The Supreme Court on the application of common law discovery

In Pioneer v. Godfrey, the Supreme Court considered the application of common law discovery to statutory limitation periods.  It is now the leading case on the subject.

The Court held that the common law discovery rule applies only when a limitation period runs from the accrual of a cause of action, or “some other event that can occur only when the plaintiff has knowledge of his or her injury”.

It doesn’t apply when a statutory limitation period runs from an event unrelated to the accrual of the cause of action.  This is because legislature displaces the discovery rule when linking the limitation period to an event unrelated to the plaintiff’s cause of action.

In determining whether a limitation period runs from the accrual of a cause of action, substance prevails.  Even where a statute doesn’t explicitly state that a limitation period runs from accrual, the discovery rule applies if the limitation period in substance commences on accrual of.

Thus s. 36(4) of the Competition Act, which the appeal concerned, is subject to discoverability:

[44]                          The text of s. 36(4)(a)(i) provides that no action may be brought under s. 36(1)(a) after two years from a day on which conduct contrary to Part VI occurred. From this, it is clear that the event triggering this particular limitation period is an element of the underlying cause of action. That is, the limitation period in s. 36(4)(a)(i) is triggered by the occurrence of an element of the underlying cause of action — specifically, conduct contrary to Part VI of the Competition Act. Therefore, it is subject to discoverability (Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology v. AU Optronics Corp.2016 ONCA 621 (CanLII), 132 O.R. (3d) 81, at para. 18).

Justice Côté dissented.  When a limitation period commences on the occurrence of an element of a cause of action rather than the cause of action’s accrual, it does not necessarily follow that the discovery rule applies.  This is because the occurrence of the an element may not depend on the plaintiff’s knowledge:

[151]                     Conversely, “the occurrence of an element of the underlying cause of action” (Brown J.’s reasons, at para. 44) will not always fit within either category outlined above at para. 149. It may be that the occurrence of such an event does in fact depend on the state of the plaintiff’s knowledge, but unlike the accrual of a cause of action, this does not invariably follow as a matter of logical necessity. In Peixeiro, for example, this Court held that the point at which damages are sustained — a constituent element of (among other things) the tort of negligence — depends on when the plaintiff actually has knowledge of his or her injury. Knowledge will not form part of every element of the cause of action in negligence, however. A breach of a standard of care, for example, may occur years or even decades before the plaintiff first learns about it. Although such a breach is a prerequisite to a successful claim in negligence, it is also something that takes place without any regard to the plaintiff’s state of mind.

[153]                     With this in mind, I am respectfully of the view that my colleague’s approach is undermined by the well-settled principle that the discoverability rule is fundamentally a rule of statutory interpretation. The fact that a limitation period begins running upon the occurrence of anelement (and not upon the accrual or arising) of the plaintiff’s cause of action is not, on its own, indicative of any legislative intent regarding the applicability of the discoverability rule. As I have already indicated, my colleague’s conclusion is the same as the one reached by the Court of Appeal in this case and by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Fanshawe: in such circumstances, according to him, discoverability applies automatically. This, however, creates an arbitrary distinction between triggering events that are related to the cause of action and those that are not, despite the fact that both may occur independently of the plaintiff’s state of mind. How can it fairly be said that the legislature intended the discoverability rule to apply to one and not the other? Although knowledge is necessary for a cause of action to fully accrue to the plaintiff, it does not follow that an element of the cause of action also occurs only when the plaintiff has knowledge thereof.

[154]                     A preferable approach is instead one that considers each statutory limitation clause on its own terms, recognizing that a triggering event that relates to a cause of action can, but need not, be dependent upon the plaintiff’s state of mind. This approach is faithful to this Court’s jurisprudence, and respectful of the notion of discoverability as an interpretative tool and not a general rule that allows clear statutory wording to be disregarded. For my part, I would reaffirm the approach laid out in Fehr without any modification.

Thus discoverability doesn’t apply to the s. 36(4) limitation period:

[157]                     The wording of the limitation period set out in s. 36(4)(a)(i) provides ample support for the proposition that the two-year period commences independently of when the plaintiff first learns of the wrongdoing. Rather than having the limitation period commence upon the accrual of the cause of action (as was the case in Central Trust and M. (K.)), Parliament decided that it would instead commence on “a day on which the conduct was engaged in” — which, contrary to the position taken by my colleague, is not “wording to [the same] effect” as “accrual of the cause of action” (paras. 37 and 41). There is simply no link between this triggering event and the plaintiff’s state of mind; it is, in short, an “event which clearly occurs without regard to the injured party’s knowledge”. The Certification Judge’s reading of this provision led him to the same conclusion (para. 54 (CanLII)). It was the existence of conflicting jurisprudence on this point that caused him “not [to be] satisfied that it is plain and obvious that the discoverability principle can never apply to the limitation period in s. 36(4)” (para. 58).

