Ontario: an alternative resolution process that didn’t impact on the limitation period

Soleimani v. Rolland Levesque provides an example of an alternative resolution process that doesn’t render a proceeding an inappropriate remedy pursuant to s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act.

Th action involved claims between neighbouring property owners arising out of alleged contamination of the plaintiffs’ property by hydrocarbons flowing from the defendant’s property.  Following the discovery of the contamination, the plaintiffs notified the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), which  became involved in addressing the contamination.

In response to the defendant’s limitations defence, the plaintiffs argued that the MOE’s involvement was a reasonable means to attempt to remediate the damage, and a claim wasn’t an appropriate remedy for that damage until eight years later when expert investigation directed by the MOE (and funded by the defendant) determined the source of the contamination.

The court rejected this argument.  The MOE’s involvement was not part of a dispute resolution process or mechanism: the MOE acts at its own discretion, it has no power to award damages, and the there could be no certainty as to when its involvement would come to an end:

[45]           In considering whether the MOE’s interventions in this case constitute a legally appropriate means to remedy the plaintiffs’ damages it is necessary to recognize that the provisions of the EPA do not provide a dispute resolution process or mechanism.  The steps the MOE chooses to take are in the MOE’s discretion.  The MOE has no power to award damages or compensation to the plaintiffs.  Neither the previsions of the EPA nor the facts of this case allow the court to say with any certainty when the MOE’s involvement would come to an end so as to determine when the limitation period might commence.

[46]           Moreover the MOE intervention cannot result in a declaration of responsibility for the contamination nor can it award damages for stigma nor the full recovery of legal, engineering and other costs and expenses nor damages for other economic losses, all as claimed in the plaintiffs’ statement of claim.

[47]           On the other hand, I recognize that the MOE has substantial powers in the exercise of their discretion to require the defendants to investigate the cause of and remediate contamination on both the defendants’ and the plaintiffs’ lands and to direct that this be done at the defendants’ cost.

[48]           The EPA broadly empowers the MOE to make orders to clean up contamination and prevent the discharge of contaminants into the environment.  For instance, pursuant to section 17 of the EPA, the Director has the power to issue “remedial orders” where a person has caused or permitted a contaminant to be discharged into the natural environmental.  This section empowers the Director to order that person to repair the injury or damage:

Where any person causes or permits the discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment, so that land, water, property, animal life, plant life, or human health or safety is injured, damaged or endangered, the Director may order the person to,

a)            Repair the injury or damage;

b)           Prevent the injury or damage; or

c)            Where the discharge has damaged or endangered or is likely to damage or endanger existing water supplies, provide temporary or permanent alternate water supplies.

[49]           Pursuant to section 157.1 of the EPA, a provincial officer can also order a person who owns or who has management or control or property to take “preventive measures” to:

(a)           Prevent or reduce the risk of a discharge of a contaminant into the natural environment;

(b)         Prevent, decrease or eliminate an adverse affect that may result from:

(i)            The discharge of a contaminant from the undertaking, or

(ii)           The presence or discharge of a contaminant in, on or under the property.

[50]           In determining whether a court action is an appropriate remedy pursuant to s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Act, Laskin J.A. in ETR Concession instructed that the court should consider (a) the nature of the plaintiffs’ loss; (b) the circumstances of the plaintiffs, and (c) efficiency of the court.

[51]           This is an environmental claim.  The major dispute between the parties has been, at least until very recently, whether the pollutants are emanating from the defendants’ land onto the plaintiffs’ land or, as the defendants claim, from the plaintiffs’ land onto the defendants’ land.  On the facts of this case, there can be no doubt that the MOE’s interventions have provided a means to determine the source of the contamination and remedial orders have been made.

[52]           The plaintiffs submit that given their particular situation, the MOE interventions may substantially reduce the plaintiffs’ damages and therefore it would be inappropriate to require the plaintiffs to prematurely resort to court proceedings while the regulatory process under the EPA is ongoing.

[53]           In my view the principal difficulty with the plaintiffs’ position is that there is no reasonable basis to ascertain when the MOE’s involvement will end.  To date, it has gone on in excess of eight years with no end point in site.  I agree with the defendants’ submission that the EPA does not in any sense establish an alternative adjudication or dispute resolution process for contamination claims.  While the MOE has significant remedial powers to direct the investigation and remediation of ground water contamination, these powers are outside the land owners’ control and are discretionary in nature.  These powers do not include any right to award economic damages or to grant declaratory orders, which is a significant component of the relief sought in this action.

[54]           The plaintiffs have argued that the limitation period should not run until the causation question was resolved (within the last two years) concerning the direction of flow of the contaminants.  They suggest that prior to resolving that issue it would have been unreasonable to commence court proceedings.

[55]           The plaintiffs emphasize the benefits they have achieved by allowing the MOE to deal with the contamination.  Thanks to the MOE exercising its statutory powers to direct the investigation and remediation of the groundwater contamination, the plaintiffs have avoided the considerable engineering costs of investigating the problem, of obtaining experts’ reports and of soil removal and other remedial measures.  They have also avoided or lessened the litigation risk of a possible determination that the contamination emanated from their own property, rather than the defendants’ property.

