providing inadequate education so that the students couldn’t communicate it.

The Court of Appeal laid out the three part test for establishing fraudulent concealment:

[34] […] to demonstrate fraudulent concealment, as alleged here, which suspends the running of the ultimate limitation period, the appellants must show (1) that Alberta (or its agents or servants) perpetrated some kind of fraud; (2) that the fraud concealed the fact of their injury; and (3) that the appellants each exercised reasonable diligence to discover the fraud.

The Court of Appeal found that the appellants couldn’t satisfy the test. Though the injuries caused by abuse of children often manifest slowly and imperceptibility so that “only the passage of time and maturity allows the victim to realize the magnitude of the harms suffered, and their cause”, this has no bearing on whether the injuries have been concealed.   The appellants had no evidence that they were laboring under a misapprehension of the fact of having suffered an injury:

[36] […] While they might not have known until later that they could sue, that is not the same thing as having the fact of the wrongful conduct and its effects deliberately concealed from them. Nor does being told at the time not to discuss the abuse support an allegation of fraudulent concealment of the fact of the injury. While the evidence here strongly suggests that each of the appellants were aware of the wrongfulness of the alleged acts well before the expiry of the ultimate limitation period, we need not decide that here. It suffices to conclude that the issue of fraudulent concealment is insufficiently meritorious to require a trial.

The Court of Appeal also rejected the appellants’ reliance on section 5:

The appellants do not say that they were represented adults under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act or persons subject to a certificate of incapacity under the Public Trustee Act. And, while each of them has encountered difficulties in life, they do not show how such difficulties rendered them unable to make reasonable judgments in respect of their claims. Even the facts alleged by EP with respect to her time spent in psychiatric hospital care, which might form part of an account of a disability which suspends the operation of the ultimate limitation period, is on its own insufficient to show that the issue has merit. We are not told, for example, what that care entailed, when she was in that care, or for how long.

The Court of Appeal concluded its analysis with a warning about the high bar for invoking sections 4 or 5:

It is difficult – and [the Legislature] intended that it be difficult – for plaintiffs to persuade a court that the ultimate limitation period should not run for a period of time. It will be a rare case where deliberate concealment of the fact of an injury, or a condition which disables a claimant from making reasonable judgments, can be established within the meaning of sections 4 and 5 of the Act.

I also note the Court of Appeal’s warning that a class proceeding has no special status that allows it to survive where it would otherwise be statute-barred:

[21]           Simply put, a class proceeding is just one procedural mode of advancing a claim. The mere fact that a claim is advanced by way of a class proceeding does not endow it with special status allowing it to survive where the same claim would otherwise be doomed. More particularly, it remains subject to all the tools furnished by Part 7 of the Rules of Court for resolving claims without a full trial, including summary judgment […].

 

[22]           The foregoing applies with equal force where the summary judgment application is based upon the expiry of a limitation period relative to the claim of a proposed representative plaintiff. Where a proposed representative plaintiff’s claim is shown to be time-barred, there is no good reason for permitting the issue of certification to continue consuming judicial and litigants’ resources. Indeed, there is good reason for not doing so, since the representative plaintiff must be a member of the class. Allowing a representative plaintiff’s clearly time-barred claim to proceed further would defy the Legislature’s intent that the class proceeding be brought only by someone with a personal stake in the outcome [internal citations omitted].

Alberta: Trustees of a person under disability can delay commencing an action indefinitely (or at least for decades)

Section 5 of the Limitations Act suspends the operation of limitation periods during the time that a claimant is a “person under disability”. In Knibb v. The Carstairs Battle Cats, the Court of Appeal confirmed that “person under disability” includes a claimant for whom an order of trusteeship has granted a trustee power to commence and settle litigation. Such a trustee can, in theory, rely on section 5 to delay commencing an action indefinitely.

The case involved a motor vehicle accident in June 2004 (and not, as one might have hoped, battle cats). The defendant struck Knibb while driving and seriously injured him. The injuries left Knibb cognitively and physically disabled.

Knibb’s mother was appointed his guardian and trustee. She filed a Statement of Claim on Knibb’s behalf in May 2006 naming as defendants the driver and owner of the motor vehicle. In June 2008, the defendants filed a Third Party Notice alleging certain third parties contributed to Knibb’s injuries by over-serving him beer. The third parties applied for a summary trial to have the Third Party Notice dismissed on the basis that it was barred by the Limitations Act.

At trial, the parties agreed that Knibb was a “dependent adult” under the Dependant Adults Act and a “represented adult” under the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act, and, accordingly, a “person under disability” as defined by section 1(h) of the Limitations Act:

“person under disability” means

(i)    a represented adult as defined in the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act or a person in respect of whom a certificate of incapacity is in effect under the Public Trustee Act, or

(ii)    an adult who is unable to make reasonable judgments in respect of matters relating to a claim;

Section 5 of the Limitations Act provides as follows:

5(1)      The operation of the limitation periods provided by this Act is suspended during any period of time that the claimant is a person under disability.

(2)        The claimant has the burden of proving that the operation of the limitation periods provided by this Act was suspended under this section.

The third parties argued that the “claimant” in section 5 was Knibb’s mother and not Knibb himself. The trial judge rejected this argument.

On appeal, the appellants submitted that because the Limitations Act defines “claimant” as “the person who seeks the remedial order”, Knibb’s mother was the claimant because only she had authority and capacity to seek the remedial order. Knibb’s mother wasn’t disabled and so section 5 didn’t apply.

The appellants argued further that if section 5 does operate to suspend the limitation period during the time that a person under disability has a guardian, the guardian would be able to bring an action decades after the injury. The appellants characterised this as an “absurd” result contrary to the Limitations Act’s purpose of preventing belated actions.