[158]                     I acknowledge that the “discoverability rule has been applied by this Court even to statutes of limitation in which plain construction of the language used would appear to exclude the operation of the rule” (Peixeiro, at para. 38). However, a consideration of the context surrounding s. 36(4)(a)(i) lends further support to the conclusion that the discoverability rule does not apply.

[159]                     First, the cause of action in s. 36(1)(a) is based on two essential elements: (i) the defendant engaging in conduct contrary to any provision of Part VI, and (ii) the plaintiff suffering loss or damage as a result of such conduct. It is only upon the occurrence of both events that the plaintiff can commence proceedings on the basis of this statutory cause of action. Cognizant of this, and of the fact that conspiracies of this nature take place in secret, Parliament decided that the limitation period would not begin when the plaintiff actually sustained loss or damage, but rather when the defendant engaged in the prohibited conduct. It is important to keep in mind that the point at which the conduct is engaged in necessarily precedes the point at which a claimant will suffer loss or damage as a result of such conduct. I would also note that the offence under s. 45 is complete as soon as an unlawful agreement is made, meaning that the “conduct” is “engaged in” even if the agreement is not actually implemented or prices do not actually increase. It follows as a direct consequence of this legislative choice that the limitation period can in fact expire before the plaintiff is in a position to commence proceedings under s. 36(1)(a).

[160]                     Second, s. 36(4)(a)(ii) provides a mechanism for the plaintiff to advance a claim that may be barred by s. 36(4)(a)(i): even if two years have expired from the day on which the prohibited conduct was engaged in, the limitation period will restart on the day on which criminal proceedings relating to the impugned conduct are finally disposed of. While s. 36(4)(a)(ii) applies only where the alleged conduct contrary to Part VI is the subject of criminal prosecution, it nevertheless provides an indication that Parliament was aware of the strictness of s. 36(4)(a)(i) and chose to enact this provision as the only means of relieving against it.

[161]                     Third, and unlike claims subject to the general limitation period in British Columbia’s Limitation Act, S.B.C. 2012, c. 13, s. 21, Parliament has not subjected claims under s. 36(1)(a) to any ultimate limitation period. Interpreting s. 36(4)(a)(i) as commencing only when the underlying conduct becomes discoverable will therefore have the effect of leaving defendants at risk of lawsuit indefinitely. As Paul-Erik Veel helpfully observes, the result would be that “companies could face claims decades later, well after the employees involved in the alleged conspiracy may have left and documents lost, without any ability to defend themselves” (Waiting forever for the axe to drop? Discoverability and the limitation period for Competition Act claimsLenczner Slaght, August 12, 2016 (online)). This runs contrary to the certainty and evidentiary rationales that underlie the law of limitations.

[162]                     Fourth, the two-year limitation period was enacted by Parliament at a time when limitation periods were comparatively much longer. For example, the provincial limitations statutes that were in force at the time in Ontario and British Columbia set out a general limitation period of six years (The Limitations Act, R.S.O. 1970, c. 246, s. 45(1); Statute of Limitations, R.S.B.C. 1960, c. 370, s. 3). The relatively short limitation period at issue here, which commences even before the cause of action fully crystalizes, provides a further indication of the premium that Parliament placed on granting repose to defendants and encouraging diligence by potential plaintiffs.

I find Justice Côté’s reasoning more persuasive.  I say that with the qualification that I am not as conversant with common law discovery jurisprudence as I am with codified discovery jurisprudence.

That said, I am sufficiently conversant to recognise a curious fiction that underlies the court’s competing arguments.  For the most part, courts apply common law discovery to limitation periods that predate the rule.