[56]           In effect, the plaintiffs can be said, in retrospect, to have made a wise economic choice in leaving the contamination issue in the hands of the MOE.  However this was manifestly a tactical decision made by the plaintiffs to avoid the costs and litigation risks of investigating their claim and establishing their case on liability and damages.  They chose to stand back for some four years prior to commencing this action to allow the MOE to move matters forward.  The case law is clear that tactical decisions will not toll the limitation period, see Markel and Presidential MSR.  As Mew J. observed in J.C. v. Farant at para 87:

Another recent decision, Gravelle (CodePro Manufacturing) v. Denis Grigoras Law Office2018 ONCA 396 (CanLII), reinforced the principle that a tactical decision to delay the commencement of proceedings will not, absent other factors – such as the pursuit of alternative means to resolve the very claim that I the subject matter of the action – delay the running of time.  At para. 6, the Court of Appeal stated:

 The appellant decided for tactical reasons not to bring his action against the respondents until the arbitration proceedings were completed.  He was entitled to make this choice, but he must live with the consequences of it.

[59]           In my view this position is untenable and inconsistent with the appellate case law binding on this court.  The circumstances triggering the running of the limitation cannot be a moving target incapable of being ascertained with the level of reasonable certainty required.  This would create a situation in which the plaintiffs essentially determine when the limitation period commences.

[61]           In my opinion the approach advocated by the plaintiffs and the intervenors ignores the requirement that the appropriate means exception in sub-section 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Act be restricted to factual situations in which the alternate avenue of redress is legally appropriate in the sense that the courts must not be required to interpret the parties’ communications or negotiations or, be required to analyze the significance of the technical findings of ongoing engineering studies and importantly, there needs to be a fixed end point.

Reconsidering mistakes of law and discoverability

Samuel Beswick, a Harvard legal scholar, studies the impact a mistake of law has on the discovery of a claim.  In Under the Limit‘s first guest post, he makes a compelling argument for reconsidering how Canadian limitations law might alter its approach to mistakes of law in the discovery analysis.

Mistake of law as a basis for extending the limitation period?

Common law countries have long determined that discoverability governs limitation on actions “grounded on” mistake (as the former Alberta statute put it) or that seek “relief from the consequences of” mistake (as the English Limitation Act provides). Back when the law of unjust enrichment was thought to allow restitution only for mistakes of fact, discoverability provisions had not much to do with mistakes of law. Now that the mistake-of-law bar has been abandoned, it is apt to ask: when can a mistake of law be discovered?

In England, this problem has driven multi-billion-pound-sterling unjust enrichment litigation, spurring private law scholars and confounding courts. The answer that the English courts have given, succinctly put in FII Test Claimants v HMRC, is that:

[372] … [I]n the case of a point of law which is being actively disputed in current litigation the true position is only discoverable … when the point has been authoritatively resolved by a final court.

I have recently sought to show that England’s answer to the discoverability of mistakes of law is arbitrary, jurisprudentially strained, internally inconsistent, and effects bad policy.

What’s remarkable (albeit it hasn’t to date been remarked on) is that this doctrine is also totally contradictory to Canadian precedent on this issue. The position in Canada, summarized in Hill v Alberta, is that:

[9] … Discoverability refers to facts, not law. Error or ignorance of the law, or uncertainty of the law, does not postpone any limitation period.

In Canada, time runs on mistake-of-law claims whether or not a claimant has discovered their mistake. This causes other problems, which I have endeavoured to draw out in a recent paper.

There is, however, a middle ground between England’s “authoritative judgment” understanding of limitation on mistakes of law and Canada’s “exception” to the discoverability principle, a full account of which will be appearing in the LQR. The short answer, though, is this: mistakes as to the law should be considered discoverable once a claimant is in a position to plead them in a statement of claim. Discoverability is not about finding out one’s legal position from a court. It is about having adequate time to be able to plead one’s case to a court.

 

Ontario: the codification of the discovery rule is not semantics (blog pedantry)

The decision in Loy-English v. Fournier requires some gentle criticism for its description of the limitations scheme:

[40]           Before turning to the evidence, I will just mention that counsel for the intervenor provided me with a useful review and critique of much recent jurisprudence. I have not found it necessary to address the argument that there is a difference between the time when a cause of action accrues at common law and the day when a claim is discovered under the Act.  I need not seek to resolve what counsel identifies as inconsistency in the jurisprudence and failure of courts to recognize the extent to which the Act has changed the common law.

[41]           I will just observe that in the seminal decision of Peixiero v. Haberman, the Supreme Court of Canada endorsing the principle of discoverability in connection with Ontario’s motor vehicle regime uses language suggesting a cause of action under Ontario law only “accrues” when it is possible to determine that the injuries exceed the threshold.[18]  In Lawless v. Anderson our Court of Appeal declared that “the principle of discoverability provides that a cause of action arises for the purposes of a limitation period when the material facts on which it is based have been discovered, or ought to have been discovered, by the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable diligence.” The court went on to define “cause of action” as “the fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial redress or relief against another.”[19]  Arguably, the effect of the Act is to identify discoverability as a constituent component of a cause of action in Ontario but this is largely a question of semantics.

[42]           The important point is the rationale underlying the discoverability principle. A limitation statute should not be construed to run before the plaintiff could reasonably know that she had a viable cause of action.  It is this rationale that is codified in s. 5 of the Act.  Whether the cause of action can be said to have arisen at an earlier date, knowledge that there is a cause of action and a legal proceeding is an appropriate avenue for relief is a component of discoverability.  All four statutory components are necessary to trigger the running of the limitation period.

  1. It’s not arguable that the Limitations Act makes discoverability a constituent element of a cause of action, nor is the argument one of semantics.  At common law, the discoverability rule relates to the accrual of a cause of action, not the elements of a cause of action.  The rule provides that a cause of action accrues when the plaintiff discovers its material elements.  Section 5 of Limitations Act contains a codified discoverability rule that applies to “claims”, a defined term, not causes of action.  It also doesn’t make discoverability an element of a cause of action or “claim”, but determinative of when discovery occurs.  This isn’t at all an issue of semantics.  “Claims” and causes of action are not interchangeable, a point made recently by the Court of Appeal.
  2. It is not so that the Limitations Act prevents time from running before a plaintiff can reasonably know that she has a viable cause of action.  Knowledge of the elements of a cause of action will not result in discovery of a “claim” under the Limitations Act.  This is because the s. 5(1)(a)(iv) discovery matter—the appropriateness of a proceeding as a remedy—is not an element of any cause of action, and also because discovery requires knowledge of damage, and damage is not an element of any cause of action based on conduct that is actionable per se (like breach of contract).

