Ontario: the evidentiary threshold for adding a defendant after the limitation period’s presumptive expiry

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Mancinelli v. Royal Bank of Canada is now a leading decision on the addition of a defendant to proceeding after the presumptive expiry of the limitation period.  The Court set out the test, and held that it applies equally to limitations periods that are not subject to the discovery provisions in the Limitation Act:

[23]      When a person opposes a plaintiff’s motion to add it as a defendant on the basis of the apparent expiry of a limitation period, the motion judge is entitled to assess the record to determine whether, as a question of fact, there is a reasonable explanation on proper evidence as to why the plaintiff could not have discovered its claim through the exercise of reasonable diligence. If the plaintiff does not raise any credibility issue or issue of fact about when its claim was discovered that would merit consideration on a summary judgment motion or a trial and there is no reasonable explanation on the evidence as to why the plaintiff could not have discovered the claim by exercising reasonable diligence, the motion judge may deny the plaintiff’s motion: Arcari v. Dawson2016 ONCA 715 (CanLII)134 O.R. (3d) 36, at para. 10. 

[24]      However, the evidentiary threshold that must be met by a plaintiff on such a motion is low: Pepper v. Zellers Inc. (2006), 2006 CanLII 42355 (ON CA)83 O.R. (3d) 648 (C.A.), at para. 14Burtch v. Barnes Estate (2006), 2006 CanLII 12955 (ON CA)80 O.R. (3d) 365, at paras. 26-27. The plaintiff’s explanation should be given a “generous reading”: Wakelin v. Gourley (2005), 2005 CanLII 23123 (ON SC)76 O.R. (3d) 272, at para.15, aff’d 2006 CarswellOnt 286 (Div. Ct.). Whether the plaintiff and its counsel acted with reasonable diligence must be considered in context: Fanshawe College of Applied Arts and Technology v. Sony Optiarc Inc.2014 ONSC 2856, at para. 45 (the “Fanshawe Pleadings Motion”.)

[25]      While ArcariPepper and Wakelin dealt with motions to add defendants that were opposed based on the apparent expiry of the limitation period under the Act, the same approach, and the same low threshold, is warranted where the motion is opposed or also opposed based on the apparent expiry of any statutory limitation period subject to the discoverability principle: see, for example, Fanshawe Pleadings Motion.

[…]

[30]      A plaintiff’s failure to take reasonable steps to investigate a claim is not a stand-alone or independent ground to find a claim out of time. Instead, the reasonable steps a plaintiff ought to take is a relevant consideration in deciding when a claim is discoverable under s. 5(1)(b): Galota v. Festival Hall Developments Ltd.2016 ONCA 585 (CanLII), 133 O.R. (3d) (C.A.), at para. 23; Fennel v. Deol2016 ONCA 249 (CanLII)265 A.C.W.S. (3d) 1029, at paras. 18, 24.

[31]      Where the issue on a motion to add a defendant is due diligence, the motion judge will not be in a position to dismiss the plaintiff’s motion in the absence of evidence that the plaintiff could have obtained the requisite information with due diligence, and by when the plaintiff could have obtained such information, such that there is no issue of credibility or fact warranting a trial or summary judgment motion: Wong v. Adler (2004), 2004 CanLII 8228 (ON SC)70 O.R. (3d) 460 (Ont Master), at para. 45Pepper, at para. 18.

The Court overturned the motion judge’s decision (which I noted for its summary of the relevant principles) for applying too high a standard to high an evidentiary threshold.

[26]      In the context of a motion to add defendants in a class action alleging a secret conspiracy brought before any statements of defence had been filed or any discoveries had taken place, the motion judge required the appellants to meet too high an evidentiary threshold.

[27]      Giving the requisite generous, contextual reading to the appellants’ explanation, the appellants provided a reasonable explanation why they could not have identified the respondents as co-conspirators before July 20, 2014. I note that in the Fanshawe Pleadings Motion, the motion judge permitted plaintiffs alleging a price-fixing conspiracy to amend their statement of claim to add defendants on evidence as to due diligence that essentially consisted of reviewing publically available documents, albeit a more detailed list of those documents was provided.

[28]      In the face of the appellant’s evidence of their search for other potential defendants, the respondents led no evidence of further reasonable steps that the appellants could have taken to ascertain their identities before July 20, 2014. Rather, the motion judge suggested that the appellants should have taken further steps to investigate whether the respondents were co-conspirators. At least some of the steps he suggested go beyond those a reasonable plaintiff would have taken in the circumstances, indicating that he held the appellants to too high an evidentiary standard. By way of example, it is not apparent how a plaintiff alleging a conspiracy that the defendants took active steps to conceal and that was conducted through secret “chats” could have possibly obtained the suggested Anton Pillar and Norwich orders. The evidentiary foundation required to obtain such orders is high.