Take for example the limitation period in s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act, which commences on death.  It predates the 1997 Supreme Court decision in Peixeiro which determined that discoverability was of general application.  Thus in 2000, the Court of Appeal in Waschkowski noted that “Until the later decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in Peixeiro v. Haberman, 1997 CanLII 325 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, 151 D.L.R. (4th) 429, it was not clear whether the discoverability rule applied to all limitation provisions, or whether its application depended on the actual wording of the statutory limitation”

Section 38(3) dates from 1990.  It’s possible, but doubtful, that the legislature drafted s. 38(3) as a response to, say, the early SCC discoverability decisions like 1986’s Central Trust.  However, it’s beyond doubt that the Legislature did not draft the limitation periods in the former Limitations Act mindful of the discoverability rule.  Some of those limitation periods were centuries old before discoverability was even a glimmer in the Legislature’s eye.

Similarly, it’s not clear to me how Parliament could have intended discoverability to apply to s. 36 of the Competition Act when that provision appears to have been enacted in 1985, a year before Central Trust.

So, the court really isn’t arguing about what Parliament intended subjectively, because Parliament didn’t know that discoverability was going to be a rule of general application.  Instead, the court is trying to rationalise common law discovery with limitation periods drafted before the rule existed.  I think Justice Côté’s approach is the soundest conceptually.

In that regard, I note another problem with the majority’s analysis.  If a limitation period commences on the occurrence of an event that forms part of a cause of action, and if discoverability applies, it would be possible to discover the event before the cause of action accrues.  The limitation period would commence before there is a legal basis for an action.  This wouldn’t happen with s. 36(4), but insofar as the majority is setting out a rule, it’s one with problematic implications.

There are two other noteworthy aspects of the decision:

First, the decision includes what is now the leading consideration of fraudulent concealment.  Importantly, the court clarifies that the doctrine does not require a “special relationship between the parties” as its conventional formulation suggests:

[53]                          While it is therefore clear that equitable fraud can be established in cases where a special relationship subsists between the parties, Lord Evershed, M.R. did not limit its establishment to such circumstances, nor did he purport to define exhaustively the circumstances in which it would or would not apply (see T.P. v. A.P., 1988 ABCA 352 (CanLII)92 A.R. 122, at para. 10). Indeed, he expressly refused to do so: “[w]hat is covered by equitable fraud is a matter which Lord Hardwicke did not attempt to define two hundred years ago, and I certainly shall not attempt to do so now” (Kitchen, at p. 249, emphasis added).

[54]                          When, then, does fraudulent concealment arise so as to delay the running of a limitation period? Recalling that it is a form of equitable fraud, it becomes readily apparent that what matters is not whether there is a special relationship between the parties, but whether it would be, for any reason, unconscionable for the defendant to rely on the advantage gained by having concealed the existence of a cause of action. This was the Court’s point in Performance Industries Ltd. v. Sylvan Lake Golf & Tennis Club Ltd.2002 SCC 19 (CanLII)[2002] S.C.R. 678, at para. 39:

[Equitable fraud] “… refers to transactions falling short of deceit but where the Court is of the opinion that it is unconscientious for a person to avail himself of the advantage obtained” (p. 37). Fraud in the “wider sense” of a ground for equitable relief “is so infinite in its varieties that the Courts have not attempted to define it”, but “all kinds of unfair dealing and unconscionable conduct in matters of contract come within its ken” [Emphasis added.]

It follows that the concern which drives the application of the doctrine of equitable fraud is not limited to the unconscionability of taking advantage of a special relationship with the plaintiff. Nor is the doctrine’s application limited, as my colleague suggests, to cases where there is something “tantamount to or commensurate with” a special relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant (paras. 171 and 173-74). While a special relationship is a means by which a defendant might conceal the existence of a cause of action, equitable fraud may also be established by pointing to other forms of unconscionable behaviour, such as (for example) “some abuse of a confidential position, some intentional imposition, or some deliberate concealment of facts” (M. (K.), at p. 57, citing Halsbury’s Laws of England (4th ed. 1979), vol. 28, para. 919). In short, the inquiry is not into the relationship within which the conduct occurred, but into the unconscionability of the conduct itself.

Second, the majority formulates discoverability as applying when “a limitation period runs from the accrual of cause of action or knowledge of the injury”.   The language “knowledge of the injury” comes from Peixero, which takes it from the MB CA decision in Fehr, where it appears without any explanation.  I don’t know what it means.  Is it a reference to a circumstance where a wrong isn’t actionable unless it causes an injury that rises above a threshold?  I struggle to think of other scenarios where knowledge of an injury causes time to run, but knowledge of the cause of action wouldn’t.

