Ontario: an appropriateness analysis in a professional negligence claim

Update: the Court of Appeal upheld the decision.  The relevant paragraphs are 27-28.

Nelson v. Lavoie is a recent example of a s. 5(1)(a)(iv) appropriateness analysis in a claim against a financial planner.  The plaintiff alleged that the defendant planner gave negligent advice regarding an Individual Pension Plan, which the CRA found did not meet the qualifications for registration.

The defendant argued that the plaintiff discovered her claim by the time she had seriously considered suing the defendant:

[22]           On those facts, Ms. Nelson knew or ought to have known by August 2009 that she had a cause of action against the defendants. By then, she was aware that the monthly benefits were not what the defendants suggested. Further, her bookkeeper, two other accountants and one financial advisor informed her that the viability of the IPP was questionable. She had consulted with counsel. Her counsel had obtained an expert’s report that opined: “the IPP created for Ms. Nelson does not appear to meet the requirements for registration and is very likely to have its registration revoked by CRA.”

[23]           Ms. Nelson admitted during discoveries that they seriously considered a lawsuit by August 23, 2009. She stated, “I’m not sure if it was already in the work, but we knew, yeah, we were going to have to, yeah.” Yet, she waited until June 20, 2012, to institute an action claiming some $3,000,000 in damages sustained because of negligent financial advice and misrepresentation.

The plaintiff didn’t dispute these facts, but argued that a proceeding wouldn’t be an appropriate remedy until the CRA’s final determination regarding the pension plan:

[28]           Although she may have had suspicions on the validity of her IPP, she submits her claim did not materialize until the CRA deregistered her plan by notice dated September 28, 2011. Since the Statement of Claim was issued on June 20, 2012, it is well within the time prescribed by the Limitations Act, 2002. She submits it was not until that time that the essential elements of s. 5 of the Limitations Act, 2002, were met. At that point, she was aware that she would have to indemnify the CRA for back taxes, interest and any associated penalties.

After reviewing the s. 5(1)(a)(iv) jurisprudence, the court rejected the defendant’s argument:

[54]           When applying these principles to this factual situation, it is clear that Ms. Nelson had some suspicions by the August of 2009 regarding the conformity of the IPP. The advice that she received from the accountants and financial planners she consulted was concerning. The defendants submit that these facts satisfy the test at s. 5(1)(a) of the Act. However, I am unable to accept this argument because it fails to satisfy the requirement of s. 5(1)(a)(i) and s. 5(1)(a)(iv).

[55]           Firstly, the defendants’ reassurance prevented the plaintiff from discovering that loss or damage has occurred. The defendants, her financial advisors, insisted that the plan was not only acceptable to the CRA but it would be beneficial to her in the long-term. On at least two subsequent occasions, the defendants reassured her that the IPP complied with the Income Tax Act. This repeated advice casted doubts over the inadequacy of the IPP. In this light, Ms. Nelson could not conclude if damage had occurred.

[56]           Secondly, I cannot accept the defendants’ position concerning the right time for the institution of appropriate proceedings. It would not have been appropriate for Ms. Nelson to institute an action without a final determination from the CRA. Her counsel started a review process by notifying the CRA that something may be amiss. The CRA did not make a final decision until September 2011. Until then, the IPP’s compliance with the regulation remained uncertain. Ms. Nelson could not know that the advice she received from the defendants was in fact wrong. On September 28, 2011, the CRA made the decision to deregister the plan. Her suspicions and doubts about the plan crystallized with that notice. There was no doubt, at that point, that she would be responsible for tax arrears and additional penalties. It is only at that time that it was appropriate to institute an action. Had Ms. Nelson instituted an action in the fall of 2009, she would have very likely faced a summary judgment application dismissing her claim.

This seems to very good limitations analysis, and worth reviewing when considering the limitation of professional negligence claims.