Ontario: simple contracts haven’t been material to the limitations scheme for…nearly 15 years

It’s time for some limitations pedantry!

In Corona Steel Industry Private Ltd. V. Integrity Worldwide Inc., the court held that “an action for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment is treated as an action upon a simple contract for purposes of determining the limitation period.”

This was so until 2004 when the current Limitations Act came into force. The Limitations Act does not distinguish between categories of contracts, or causes of action.  The Limitations Act asks when the plaintiff discovered a “claim” (as defined by s. 1).  The Court of Appeal made the point explicit in addressed the issue squarely in Independence Plaza.

I think perhaps counsel had relied on a previous version of the Law of Limitations, or some obsolete jurisprudence.

Ontario: rectification is a “claim”

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Alguire v. The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company is noteworthy for the following points:

It affirms that a request for rectification is a “claim” within the meaning of the Limitations Act:

[26]      In my view, Manulife’s request for rectification is a claim. It is more than just a denial of Mr. Alguire’s claim; it is an independent claim. Even if Mr. Alguire had not brought this proceeding, Manulife would have been entitled to bring an application seeking rectification of the Policy. Consequently, Manulife’s request goes beyond a mere defence and qualifies as a claim for rectification, which is equitable relief: Fairmont, at para.12. The Limitations Act applies to equitable claims: McConnell v. Huxtable2014 ONCA 86 (CanLII)118 O.R. (3d) 561, at paras. 48-49.

This may be the correct result, but the court didn’t arrive at it by asking the correct question (at least not explicitly).  Section 1 of the Limitations Act defines “claim”: a claim to remedy damage resulting from wrongful conduct.  Accordingly, whether there is a claim is a matter of whether there is wrongful conduct and resulting damage.  It does not necessarily follow from a party seeking an order or declaration that there is a claim.  There are circumstances where a party asks the court to do something—for example to order the passing of accounts—without there having been wrongful conduct.

There’s another instance of confusion about the nature of the “claim”:

[34]      […] A claim, however, requires an act or omission of the person against whom it is made: Limitations Act, s. 5(1)(a)(iii). In this case, it is Mr. Alguire’s resiling from the parties’ intended agreement that grounds the rectification claim. Even though Manulife discovered the error in the paid-up values in the Policy in 2007, it did not know, and could not reasonably ought to have known, that Mr. Alguire would seek to resile from the parties’ intended agreement at some point in the future. Manulife therefore cannot be faulted for failing to act with due diligence.

It’s because of the s. 1 definition of “claim” that it requires wrongful conduct, not because s. 5(1)(iii) makes knowledge of the wrongful conduct the precondition of discovering a claim.

The Court follows Albertan authorities for the principle that s. 16(1)(a) should be narrowly construed:

[27]      The next issue is whether Manulife can rely on s. 16(1)(a) of the Limitations Act, which provides that there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding for a declaration if no consequential relief is sought.”

[28]      In the context of a limitation period analysis, declaratory relief should be narrowly construed so as to ensure that s. 16(1)(a) is not used as a means to circumvent applicable limitation periods: Joarcam, LLC v. Plains Midstream Canada ULC,2013 ABCA 118 (CanLII)90 Alta. L.R. (5th) 208, at para. 7.

[29]       I conclude that this subsection is unavailable to Manulife in the circumstances of this case, as it is seeking consequential relief.  The remedy of rectification sought in this case has significant consequences for the parties and goes beyond clarifying the nature of a particular obligation. Mr. Alguire stands to receive significantly less money as a result of the rectification compared to what he argued he was entitled to on the Policy’s face.

The Court held that policy considerations cannot drive the results:

[33]      Finally, Mr. Alguire raises policy considerations in support of his submission that the claim for rectification is statute-barred.  Those considerations cannot, in the circumstances of this case, drive the result.  The Limitations Act was designed to promote certainty in the analysis of when claims are statute-barred.  The task of a reviewing court is to determine the applicable limitation period having regard to the legislation. A limitation period analysis is not a laches analysis where the court’s investigation is driven by the equities of the situation.

This prompts the obvious question: are there circumstances where policy considerations could inform a limitations analysis? I wouldn’t think so, and it seems like the real policy concern is avoiding the introduction of a new factor in the limitations analysis.  It’s easy to see how litigants might seize on this obiter as standing for the principle that there are circumstances where, in addition to the matters in s. 5(1), a court must consider the impact of policy on the commencement of time.