It’s odd to me that the majority thought this would be so self-evident that no explanation was required.  At risk of a little (inexcusable) immodesty, the majority and the dissent cite the my text book: this is good indication that if I don’t know what it means, I’m not sure the court could reasonably assume it’s common knowledge.

 

 

Ontario: Court of Appeal on rolling limitation periods and contractual limitation periods

The Court of Appeal decision in Marvelous Mario’s Inc. v. St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Co. is a noteworthy addition to “rolling limitation period” jurisprudence.

The appellants sought coverage under the business interruption cover of a commercial insurance policy issued by the respondent.  The policy contained a contractual limitation period:

ACTION: Every action or proceeding against the insurer for the recovery of any claim under or by virtue of this contract is absolutely barred unless commenced within one year next after the loss or damage occurs.

The trial judge held that the claim for business interruption losses was an ongoing claim and subject to a rolling limitation period.  The appellants discovered it on a date more than a year before commencing the coverage action.  However, it was subject to a rolling limitation period, a new claim accrued each day the appellant sustained a business interruption loss.  Those days within a year of the action give rise to timely claims.

The Court of Appeal rejected this reasoning.  First, it considered the nature of a rolling limitation period:

[35]      The jurisprudence suggests that a rolling limitation period may apply in a breach-of-contract case in circumstances where the defendant has a recurring contractual obligation. The question is not whether the plaintiff is continuing to suffer a loss or damage, but whether the defendant has engaged in another breach of contract beyond the original breach by failing to comply with an ongoing obligation. In cases where there have been multiple breaches of ongoing obligations, it is equitable to impose a rolling limitation period.

Second, it found that the trial judge erred by considering whether the appellants were continuing to suffer damages rather than whether the respondent was breaching a recurring contractual obligation:

[37]      In my view, where the trial judge erred was in focussing her analysis on the question of whether the appellants were continuing to suffer damages rather than on the issue of whether the respondent had a recurring contractual obligation. Unlike Pickering Square, where the tenant had a recurring obligation to occupy the premises every month during the term of the lease, the respondent was not obliged to make recurring payments. Rather, the policy covered business interruption losses and the respondent was obliged to pay those losses in their totality, subject to any limits in the policy. The fact that there was a 24-month cap on the business interruption losses does not convert the respondent’s obligation to indemnify into a recurring contractual obligation. Therefore, this was not a proper case for the application of a rolling limitation period.

[38]      The appellants knew as of the closing date for the sale of the businesses that they no longer had the assets under their control and that consequently they would thereafter suffer business interruption losses. While the precise amount of the damages was unknown, the appellants knew at that point that they had suffered loss or damage and under the policy they were obliged to commence a claim within one year. The fact that the extent of damages may not be known with precision does not stop the commencement of the limitation period: Peixeiro v. Haberman, 1997 CanLII 325 (SCC)[1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, at para. 18. The Second Action was consequently time-barred in its entirety.

This reasoning raises some interesting issues (which, I note sheepishly, I missed entirely when writing about the trial decision).

First, a word on the “rolling limitation period”.  The court’s language suggests that it’s an equitable principle: “In cases where there have been multiple breaches of ongoing obligations, it is equitable to impose a rolling limitation period”.  This isn’t quite right.

Statutory limitation periods apply to causes of action.  Subject to certain exceptions, one limitation period applies to one cause of action (in the case of the Limitations Act, one basic and one ultimate limitation period apply to one “claim”, which derives from a cause of action).

When there are circumstances that cause multiple causes of action to accrue periodically, one limitation period applies to each cause of action.  In the case of a contractual obligation that recurs daily (the court’s example), each day the defendant fails to perform the obligation a discrete breach of contract occurs that gives rise to a discrete cause of action.  Each discrete cause of action has its own limitation period.

Because these limitation periods have the same length, it will appear as if one limitation period commences anew each day,  The limitation period appears to roll.  This is the “rolling limitation period”.

A rolling limitation period is accordingly just convenient way to describe multiple limitation periods of the same length commencing regularly and consecutively.  It’s not a special kind of limitation period that exists independently of the statutory limitation scheme to be invoked as equity requires.

On my reading, the Court’s analysis is correct.  The Court found there was one cause of action that accrued on a particular date. There were no multiple causes of action, and there were accordingly no multiple limitation periods that could appear to roll.

All of this is to say that I question the value of the “rolling limitation period” in limitations analyses.  What purpose does it actually serve?  Instead of asking whether there is a rolling limitation period, you might just as easily, and certainly more accurately, ask whether there are recurring causes of action.