Ontario: Court of Appeal emphasises that discovery is contextual

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Fehr v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada is noteworthy for it its emphasis on the contextual nature of the discovery analysis:

[173]   However, when it came to assessing the limitation period defences applicable to the individual plaintiffs, the motions judge did not engage in a detailed examination of these idiosyncrasies. In particular, he did not consider the impact of each plaintiff’s circumstances and experiences on the critical issue of when each plaintiff discovered his or her claim or knew or ought to have known of the requisite facts grounding their claim. He failed to engage in an individualized and contextual analysis, and, instead, applied a broad presumption as to when they ought to have known of certain alleged misrepresentations.

[174]   An individualized and contextual analysis was necessary in this case for the very reason that misrepresentation claims are not generally amenable to class actions: people receive, process, and act upon written and verbal statements in different ways. Their behaviour varies depending upon a variety of factors, including their own particular circumstances, what specific representations and information they received and from whom, how they understood or processed those representations and information, the extent to which they relied upon them, and their own wishes and intentions.

[175]   An individualized and contextual analysis was particularly important in this case because, among other things: (a) there is a relationship of vulnerability between insurer and insured; (b) many of the plaintiffs are unsophisticated with respect to the insurance industry; (c) the insurance policies are complicated and not easily understood; (d) misrepresentations were made to some consumers and not others; (e) some or all of these misrepresentations were made by individuals on whom the plaintiffs might reasonably rely; (f) there is no evidence that the insurer expressly corrected the misrepresentations; and (g) the insurer may have reinforced or made further misrepresentations, to some or all of the plaintiffs, during the life of the policies.

Ontario: The knowledge required for discovery

This is a post purely to indulge my pedantry.  In Reece v. Toronto (Police Services Board), the Court of Appeal said this about discovery:

[5]         The motion judge correctly found that discoverability for the purpose of limitations is based upon knowledge of the facts necessary to support a claim and does not require knowledge of the law that supports the claim.

This isn’t quite right.  Discoverability for the purpose of limitations–what other purpose to does the principle have?–is codified in s. 5 of the Limitations Act and requires knowledge of the four discovery matters.  The facts necessary to support a claim are, pursuant to the definition in the s. 1 of the Limitations Act, but only two: wrongful conduct and resulting loss.  The existence of a claim and the discovery of a claim are different issues.

Ontario: in an MVA claim, obtaining an accident report isn’t necessarily sufficient due diligence

 

Obtaining a motor vehcile accident report is not in all circumstances sufficient due diligence in identifying a potential defendant.  In Harold v. Quigley, Justice Broad held that there was no evidence to suggest that the police officer who completed the MVAR had investigated whether the proposed defendant had maintained and kept the highway in repair as the plaintiff proposed to plead.  The plaintiff was not entitled to assume that the officer had done so.  These are the relevant paragraphs:

[17]         There is nothing in the motion material which would suggest that the plaintiff’s abilities and circumstances affected her ability to investigate and understand the facts upon which the claim might be based.

[18]         The affidavit of George B. Dietrich, the managing lawyer at the Dietrich Law Office, did not disclose any steps taken by the plaintiff or her lawyers to discover the identity of all responsible parties within the two-year limitation period following the accident other than to obtain the MVAR. The plaintiff argues that nothing further was required in the exercise of due diligence. Mr. Dietrich stated that his firm relied upon the MVAR which reported that the defendant Quigley hit an icy spot, left the road into the median and flipped over and that he was driving too fast for the conditions. No enquiries were initiated on behalf of the plaintiff respecting the nature and extent of the winter road maintenance carried out by the Crown and Carillion in the period leading up to the accident.

[19]         The plaintiff relies upon the Court of Appeal decision in Lingard v. Milne-McIssac (2015), 2015 ONCA 213 (CanLII)125 O.R. (3d) 118 (C.A.) for the proposition that “reliance on the information contained in a motor vehicle accident report is reasonable and sufficient and constitutes due diligence.” She also points to the case of Todhunter v. Owles, 2015 ONSC 5656 (CanLII)2015 ONSC 5656 (S.C.J.) in which Tausendfreund, J. referred to Linguard  and rejected the proposition that “each action arising out of an MVA in winter conditions would require the addition of municipalities as defendants to address the standard of care regarding winter maintenance.”

[20]         The Crown and Carillion argue that the plaintiff’s motion material does not contain evidence of any due diligence to displace the presumption in s. 5(2) of the Limitations Act, 2002. They say that certainty of a defendant’s responsibility for the act or omission that caused or contributed to the loss is not a requirement for discoverability, citing the case of Kowal v. Shyiak, 2012 ONCA 512 (CanLII)2012 ONCA 512 (C.A.) at para. 18-19, and that neither is knowledge of the standard of care or whether conduct fell below it, citing Cassidy v. Belleville (Police Service), 2015 ONCA 794 (CanLII)2015 ONCA 794 (C.A.) at para. 13.