The respondents submitted that Knibb, as the injured party, was the “claimant” as a matter of common sense and section 5 did apply. Moreover, if a guardian is the “claimant” under section 5, there is no situation in which the section would suspend the limitation period applicable to the claim of a person under disability. This is because it is the appointment of the guardian that defines the adult as “disabled” under section 1(h) (that is, to envoke section 5, the claimant must be a person under disability, and to be a person under disaility the claimant must have a guardian, and if a claimant has a guardian, by the appellants’ reasoning she is not a claimant under section 5).

The respondents also noted that the Limitations Act in other sections distinguishes between people who are and are not represented by guardians, such as in the case of a minor. If the Legislature had intended that guardians be included in the definition of “claimant”, it could have said so expressly.

The Court of Appeal accepted the respondents’ position:

We see no basis in the Limitation Act to hold that the “claimant” is anyone other than Knibb. This interpretation can arguably lead to undesirable consequences in that the commencement of an action could be delayed for years or perhaps decades. That said, given the express wording of the current Limitations Act and the complete absence of any provision analogous to section 59 of the former Limitations of Actions Act [which dealt with the situation where a trustee had been appointed for a person under disability, as discussed below], this interpretation is not “manifestly absurd, or extremely harsh, unjust, or capricious”.

The implication of this decision is that there is effectively no limitation period for claims arising from injuries suffered by persons under disability.

It’s also worth noting the Court of Appeal’s discussion of section 59 of the former Limitations of Actions of Act, the predecessor of section 5 of the Limitations Act. Section 59 provided as follows:

(1)  When a person entitled to bring an action to which this Part applies is under disability at the time the cause of action arises, he may commence the action at any time within 2 years from the date he ceases to be under disability.

(2)        Subsection (1) does not apply

(a) if the person under disability is a minor in the actual custody of a parent or guardian, or

(b) if the person under disability is a person in respect of whom

(i)   a committee is appointed under The Mentally Incapacitated Persons Act, or

(ii)   a guardianship order under the Dependent Adults Act is in effect and the guardianship order

(A)    appoints a plenary guardian
in respect of the person under disability, or

(B)      appoints a partial guardian who has capacity to commence an action.

The Alberta Law Reform Institute expressly rejected bringing section 59 forward into the new legislation:

We are familiar with too many cases in which a parent, a committee, or a guardian, as the case may be, has permitted a limitation period to expire without bringing a claim, to the serious prejudice of a person under disability. Hence we will not recommend that any provisions analogous to subsection (2) be included in the new Alberta Act.

The trial judge in Knibb took note of the incentive guardians have to commence actions promptly:

If a guardian did not bring an action in a reasonable time then they may suffer the consequences of being removed as guardian for instance. In any event, delay harms both parties – faded memories are not very helpful to the plaintiff who has the onus of proof.

This observation is rather at odds with the Alberta Law Reform Institute’s position.  It’s an unusual guardian that’s inexperienced enough to  allow a limitation period to expire, but has the sophistication to appreciate the impact of delay in litigation.  Regardless, one can’t fault the Court for looking to find some limit on what is otherwise a guardian’s absolute discretion to commence an action on behalf of a person under disability whenever she chooses.

Section 5 is in contrast to capacity provisions like section 7 of Ontario’s Limitations Act, 2002, which has a similar effect to the old section 59.  In Ontario, once the a litigation guardian is appointed, time begins to run for the person under disability’s claim.  This is an approach that is, on its face, more consistent with the basic purposes of limitations legislation–“certainty, evidentiary and diligence” (see the Supreme Court deceision in M.(K.) v. M.(H.) at para. 30).

Alberta: Limitations Act applies to Appointments to Tax (plus a short limitations history lesson from the Court of Appeal)

The Court of Appeal has held that a claim brought in 2009 to review legal accounts from the late 1980s is barred by the expiry of the limitation period.

That’s not surprising.

What is noteworthy about the decision in Samson Cree Nation v. O’Reilly & Associes is the Court of Appeal’s confirmation that an Appointment to Tax is within the section 1(a) definition of “claim”. Taxing a legal account is subject to the Limitations Act.

The decision is also helpful for its succinct discussion of the history and intent of the Limitations Act:

[164]      For about four centuries, times to sue were a patchwork quilt. There were well over a dozen different time limits, found in a very large number of pieces of legislation. Which period applied usually depended upon the nature of the legal claim asserted, and so there was much litigation merely to characterize legally various suits, as that could dramatically affect the limitation period applicable.

[165]      The Alberta Law Reform Institute studied the topic thoroughly, and recommended dramatic reductions in the number of pieces of legislation, dramatic reductions in the number of limitation periods, adopting a general limitation period only two years long, removing the legal analysis of the type of claim, and giving limitation periods substantive effect, not merely procedural effect. Then the Alberta government studied the matter further for some years. Ultimately the Legislature repealed most of the old legislation and enacted the Limitations Act instead. It fully incorporated the Institute’s big recommendations just listed.

[166]      The scope of the Limitations Act is broad: generally it bars and extinguishes claims brought too late. It applies to more than claims brought by statement of claim: it covers all requests for a “remedial order”.

[167]      A number of times the Alberta Court of Appeal has recognized the policy and scope of the Act, and interpreted it broadly. So has the Supreme Court of Canada. They have held that the Act covers court proceedings beyond mere suits by statement of claim. In particular, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta held that the Limitations Act covers all causes of action by its wide wording: see Yugraneft Corporation v Rexx Management Corporation, 2010 SCC 19 (CanLII), 2010 SCC 19, [2010] 1 SCR 649, 401 NR 341, 482 AR 1 (paras 36-41); Sharma v 643454 Alberta, 2006 ABQB 119 (CanLII), 2006 ABQB 119, 392 AR 353 (para 34).