[29]      Further, a representative plaintiff is not akin to the investigative arm of a regulator. Regulators often have investigative powers that civil plaintiffs do not. There was no evidence that any of the sophisticated regulators investigating the alleged conspiracy had identified any of the respondents as co-conspirators before the UBS proffer.

The decision is also noteworthy for what is arguably the addition of a new consideration to the test.  The Court criticized the motion judge for having failed to determine with sufficient precision when the plaintiffs ought to have discovered their claim.  Prior to this decision, I think it was generally understood that when a proposed defendant argues that leave is inappropriate based on evidence that the plaintiff could through reasonable diligence have discovered the claim within two years of the motion, it wasn’t necessary for the proposed defendant to provide an exact date on which discovery ought to have occurred.  Going forward, should the court neglect to make a finding in regards of the date when discovery ought to have occurred, there may be ground for appeal:

[32]      As the respondents appropriately conceded, there was no evidentiary foundation for the motion judge’s finding that the respondents’ identities as co-conspirators could have been established with reasonable diligence. The fact that UBS – one of the co-conspirators and a participant in the “collusive chats” – was able to identify other participants in the secret chats is no indication that the appellants, who were not co-conspirators, could have done so.

[33]      Nor did the motion judge determine with sufficient precision by when the appellants ought to have discovered that they had a claim. As noted above, the appellants claim would be statute barred only if the s. 5(1)(b) date were before July 20, 2014. The motion judge found the identity of BMO and TD could have been established “before the expiry of the limitation period”. It is not clear what the motion judge meant by “the expiry of the limitation period”. The respondents submitted that the limitation period expired on December 31, 2015 (two years after the end of the alleged conspiracy period). If the motion judge’s intended finding were that the appellants could have established the identities of BMO and TD by December 31, 2015, then the appellants’ claim against them would not have been statute-barred.

Ontario: Put that best foot forward (or else)

Bergen v. Fast Estate is a reminder from the Court of Appeal that in a summary judgment motion on a limitations defence, the plaintiff needs to put her best evidentiary foot forward, or lose:

[11]      In response to Aviva’s motion for summary judgment, no evidence was filed that had the effect of rebutting the presumption that as at the date of his accident, the appellant knew he was not the owner of the motor vehicle but his father was. In particular, there was no evidence from either the appellant or his father, Johan Bergen Sr., both of whom were clients of the law firm when the appellant’s claim was issued. Given the appellant’s obligation to put his “best foot forward” in response to Aviva’s motion for summary judgment and his onus to rebut the presumption under s. 5(2), the motion judge was entitled to assume that there would be no additional evidence at trial to assist the appellant on these issues.

[12]      Absent any evidence rebutting the presumption, the appellant and his counsel (as the appellant’s agent) were presumed to know who owned the vehicle prior to the issuance of the statement of claim. Accordingly, they were also presumed to know at that time that the owner was a potential defendant and that an action against the owner would therefore be an appropriate remedy to recover damages for the appellant’s injuries. That it was not strictly necessary to add the owner of the vehicle as a defendant at the time the statement of claim was issued does not determine whether an action against the owner was an appropriate remedy. As the motion judge stated, “[t]here could never be an argument that the appropriate remedy against the owner of the vehicle was anything other than to include him as a defendant in the action when the Statement of Claim was issued”.

Ontario: Rebutting presumptive discovery is the plaintiff’s burden

The Court of Appeal decision in O’Brien-Glabb v. National Bank of Canada states the principle that the plaintiff bears the onus of establishing the inappropriateness of a proceeding as part of a discovery argument:

[13]      We agree with the appellant that it was the respondent who bore the onus of leading evidence to establish on a balance of probabilities that a proceeding was not appropriate in 2010 (see: Miaskowski (Litigation guardian of) v. Persaud2015 ONCA 758(CanLII) at para 27Fennell v. Deol2016 ONCA 249 (CanLII) at para16; and Galota v. Festival Hall Developments Ltd.2016 ONCA 585 (CanLII) at para 15).

Even a vague familiarity with the operation of s. 5 of the Limitations Act means this principle is self-evident, but it’s nevertheless helpful to have it stated explicitly.