[21]         In my view the Lingard and Todhunter decisions are not determinative of the question as to whether the plaintiff has provided a reasonable explanation as to why information was not obtainable with respect to the possible claims against the Crown and Carillion within the limitation period. The Court of Appeal in Pepper v. Zellers Inc.  2006 CanLII 42355 (ON CA)[2006] O.J. No. 5042 (C.A.) at para. 14 confirmed that a motion under rule 5.04(2) to add parties after the apparent expiration of a limitation period is discretionary and involves a fact-based inquiry. The court observed that, while the threshold of such a motion is low, the motion judge is entitled to consider the evidentiary record to determine whether there is a live issue of fact or credibility about the commencement date of the limitation period.

[22]          Lingard dealt with information set forth on a MVAR with respect to insurance coverage of the defendant driver, holding that it was reasonable for the plaintiff to assume that the police officer who completed the report asked the defendant for proof of insurance and that the plaintiff was justified in relying upon the motor vehicle accident report for that information.

[23]         In the present case, there is nothing to suggest that the police officer who completed the MVAR conducted an investigation into whether the Ministry of Transportation and its contractor had maintained and kept the highway in repair, nor that the plaintiff was entitled to assume that the police officer had done so. Although the MVAC identified that the road was icy, it did not comment on whether the icy condition was connected to a failure of the Ministry and its contractor to keep the highway in a reasonable state of repair.

[24]         Teusendfreund, J. in Todhunter was considering a motion for leave to appeal to the Divisional Court from a decision of Tranmer, J. to grant leave to the plaintiff to amend to add two municipalities as defendants. Tranmer, J. found that the plaintiff had demonstrated due diligence in determining the parties liable for the accident by obtaining the MVAR, by moving to discovery and in bringing the motion shortly thereafter. He found that the MVAR did not suggest negligence on the part of either municipality with regard to road maintenance and it was not until the defendant’s examination for discovery that any issue with respect to the existence of black ice was identified.

[25]         As indicated above, Teusendfreund, J. rejected the proposition that each action arising out of an MVA in winter conditions would require the addition of municipalities as defendants. However, he did not hold that plaintiffs should be relieved in all circumstances from any obligation to carry out due diligence on whether the relevant authority had failed to maintain and keep the subject highway or road in repair, particularly when she or he is in possession of information that such may be the case.

[26]         In the present case the MVAR noted that the road was icy. The plaintiff has led no evidence that, armed with this information, she took any steps to attempt to ascertain whether the icy condition may have been a result of a failure of the authority having responsibility to maintain and repair the highway to the requisite standard. As indicated by the Court of Appeal in Kowal at para. 18, certainty of a party’s responsibility for an act or omission that caused or contributed to the loss is not a requirement and that it is enough to have prima facie grounds to infer that the acts or omissions were caused or contributed to by the party or parties identified. In Cassidy, at para. 13, the Court of Appeal held that discovery of sufficient material facts to trigger the commencement of a limitation period does not depend on precise knowledge of the applicable standard of care and whether the party’s conduct fell below it.

[27]         In contrast the situation in Todhunter, the plaintiff in the present case had knowledge of the existence of an icy road surface which contributed to the accident.  In her application for statutory accident benefits dated February 27, 2014, the plaintiff described the mechanism of the accident as involving the vehicle hitting black ice on Highway 11. As indicated above, the MVAR, received by the plaintiff’s counsel on January 9, 2015, had noted the presence of black ice on the highway.

[28]         It is noteworthy that counsel for the plaintiff requested the consent of Crown and Carillion to the amendment to add them as defendants prior to receipt of any documentation or records from their counsel respecting maintenance of the highway during the relevant time period. No new facts were discovered by counsel for the plaintiff prior to making the determination to amend her pleading.

[29]         In Wong v Adler2004 CanLII 8228 (ON SC)[2004] O.J. No. 1575 (Master) aff’d 2004 CanLII 73251 (ON SCDC)[2005] O.J. No. 1400 (Div. Ct.) Master Dash stated, at para. 45, that if the court determines that there is an issue of fact or credibility on a discoverability allegation the defendant should be added with leave to plead a limitations defence, whereas, if there is no such issue, the motion should be refused. In my view there is no issue of credibility on the question of whether simply obtaining the MVAR constituted sufficient due diligence on the part of the plaintiff in the circumstances. The court on this motion is in as good a position to determine that issue as would a judge on a summary judgment motion or at trial.

[30]         In my view the plaintiff has failed to discharge the onus on her show, by evidence, that discoverability delayed the commencement of the running of the limitation period. Her motion to amend the Statement of Claim to add the Crown and Carillion as defendants must therefore be dismissed.

 

Ontario: no discovery for Public Hospitals Act limitation period

The decision in Rawsthorne v. Marotta confirms that s. 31 of the Public Hospitals Act is not subject to the common law principle of discovery:

[30]         The case law is clear that the s. 31 limitation period is not subject to the principle of discoverability. The provision is mandatory in its wording and it runs from the day the patient ceases to receive treatment at the hospital or from the patient’s discharge from the Hospital.[11]

As this limitation period is no longer in force, this point is largely (but, as the decision demonstrates, not entirely) academic.

Ontario: bad limitations analyses are why we can’t have nice things

Two recent decisions contain limitations analyses sufficiently flawed for me to ask that you indulge my pedantry.  This lesson is titled A bad limitations analysis makes everyone lose  

 In Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company v. Lloyd’s Underwriters, the analysis begins with a flawed premise resulting in more questions than the decision answers.