Now for the second issue: I’m doubtful cause of action accrual, or causes of action generally, had any place in the parties’ limitations analysis.

The limitation period is contractual.  It reflects the parties’ agreement on when the insured can sue the insurer.

The limitation period commences on the occurrence of the “loss or damage” and bars “absolutely” an action “against the insurer for the recovery of any claim” under the policy (that is, a claim for indemnification).

The triggering event is not the accrual of a cause of action, but the occurrence of the “loss or damage” for which the insured claims indemnification.  I suspect the policy provided coverage for some business interruptions that don’t arise from actionable misconduct.  This means the insured could seek recovery for a claim for indemnification of a loss that has nothing to do with a cause of action.

This makes it bewildering that the parties appear to have agreed that common law discovery applied to this limitation period

As I read the provision, its language excludes discoverability of any kind. The limitation period commences on the date of an event—the occurrence of loss or damage—and expires absolutely one year later.  The word “absolutely” would seem an explicit bar to discoverability or the suspension of time.  If the parties intended for discoverability to apply, they could have used language like “…unless commenced within one year next after the insured could first reasonably have learned of the loss or damage”.

It’s also impossible to apply common law discovery to a limitation period that commences on the date of an event rather than on the accrual of a cause of action.  Discovery is of a cause of action: the rule provides that a cause of action accrues when a plaintiff can first reasonably discover its material facts.  This is why the rule doesn’t apply to statutory limitation periods that commence on the date of an event (like s. 38 of the Trustee Act) .

Further, discovery is always in relation to the cause of action that gives rise to the proceeding.  In this case, the cause of action giving rise to the proceeding was the breach of the insurance agreement, and this is the cause of action to which the contractual limitation period applies.  The discovery of some of other cause of action that may have resulted in the event that is the trigger of the limitation period wouldn’t in the normal course be material to the commencement of time.  It’s so unusual for the limitation of one cause of action to be determined by the accrual of another cause of action that if the parties intended this to be so I’d expect explicit language to that effect in their agreement (I’ve never seen such language).

More generally, because this is a contractual limitation period, the parties ought to have grounded their positions in the language of the policy.  The material question strikes me as being whether the “loss or damage” occurred within the meaning of the policy each day the business interruption lasted, or on the date of the event that caused the business interruption.  This is a question of policy interpretation.

Without having read the policy, I see arguments on both sides.  I think the strongest argument is the one the court accepted.  The day of the peril that caused the business interruption—the transaction—caused the appellants to suffer the “loss or damage” for which they sought indemnification.  That the interruption lasted days goes to quantifying the loss, not when it occurred.  I would think the appellants’ notification would have been helpful; it’s easy to imagine that the appellants filed one notification in regards of the business interruption, which might have indicated they considered there to be one loss. I’m not sure why this didn’t appear to be part of the record.

The counterargument is that each day of business interruption was a new occurrence of loss.  This is effectively the rolling limitation period argument, except not one based on cause of action accrual.

I welcome your thoughts on this!

Ontario: Court of Appeal affirms that discovery of a cause of action isn’t discovery of a claim

The Court of Appeal decision in Gillham v. Lake of Bays (Township) is noteworthy for two  reasons.

First, it uses the concept of the “claim” (which is the language of the Limitations Act) rather than the concept of the “cause of action” (which is not the language of the Limitations Act) for its limitations analysis.  See for example para. 20:

[20]      The overarching question in the discoverability analysis under s. 5 of the Act is whether the claimant knew or reasonably should have known, exercising reasonable diligence, the material facts stipulated under s. 5(1)(a) that give rise to a claim: Ferrara v. Lorenzetti, Wolfe Barristers and Solicitors2012 ONCA 851 (CanLII), 113 O.R. (3d) 401, at para. 32. Section 1 of the Act defines a claim as “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission”. Section 2(1) provides that the Act “applies to claims pursued in court proceedings” (with certain enumerated exceptions that do not apply here).

(A slight quibble: the s. 5(1)(a) matters do not give rise to a claim.  Only two facts—an act or omission resulting in injury, loss, or damage—give rise to a claim pursuant to its definition in s. 1.  Knowledge of the s. 5(1)(a) matter results in discovery of the claim.)