Ontario: the Court of Appeal on the limitation of unpaid invoice claims

In Collins Barrow Toronto LLP v. August Industries Inc., the Court of Appeal has held that the limitation period for a claim arising from an unpaid invoice does not run until a reasonable period of time has expired for payment of the invoice:

[5]         The other two invoices in dispute are dated April 9, 2014 and April 11, 2014.  The application judge pointed out that the engagement letters expressly provided that invoices only became delinquent once 45 days had expired from their delivery.  The application judge concluded that the limitation period for these two invoices did not commence until 45 days after they were delivered.  We agree with her conclusion in that regard.  It is consistent with the express wording of the engagement letters and also with existing case law that provides that the limitation period on an invoice does not begin to run until a reasonable period of time has expired for payment of the invoice:  see, for example, G.J. White Construction Ltd. v. Palermo[1999] O.J. No. 5563 (S.C.J.).

The decision cited by the Court was decided under the former Limitations Act, in which the accrual of the cause of action determined the commencement of time.  In contrast, time commences under the Limitations Act on discovery of the claim.  It would have been more helpful had the Court explained what impact the passage of a reasonable amount of time has on the plaintiff’s discovery of the claim, and framed the analysis in the language of Limitations Act.  In the absence of such a s. 5 analysis, I assume the principle is that a plaintiff cannot really know that she has suffered a loss until a period of time expires after payment became due.


Ontario: damage occurs when there is a change in position


In Sirois v. Weston, the Court of Appeal cites its decision in Hamilton for the principle that damage occurs when the plaintiff suffers a change in a position, not when the change of position monetises into a specific amount:

[11]      … the plaintiff suffers damage sufficient to complete the cause of action when he enters into the transaction, not when the loss is monetized into a specific amount.

This is an essential principle in any limitations analyses.  The Limitations Act applies to “claims” (as defined by s. 1) pursued in court proceedings, and damage is an element of a “claim”.

What is not an essential principle in any Limitations Act analysis is the accrual of the cause of action.  Cause of action accrual determined the commencement of time under the former act.  If you look it up, you’ll see that limitation periods commenced when the cause of action arose.  Now look at the Limitations Act, and you’ll see that the words “cause of action” do not appear at all.  This is because MAG recommended removing the cause of action as determinative of the commencement of time in 1991 because three centuries or so of cause of action accrual had demonstrated that it was a pretty lousy animating principle of a limitations scheme.

Ontario: interaction of the Insurance Act and Limitations Act

Justice Akhtar’s decision in Sorita v. TTC provides a helpful summary of the interaction between the Limitations Act and the statutory threshold in s. 267.5 of the Insurance Act:

[26]      As noted earlier, Ontario’s restriction on motor vehicle accident claims is contained in s. 267.5 of the Insurance Act, which provides:

(5) Despite any other Act and subject to subsection (6), the owner of an automobile, the occupants of an automobile and any person present at the incident are not liable in an action in Ontario for damages for non-pecuniary loss, including damages for non-pecuniary loss under clause 61(2)(e) of the Family Law Act, from bodily injury or death arising directly or indirectly from the use or operation of the automobile, unless as a result of the use or operation of the automobile the injured person has died or has sustained,

(a) permanent serious disfigurement; or

(b) permanent serious impairment of an important physical, mental or psychological function.

 [27]      Ontario’s no-fault insurance scheme means that, in the Insurance Act context, the limitation clock begins to run when the plaintiff becomes aware that their injuries constitute “permanent serious impairment”. To otherwise commence an action is futile, as no evidence would have been available of a qualifying injury: Peixeiro v. Haberman, 1997 CanLII 325 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, at para. 32. Additionally, the plaintiff in a motor vehicle claim is not required to commence an action before they know that they have a “substantial chance” of success: Everding v. Skrijel, 2010 ONCA 437 (CanLII), 100 O.R. (3d) 641, at para. 11. The inquiry to be undertaken is “whether the prospective plaintiff knows enough facts on which to base an allegation of negligence against the defendant”: Lawless v. Anderson, 2011 ONCA 102 (CanLII), at para. 23.

Readers of Under The Limit will know not to rely on Lawless v. Anderson when considering the commencement of the limitation period.  Contrary to the above, the inquiry is not when the claimant knows enough facts on which to base an allegation of negligence, but when the claimant ought to have knowledge of the section 5 discovery criteria, including that a proceeding is an appropriate remedy.  It always bears repeating: the words “cause of action” do not appear in the Limitations Act.