Ontario: whose knowledge binds a corporation?

Whose knowledge binds a corporation for the purpose of a s. 5 discovery analysis?

The Superior Court decision in 1511419 Ontario Inc. v. KPMG considers this issue:

[91]           The Defendants dispute that the Minutes of the Board are in fact the “best evidence” of what the Board knew in or around the time of the January 2012 Transaction.

[92]           They submit that a full meeting of the Board is not required for a corporation to acquire knowledge that it would otherwise obtain through its directing minds such as officers or directors: DBDC Spadina Ltd. v. Walton2018 ONCA 60 (CanLII)419 D.L.R. (4th) 409, at paras. 59-60, leave to appeal to S.C.C. allowed, 2018 CarswellOnt 19181Canadian Dredge and Dock Company Limited v. R.1985 CanLII 32 (SCC)[1985] 1 S.C.R. 662, at pp. 679-685, 707-709, 713-714, and 717-718.

[93]           They further go on to submit that it is also not clear what was recorded in the Board or Audit Committee Minutes, and overall the Minutes are not reliable.

[94]           Cash Store responds by submitting that, as a matter of law, the directing mind of a public corporation is its board of directors, acting as a collective: Stern v. Imasco Ltd. (1999), 1999 CanLII 14934 (ON SC)1 B.L.R. (3d) 198 (Ont. S.C.), at paras. 98-113.

[95]           I do not propose to determine this dispute on this motion. I am prepared to accept that the Board Minutes are, at the very least, some evidence of what Cash Store knew at the relevant time periods.

Surprisingly, this significant limitations question remains to my knowledge unanswered.  It seems to me that the answer will be, as it usually is in the context of discovery arguments, “it depends on the facts”.

However, I am also mindful of the policy implications of the issue.  It’s problematic to deem the knowledge of directing minds to be the knowledge of a corporation for discovery purposes.  If an employee discovers a claim, and that discovery does not bind the corporation, the employee could determine when the limitation period commences by determining when to disclose her knowledge of the discovery matters to a directing mind.  This risks encouraging corporations to sit on their rights until they consider it most advantageous to exercise them. A directing mind of a corporation might advise an employee to refrain from disclosing any fraud allegations until confident in the success of a claim arising from them. This would be antithetical to the basic purpose of the limitations scheme to encourage the diligent and timely prosecution of claims.

Lastly, the decision is a warning against asking the court to decide a too-complicated limitations defence on summary judgment:

[113]      I cannot determine this matter in a fair and just manner by way of summary judgment. A review of the aforementioned affidavits and voluminous yet limited record do not provide the adequate context to determine the limitation period dispute. Particularly, I have no meaningful understanding as to the interaction between the parties in and around the time of the January 2012 Transaction that would assist me in determining the limitation issue. I also have no meaningful understanding of the assistance, or lack thereof, the Defendants rendered to Cash Store before, during, or after the January 2012 Transaction closed. The actions involve a complicated factual matrix involving professional negligence and a significant damages claim. In my view, the usual rule enunciated by Nordheimer J.A. in Mason should be followed. A full evidentiary record including viva voce evidence of the parties is required to achieve a fair and just result.