It even puts “cause of action” in quotation marks–presumably to distinguish it from a claim–in the context of stating that knowledge of the material facts of a cause of action is not discovery of a claim:

[33]      The motion judge erred in failing to undertake an analysis of the criterion under s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Act. That the appellants might have a “cause of action” against the defendants, as the motion judge found, is not the end of the analysis under s. 5(1) of the Act. As this court said in Kudwah v. Centennial Apartments2012 ONCA 777 (CanLII), 223 A.C.W.S. (3d) 225, at para. 2:

It is important when considering a limitation period claim to appreciate that the terms of the 2002 Act must govern. A court considering the limitation claim must address the specific requirements of s. 5 of the Act, particularly on the facts of this case, the requirement of s. 5(1)(a)(iv).

 

Second, it acknowledges the accrual of a claim as the starting point of the limitations analysis, and that discovery of the claim requires knowledge that a proceeding is an appropriate remedy for the loss:

[34]      Therefore, the motion judge had to consider whether the appellants had a claim as defined under the Act. In considering whether the appellants knew or should have known that they had a claim, the motion judge had to go on to consider whether, having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage, the appellants knew or should have known that a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it. This omission by the motion judge is an error of law: Har Jo Management Services Canada Ltd. v. York (Regional Municipality)2018 ONCA 469 (CanLII), at paras. 21 and 35.

[35]      Section 5(1)(a)(iv) represents a legislative addition to the other factors under the discoverability analysis. As Laskin J.A. explained in 407 ETR Concession Company Limited v. Day2016 ONCA 709 (CanLII), 133 O.R. (3d) 762, leave to appeal to SCC refused, [2016] S.C.C.A. No. 509, at paras. 33-34:

The appropriateness of bringing an action was not an element of the former limitations statute or the common law discoverability rule. This added element can have the effect – as it does in this case – of postponing the start date of the two-year limitation period beyond the date when a plaintiff knows it has incurred a loss because of the defendant’s actions.

Also, when an action is “appropriate” depends on the specific factual or statutory setting of each individual case: see Brown v. Baum2016 ONCA 325 (CanLII), 397 D.L.R. (4th) 161, at para. 21. Case law applying s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act, 2002 is of limited assistance because each case will turn on its own facts.

This is a very welcome statement from the Court of Appeal.  It’s a step away from the misapplication of common law discovery principles to limitations analyses that has caused a great deal of confusion and uncertainty.

Lastly, the decision finds that it was appropriate for the plaintiffs to “wait and see” in the context of a construction dispute before commencing a proceeding.  I often see it argued that Presidential stands for the principle that there are only two circumstances in which a proceeding will be an inappropriate remedy—where the defendant undertakes good faith ameliorative efforts or there is an alternative dispute resolution process. This is a misapprehension of the law, as this decision demonstrates.  Here’s the key analysis:

[37]      Here, the motion judge failed to consider “the specific factual or statutory setting” of the case before him and determine whether it was reasonable for the appellants not to immediately commence litigation but to “wait and see” if the 1 ¼ inch sinking of the deck pier observed in 2009 would worsen over time or if the issue would resolve once the stone retaining wall had settled, as had been suggested to the appellants by Mr. MacKay. Neither Royal Homes nor Mr. MacKay believed the problem was serious, or due to the manner of construction. This evidence does not support the conclusion that the appellants knew or ought to have known in 2009 that their loss was not trivial and initiating legal proceedings was the appropriate means to remedy their loss.

 

Federal: Where does a cause of action arise?

The limitation period in s. 39(2) of the Federal Courts Act applies when a cause of action arises otherwise than in a province:

(2) A proceeding in the Federal Court of Appeal or the Federal Court in respect of a cause of action arising otherwise than in a province shall be taken within six years after the cause of action arose.

When does a cause of action arise in a province? The Federal Court of Appeal’s decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Liang clarifies:

[19]           A cause of action is a set of facts that provides the basis for an action in court: see Markevich, at paragraph 27. A cause of action arises in a province when all of the elements of the cause of action are present in that province: see Canada v. Canada Maritime Group (Canada) Inc.1995 CanLII 3513 (FCA)[1995] 3 F.C. 124 at page 129, 185 N.R. 104Apotex v. Sanofi-Aventis2013 FCA 186 (CanLII) at paragraph 105, [2015] 2 F.C.R. 644. The question as to which facts constitute the plaintiffs’ cause of action and where they arose does not appear to have been canvassed in the Federal Court and it was not debated on this appeal. Given the importance of the question for these litigants and for the jurisprudence, I would allow the appeal in part and return this question to the Federal Court, to be decided as directed by the case management judge.

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.