LawPro applied for a declaration that Lloyd’s was obliged to contribute to the defence costs of a common insured.  Lloyd’s took the position that the LawPro’s claim for contribution was statute-barred.  Justice James considered the issue:

 

[18]           On the facts present here, the entitlement of the applicant to seek a contribution from the respondent has not proscribed. I base this view on my reading of section 5(1) of the Limitations Act and in particular sub-clause 5(1)(a)(iv). There is no mandated single point in time for the applicant to request a contribution from the respondent. For the LimitationsAct to apply, it would be necessary to conclude that the claim, having been “discovered” and the request for compensation having been rejected by the opposing party, “a proceeding would be the appropriate means to seek a remedy”. Put another way, when the applicant requested a contribution from the respondent and the respondent declined the request, was it appropriate for the applicant to respond by commencing an action? I would say not. Not enough was known to say that the claim had been discovered. It could equally be appropriate to await further developments in the claim against the insured and to defer bringing the matter to a head until more information is known and the facts had emerged with greater clarity.

“For the Limitations Act to apply…?”.  This is a bad start.  The Limitations Act applies to all claims pursued in court proceedings (subject to the s. 2 exceptions), not merely those that have been discovered.

The analysis ought to have begun with the the first question in any limitations analysis:  is there claim?  Limitation periods apply to proceedings commenced in respect of a claim. If a proceeding doesn’t advance a claim, it’s not subject to a limitation period.

Assuming LawPro did have a claim, the next question ought to have been determining the act or omission that the claim seeks to remedy.  The date of the act or omission is when the presumptive limitation period commences.

If LawPro brought the application within two years of that date, its application was timely.  If not, the next question ought to have been when a reasonable person with LawPro’s abilities and in its circumstances ought to have discovered the claim.  For its application to be timely, LawPro would have needed to file it within two years of this date.

When LawPro ought to have discovered its claim required asking when it ought to have known of its loss, that wrongful conduct caused the loss, and that it was Lloyd’s wrongful conduct.  It seems likely that it ought to have known all of this on the day of Lloyd’s refusal.  We can’t be sure, because the limitations analysis doesn’t determine this.

Instead, there are conclusions without explanation.  Not enough was known at the time of the refusal for the claim to have been discovered.  What did LawPro not yet know?  It was appropriate for LawPro to await further developments that would provide more information and greater factual clarity.  What information and factual clarity did LawPro require? Why was it inappropriate for LawPro within the meaning of s. 5(1)(a)(iv) to use a proceeding as remedy for its loss on the date of Lloyd’s refusal?  The analysis answers none of these questions.  Perhaps it’s correct, but it’s impossible for the reader to know.

In Leblanc v. Glass, the plaintiff Leblanc claimed that the defendants Glass and Vitiello conspired to deprive her of properties and committed breach of trust.  Vitiello moved for summary judgment on the basis that Leblanc’s claim was statute-barred.

Justice Hennessy framed the issue:

[9]               In order to determine the issue of discoverability, the following questions must be addressed. The answers will come from the pleadings, the productions or the examinations:

a.      What did Jonathan A. Glass tell Marie Leblanc?  What did Marie Leblanc discover in Feb 2014?

b.      What did Jonathan A. Glass disclose that Marie Leblanc did not already know or could have known?

c.      Did the contents of Jonathan A. Glass’ disclosure amount to evidence of fraud, conspiracy or breach of trust against Civita Vitiello?

The discovery analysis may require answering these questions, but they are not the questions that determine discovery.  Discovery, as we know, turns on knowledge of the matters in s. 5 of the Limitations Act.  Again, to determine the date of discovery you ask, in this order, what is the act or omission that is the basis of the claim, and when would a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the plaintiff have known of her loss, that an act or omission caused the loss, that the defendant caused the act or omission, and that a proceeding was an appropriate remedy for the loss.

Importantly, the common law discovery principle does not determine discovery within the meaning of the Limitations Act:

 

[21]           The obligation is on the plaintiff is to use reasonable diligence in discovering the material facts in relation to the claim. The limitation period will run once the plaintiff knows the identity of the tortfeasor and that some damage has occurred. (Peixeiro v Haberman 1997 CanLII 325 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, at para 18) The plaintiff is then required to lead sufficient evidence before the court showing that they exercised this reasonable diligence.

A plaintiff does not discovery her claim under the Limitations Act when she knows the identity of the wrongdoer and that some damage has occurred.  She must also know that a proceeding is an appropriate remedy for her loss.

Lastly, it is long settled that the doctrine of special circumstances does not apply to the Limitations Act:

[34]           The limitation period under s. 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sch. B applies. There are no special circumstances justifying an extension of the limitation.There is no reason to consider special circumstances, because the principle of special circumstances is of no application.

Muddled limitations analyses like these are not helpful to the parties or the jurisprudence.

 

Ontario: Highways are still subject to limitation periods

The Court of Appeal allowed the 407’s appeal of Justice Edward’s decision in 407 ETR Concession Company Limited v. Day.  Apart from settling the great question of how the passage of time limits 407’s claims for unpaid tolls, Justice Laskin’s decision suggests a maturity in s. 5(1)(a)(iv) jurisprudence.

 The circumstances of the claim are rather bewildering.  The defendant Day, a person of some means, refused to pay the approximately $13,000 plus interest he owed 407 for unpaid tolls.  407 sued him.  Day pleaded a limitations defence, and  407 brought a r. 21 motion to resolve questions of limitations law.  Justice Edwards determined when 407 discovered its claims against Day and rejected the validity of an agreement between Day and 407 extending the limitation period.  407 appealed.

Facts

Some facts are necessary to understand the limitations issue.

407 can collect its unpaid tolls by civil action in the courts or by license plate denial.  The statutory authorization for these two methods is set out in the Highway 407 Act, 1998.

When a person drives a vehicle on the 407, s. 13(1) of the 407 Act provides that the person in whose name the vehicle’s license plate is registered is liable to pay the tolls and related charges.

