Ontario: s. 5(1) requires specific factual findings

Cooper v. Toronto (City) follows Morrison v. Barzo for the principle that the court must answer the questions asked by s. 5(1)(a) and (b) of the Limitations Act.  The court found that a Master’s failure to make these specific findings was a reversible error:

[17]           The first ground of appeal is that the Master erred by dismissing the Motion without making findings regarding: (1) the date on which the plaintiff first knew the requisite elements of her claim against Hydro; and (2) when “a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of [the plaintiff] first ought to have known of such claim.” Such findings are a requirement before any finding that claims against a proposed defendant are statute-barred: see Morrison v. Barzo at para. 30.

[18]           I agree that the Master erred in law in dismissing the Motion without making either of these findings.

[19]           In dismissing the Motion without making the necessary findings of fact set out above to ground her decision, the Master erred in law by failing to apply the test as set out in Morrison v. Barzo. Accordingly, the Order must be set aside.
The decision also provides a good example of why taking the position that a particular step could have resulted in earlier discovery is not determinative of when discovery ought to have occurred.  Evidence that the step would have resulted in earlier discovery is necessary:
[27]           I pause to address the question of who has the onus of demonstrating that Cooper’s cause of action was actually discovered, or was reasonably discoverable, more than two years prior to the commencement of the Motion. While it is not made express in Fennell and Morrison, in circumstances such as the present where a plaintiff demonstrates a reasonable basis for concluding that a cause of action was discovered within the applicable limitation period, as a practical matter, a proposed defendant who asserts a limitation defence must demonstrate that the plaintiff had actual knowledge, or reasonably ought to have had knowledge, on an earlier date outside the limitation period.
 [28]           If the basis of the defendant’s position in such circumstances is not that the evidence demonstrates actual knowledge at an earlier date but rather that the plaintiff failed to conduct a duly diligent investigation, Morrison v. Barzo says that the plaintiff has the onus of providing a reasonable explanation for his or her failure to conduct any further investigation. As I understand the applicable case law including Skrobacky v. Frymer, in such event, a court may grant the defendant’s motion only if it finds the plaintiff’s explanation to be unreasonable. If, however, such a determination requires a finding of a material fact or a determination regarding the plaintiff’s credibility, a motions judge should not determine the reasonableness of the explanation without a trial to determine such matters. In such circumstances, therefore, the motions judge cannot make a determination of whether the plaintiff should reasonably have discovered his or her claim outside the applicable limitation period – that is, satisfied the plaintiff’s obligation of due diligence that is implicit in s. 5(1)(b) of the Limitations Act, 2002 – and must therefore dismiss the defendant’s motion.
 [29]           In my opinion, the Court finds itself in that position in the present circumstances.
 [30]           Cooper’s explanation for her failure to investigate the ownership of the Pole is essentially that her communications with the two most obvious potential defendants – the condominium corporation and the City – did not prompt a suggestion that Hydro might be the owner of the Pole. She says, in effect, that she was entitled to rely on the communication from the condominium corporation’s insurer and her communications with the City that suggested that the City was the owner in the absence of any suggestion to the contrary from the City until December 2016. Accordingly, Cooper’s argument proceeds on the basis that she never received any information that gave rise to a need to inquire further regarding the ownership of the Pole.
 [31]           Cooper submits that this is a reasonable explanation, given the low threshold for a reasonable explanation in the case law. She relies on the decisions in Galota v. Festival Hall Developments Ltd. et al., 2015 ONSC 6177; upheld 2016 ONCA 585Madrid v. Ivanhoe Cambridge Inc., et al., 2010 ONSC 2235 and Kesian v. The City of Toronto2016 ONSC 6461 as evidence of this low threshold and as exhibiting similar circumstances in which courts have concluded that the threshold had been satisfied.
 [32]           Hydro effectively argues that Cooper’s explanation is not reasonable in view of either or both of her receipt of the Article and the City’s denial of jurisdiction in its statement of defence. In my view, however, given the evidence before the Master and this Court, neither Cooper’s mere receipt of the Article, without evidence that she actually read it, nor the City’s denial of jurisdiction in its statement of defence were sufficient to fix her with knowledge that required a further investigation for the following reasons.
 [33]           The mere existence of the Article cannot be a basis for concluding that Cooper ought reasonably to have conducted a further investigation. This would require a finding, by inference or otherwise, that she read the Article such that she was aware, at a minimum, of the subject-matter of the Article even if she did not have knowledge of the specific facts set out therein. However, the Court’s conclusion above that a trial is required to determine whether Cooper read the Article precludes such a finding by this Court.
 [34]           Accordingly, Hydro’s second submission really turns on whether Cooper’s receipt of the City’s statement of defence was sufficient to require a further investigation. I accept that a specific denial of jurisdiction could, in some circumstances, have such a result.  However, in this case, the denial was only one of at least ten alternative defences asserted by the City in its statement of defence. In addition, the denial was not accompanied by the assertion of any specific facts supporting this defence nor did it identify Hydro as the owner of the Pole. It is not reasonable to assume that a plaintiff would identify a potential issue of ownership from a bald denial of jurisdiction in such circumstances.
 [35]           I also note that Hydro has identified a number of searches that it says would have revealed its ownership of the Pole if Cooper had conducted one or more of them. I do not doubt the utility of such searches. However, the issue is not whether such searches would have revealed Hydro’s ownership of the Pole but rather whether any searches were required, that is, put in the negative, whether Cooper’s failure to undertake any of these searches was unreasonable.
 [36]           In summary, the relevant evidence before the Court is limited to the following. The Pole was located on a City sidewalk. There is no evidence of any indication on the Pole that Hydro was the owner. There is also no evidence that Cooper ever read, or understood the contents of, the Article prior to May 15, 2017, which would have alerted her to Hydro’s ownership. Lastly, for a period of more than 44 months after Cooper put the City on notice of her claim, the City did not deny ownership of the Pole in any communication with Cooper or her counsel. In these circumstances, I conclude that the determination of whether Cooper has a reasonable explanation for her failure to investigate further the ownership of the Pole will require a trial of the issue regarding whether, and if so when, Cooper or her counsel read the Article.