Ontario: Court of Appeal on the limitation of anticipatory breach claims

The Court of Appeal decision in Glen Schnarr & Associates Inc. v. Vector (Georgetown) Limited summarises the principles of the limitation of claims arising from the anticipatory repudiation of a contract:

[29]      Anticipatory repudiation occurs when a contracting party, “by express language or conduct, or as a matter of implication from what he has said or done, repudiates his contractual obligations before they fall due”: G.H.L. Fridman, The Law of Contract in Canada, 6th ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2011), at p. 585. The parties concede that LDGL by its correspondence of October 2004 did just that.

 [30]      However, an anticipatory repudiation of a contract does not, in itself, terminate or discharge a contract; it depends on the election made by the non-repudiating party: Guarantee Co. of North America v. Gordon Capital Corp.1999 CanLII 664 (SCC)[1999] 3 S.C.R. 423, at p. 440Brown v. Belleville (City)2013 ONCA 148114 O.R. (3d) 561, at para. 42. As Cronk J.A. stated in the latter decision at para. 45:
 It appears to be settled law in Canada that where the innocent party to a repudiatory breach or an anticipatory repudiation wishes to be discharged from the contract, the election to disaffirm the contract must be clearly and unequivocally communicated to the repudiating party within a reasonable time. Communication of the election to disaffirm or terminate the contract may be accomplished directly, by either oral or written words, or may be inferred from the conduct of the innocent party in the particular circumstances of the case: McCamus, at pp. 659-61. [Emphasis added.]

[31]      In Chitty on Contracts, 28th ed. (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1999), Vol. 1, at p. 25-012, the authors write:

 Acceptance of a repudiation must be clear and unequivocal and mere inactivity or acquiescence will generally not be regarded as acceptance for this purpose. But there may be circumstances in which a continuing failure to perform will be sufficiently unequivocal to constitute acceptance of a repudiation. It all depends on the “particular contractual relationship and the particular circumstances of the case.”

[32]      This commentary was accepted by this court in Brown v. Belleville, at para. 48, and by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal in White v. E.B.F. Manufacturing Ltd.2005 NSCA 167239 N.S.R. (2d) 270, at para. 91.

 [33]      The limitation period then depends on the election that is made in response to an anticipatory repudiation: Ali v. O-Two Medical Technologies Inc.2013 ONCA 733118 O.R. (3d) 321, at para. 22-27Hurst v. Hancock2019 ONCA 483, at para. 19.