Sections 15(1) and (2) of the 407 Act provide that tolls are due and payable on the day 407 sends a toll invoice, and that interest begins to accrue 35 days later.  Section 15(3) provides the 407 with a cause of action for nonpayment .

407 can also initiate a license plate denial.  Under s. 16(1) of the 407 Act, if a toll isn’t paid within 35 days after 407 sends an invoice, 407 may send the person responsible for payment a notice of failure to pay.  If the debt remains unpaid 90 days later, s. 22(1) of the 407 Act entitles 407 to notify the Registrar of Motor Vehicles of the failure.  This notice puts the defaulting debtor into license plate denial.  Section 22(3) requires 407 to inform the recipient of a notice sent under s. 16(1) that 407 has given notice to the Registrar.

Once 407 notifies the Registrar, s. 22(4) provides that the Registrar must refuse to validate the vehicle permit issued to the recipient of the s. 16 notice at its next opportunity, and refuse to issue a vehicle permit to that person.  The Registrar’s next opportunity is typically the date the validation for a vehicle permit expires and must be renewed.  The Vehicle Permits Regulation under the Highway Traffic Act  provides that the maximum validation period for a vehicle permit is two years.

Lastly, s. 25 of the 407 Act provides that license plate denial is a complementary rather than exclusive remedy.

The r. 21 motion

407 raised two issues on the motion.

The first issue was the discovery of 407’s claim.  Justice Edwards held that 407 discovered its claim on the earliest date under the 407 Act that it could have notified the Registrar to put Day into license plate denial.

The second issue was the enforceability of the 15-year limitation period in Day’s transponder lease agreement with 407.  Justice Edwards held that 407 could not rely on s. 22 of the Limitations Act, which permits parties to contract out of the basic limitation period, because the lease agreement was not a “business agreement” as defined by that section.

The Court of Appeal’s analysis

Discovery of 407’s claim turned on s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act: when, having regard to the nature of the loss, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it.

Assessing the date when a civil action became an appropriate means for 407 to recover its loss required considering the purpose of s. 5(1)(a)(iv) in the context of the statutory regime under which 407 operates.

To give effect to the legislature’s intent in the 407 Act, the limitation period must be tied to the license plate denial process: ” The legislature enacted that process for a reason: it was not content to force 407 ETR to sue in the courts for unpaid toll debts. I fully agree with the Divisional Court that licence plate denial is an effective, necessary and indeed integral feature of an open access toll highway. Tying the start date of the limitation period to the licence plate denial process acknowledges the significance the legislature attached to that process for the collection of unpaid tolls.”

A civil action becomes appropriate when 407 has reason to believe that it will not otherwise be paid.  This is when the usually effective license plate denial process runs its course.  This happens when a vehicle permit expires for failure to a pay a toll debt; thereafter, a claim becomes an appropriate remedy to recover the debt and the limitation period commences.

Justice Laskin cited four reasons in support of this conclusion.

[40]      First, under s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act, 2002, the date a proceeding would be an appropriate means to recover a loss must have “regard to the nature of the … loss”. So, in fixing the appropriate date, it may not be enough that the loss exists and the claim is actionable. If the claim is the kind of claim that can be remedied by another and more effective method provided for in the statute, then a civil action will not be appropriate until that other method has been used. Here, a claim will not be appropriate until 407 ETR has used that other method, without success.

[41]      […] licence plate denial – is far more effective than a civil action. By providing for licence plate denial, the legislature must be taken to have recognized its effectiveness. People who cannot renew their vehicle permits until they deal with their toll debts have a powerful incentive to pay.

[42]      The statistical evidence bears out the effectiveness of licence plate denial. 407 ETR issues over one million invoices a month. Nearly 70 per cent of those invoices are paid within one month, which means just over 30 per cent are not. Significantly, about 75 per cent of permit holders in default pay their toll debts after being advised the Registrar has sent a s. 22 notice. Of those, just over one half pay before or on the date their vehicle permits have to be renewed; the remainder pay after their vehicle permits have expired.

[43]      These statistics show that the motion judge’s start date – the delivery of a s. 22 notice to the Registrar – is too early in the process. It comes at the beginning of the process instead of where I think it should come, at the end. The licence plate denial process should be allowed to run its course. As the statistics show, most people, fearing the consequences, eventually pay after receiving a s. 22 notice. Only if the process fails to prompt payment does litigation become an appropriate means to recover the debt.

[44]      Second, in determining when a claim ought to have been discovered, s. 5(1)(b) of the Limitations Act, 2002 requires the court to take account of “the circumstances of the person with the claim”. 407 ETR’s “circumstances” differ from those of many other creditors. Highway 407 itself is enormously busy: 380,000 trips on an average workday. As a consequence, 407 ETR must process an enormous number of invoices, almost all for amounts of no more than a few hundred dollars apiece. And unlike, for example a credit card company, which can cancel a customer’s credit card for non-payment of a debt, 407 ETR cannot bar a defaulting debtor’s access to the highway.

[45]      407 ETR’s “circumstances” strongly suggest that requiring it to sue before finding out whether licence plate denial has achieved its purpose would be inappropriate. An important case on the significance of a plaintiff’s “circumstances” is the majority judgment in Novak v. Bond, 1999 CanLII 685 (SCC), [1999] 1 S.C.R. 808. In that case, McLachlin J. considered s. 6(4)(b) of British Columbia’s Limitations Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 266, which provided that time did not begin to run against a plaintiff until “the person whose means of knowledge is in question ought, in the person’s own interests and taking the person’s circumstances into account, to be able to bring an action” […].

[46]      […] holding that time begins to run against 407 ETR before it knows whether licence plate denial has prompted payment would be unfair, or to use the word of our statute, would not be “appropriate”.

[47]      Holding that the two-year period begins after the licence plate denial process fails to prompt payment does not raise the concern Sharpe J.A. referred to in Markel Insurance Co. of Canada v. ING Insurance Co. of Canada2012 ONCA 218 (CanLII),109 O.R. (3d) 652, at para. 34. There, he said that “appropriate” must mean “legally appropriate”. By using that phrase he signified that a plaintiff could not claim it was appropriate to delay the start of the limitation period for tactical reasons, or in circumstances that would later require the court to decide when settlement discussions had become fruitless. In this case, however, 407 ETR seeks to delay the start of the limitation period for a legally appropriate reason: waiting until a statutorily authorized process has been completed.

[48]      A third consideration is what I take to be an important purpose of s. 5(1)(a)(iv). The overall purposes of limitation statutes are well-established and well-known: certainty, finality and the unfairness of subjecting defendants to the threat of a lawsuit beyond a reasonable period of time. But it seems to me one reason why the legislature added “appropriate means” as an element of discoverability was to enable courts to function more efficiently by deterring needless litigation. As my colleague Juriansz J.A. noted in his dissenting reasons in Hare v. Hare (2006), 2006 CanLII 41650 (ON CA), 83 O.R. (3d) 766 (C.A.), at para. 87, courts take a dim view of unnecessary litigation.

[49]      If the limitation period runs concurrently with the licence plate denial process, as would be the case under the motion judge’s start date, then there would be the real possibility of numerous Small Claims Court claims. And these claims would be needless because the vast majority of defendants would likely pay their debts to avoid having their vehicle permits expire. […]

[51]      Finally, although 407 ETR has discretion when and even whether to send a s. 22 notice to the Registrar, that discretion does not detract from the appropriateness of using the end of the licence plate denial process as the start of the two-year limitation period. In theory, I suppose, as Mr. Day contends, 407 ETR could use its discretion to manipulate the start date. But why, one may ask rhetorically, would it do so? Its commercial interests dictate otherwise.

Justice Laskin also overturned Justice Edwards’s decision on the second limitations issue: whether the lease agreement could extend the applicable limitation period.  Justice Edwards correctly found that the lease agreement was not a business agreement.  However, under s. 22(3) of the Limitations Act, parties can agree to contract out of the basic limitation period even in the absence of a business agreement:

[62]      Under s. 22(3), parties can only suspend or extend the two-year limitation period. Under s. 22(5), parties may vary or exclude altogether the two-year period. Importantly, in s. 22(6) “vary” is defined to include “extend, shorten and suspend”. Thus, parties to an agreement under s. 22(3), such as the transponder lease agreement, in which one party is a consumer, can suspend or extend the two-year limitation period. They cannot, however, shorten it. Only parties to a business agreement can also agree to shorten the two-year period. As Mr. Day’s transponder lease agreement extends the two-year limitation period to 15 years, it is enforceable under s. 22(3).

Day also argued that the 15-year limitation period was unenforceable at common law.  The common law imposes specific requirements on an agreement to vary a limitation period.  These include expressly referring to and excluding the application of the statutory limitation period.  Justice Laskin held that the Court of Appeal decision in Boyce is determinative of the issue:

[68]      The resolution of this issue and its interplay with s. 22 is governed by this court’s decision is Boyce v. The Co-operators General Insurance Co.2013 ONCA 298 (CanLII), 116 O.R. (3d) 56, leave to appeal refused, [2013] S.C.C.A. No. 296. […]

[70]      This court allowed Co-operators’ appeal. The panel held that the agreement was a business agreement, and at para. 16 held that an agreement could be enforceable under s. 22 without any of the requirements imposed by the motion judge:

We cannot accept that an agreement purporting to vary the statutory limitation period is enforceable under s. 22 of the Limitations Act, 2002 only if it contains the specific requirements set out by the motion judge. Nothing in the language of s. 22 offers any support for imposing these requirements. The only limitation in s. 22(5) is found in the definition of “business agreement”. No other limitation appears, expressly or by implication, and certainly no content related requirements appear in s. 22(5).

[71]      Instead, at para. 20, this court set out what was required for the enforceability of an agreement under s. 22:

A court faced with a contractual term that purports to shorten a statutory limitation period must consider whether that provision in “clear language” describes a limitation period, identifies the scope of the application of that limitation period, and excludes the operation of other limitation periods. A term in a contract which meets those requirements will be sufficient for s. 22 purposes, assuming, of course, it meets any of the other requirements specifically identified in s. 22.

[…]

[74]      Specifically in response to Mr. Day’s contention, it is unnecessary to refer expressly to the exclusion of the two-year period. There was no express reference to it in the agreement in the Boyce case, yet this court held the agreement was enforceable under s. 22. Similarly, I would hold that the transponder lease agreement signed by Mr. Day is enforceable under s. 22(3) of theLimitations Act, 2002 and is not rendered unenforceable at common law.

Why this decision matters

I think the real significance of this decision is a s. 5(1)(a)(iv) analysis that suggests s. 5(1)(a)(iv) jurisprudence is maturing into a settled, useful aspect of the discovery analysis.  I note in particular Justice Laskin’s recognition of the novelty of s. 5(1)(a)(iv):

[33]      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.

Given the Court of Appeal’s enthusiasm for citing the common law discoverability rule and applying it to limitations analyses under the current Act, this is noteworthy and refreshing.  I’ve written about the damage wrought by the Court of Appeal decision in Lawless, which is frequently cited for its statement of common law discoverability.  If you use the common law test (knowledge of the material facts of a cause of action) to determine the date of discovery, it becomes awkward if not impossible to apply the s. 5(1)(a)(iv), because it’s not a material fact of any cause of action.

I also think Justice Laskin’s consideration of the meaning of “appropriate” is significant:

[34]      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.

In Markel, the Court of Appeal defined “appropriate” as “legally appropriate” and discouraged courts from giving it an “evaluative gloss”.  In this paragraph, Justice Laskin cites Brown rather than Markel.  Justice Feldman held in Brown that what is legally appropriate turns on the facts (it was not legally appropriate for the plaintiff in Brown to sue her doctor while he continued to treat her).  Justice Laskin later in his decision considered Markel, and found that it was legally appropriate for 407 not to sue Day until the statutorily authorised plate denial process completed.

The Court of Appeal may have defined “appropriate” as “legally appropriate”, but as a practical matter the meaning of “legally appropriate” seems to be settling as “what is appropriate in the circumstances of the case”. I think this is a reasonable approach, though it doesn’t bring any more certainty to the commencement of limitation periods.

Interestingly, Justice Laskin does not cite Justice Juriansz’s decision in Clarke, where he gave “appropriate” an especially expansive meaning (“appropriate” means having good reason to believe there is a legal claim).  Clarke‘s influence on s. 5(1)(a)(iv) jurisprudence may prove to be limited.

Justice Laskin’s analysis also raises some interesting questions:

  • A civil action became appropriate when 407 had reason to believe that it will not otherwise be paid. Does this reasoning apply to other claims arising out of non-payment of invoices? If I bill you for my services, does my claim become appropriate only when it becomes reasonable for me to believe that you won’t pay me?
  • The fact that 407 could remedy its claim against Day by “another and more effective method” was a consideration in the s. 5(1)(a)(iv) analysis. The more effective remedy was statutory, which I think will limit the relevance of this decision to other s. 5(1)(a)(iv) analyses.  Still, what if another more effective non-statutory remedy is available? For example, what if the statistics indicate that engaging a collection agency to recover my many small debts is more effective than small claims court? Will a legal claim only become appropriate when the collection agency’s efforts fail?

Ontario: Common law discoverability, and how it applies to the Competition Act

In Fanshaw College v. AU Optronics, Justice Grace held that the limitation period applicable to Competition Act claims is subject to discoverability. We wrote about it here.  The Court of Appeal has upheld this decision.

The appellant argued that the discoverability principle shouldn’t apply for the same reason that it doesn’t apply to section 38(3) of the Trustee Act: the limitation period is linked to a fixed event (in the case of the Trustee Act, death).  The Court rightly rejected this argument.  The limitation period in section 36(4)(a)(i) is linked to the accrual of the cause of action—the wrongful conduct—not a fixed event.  The term “conduct” in section 36(4)(a)(i) refers to the conduct giving rise to damages mentioned in section 36(1) (the statutory cause of action) and is a constituent element of the cause of action that is subject to the limitation period.

Apart from its significance to the competition bar, the decision is noteworthy because it includes a thorough discussion of the common law discoverability principle.  Common law discoverability became mostly academic in Ontario when the legislature codified it into sections 4 and 5 of the Limitations Act, but it remains relevant in certain circumstances.  I’m involved in a proceeding (ever more like Jarndyce and Jarndyce) that is subject to the previous limitations scheme and common law discoverability.

This is the Court’s discussion of discoverability:

[32]      The discoverability principle is a common law rule providing that “a cause of action arises for purposes of a limitation period when the material facts on which it is based have been discovered or ought to have been discovered by the plaintiff by the exercise of reasonable diligence”: Central Trust Co. v. Rafuse, 1986 CanLII 29 (SCC), [1986] 2 S.C.R. 147, at p. 224; see also Graeme Mew, Debra Rolph & Daniel Zacks, The Law of Limitations, 3rd ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2016), at p. 75.

[33]      Discoverability is also an interpretive rule relevant to the construction of limitation statutes: Ryan v. Moore, 2005 SCC 38 (CanLII), [2005] 2 S.C.R. 53, at para. 23. As explained below, it provides certain presumptions for courts interpreting statutory limitation periods.

[34]      The approach for determining whether a particular statutory limitation period is subject to the discoverability principle was discussed by Twaddle J.A. in Fehr v. Jacob (1993), 1993 CanLII 4407 (MB CA), 14 C.C.L.T. (2d) 200 (Man. C.A.), at p. 206:

[T]he judge-made discoverability rule is nothing more than a rule of construction. Whenever a statute requires an action to be commenced within a specified time from the happening of a specific event, the statutory language must be construed. When time runs from “the accrual of the cause of action” or from some other event which can be construed as occurring only when the injured party has knowledge of the injury sustained, the judge-made discoverability rule applies. But, when time runs from an event which clearly occurs without regard to the injured party’s knowledge, the judge-made discoverability rule may not extend the period the legislature has prescribed.

The Supreme Court of Canada has endorsed this passage in Peixeiro v. Haberman, 1997 CanLII 325 (SCC), [1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, at para. 37, and in Ryan, at para. 23.

[35]      Ryan is the latest statement from the Supreme Court of Canada on this issue. In that decision, at para. 24, Bastarache J. concluded as follows:

Thus, the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador is correct in stating that the rule is “generally” applicable where the commencement of the limitation period is related by the legislation to the arising or accrual of the cause of action. The law does not permit resort to the judge-made discoverability rule when the limitation period is explicitly linked by the governing legislation to a fixed event unrelated to the injured party’s knowledge or the basis of the cause of action.

[36]      The applicability of discoverability is a matter of statutory construction. The jurisprudence noted above only provides presumptions and, in Ryan, at para. 23, Bastarache J. cautioned against applying the principle automatically or “systematically without a thorough balancing of competing interests”.