Ontario: Does the limitations act apply to Notices of Objection?

In the Wall Estate, the court held that the Limitations Act does not apply to a claim asserted in a beneficiary’s Notice of Objection to Accounts:

[1]               The discreet issue for consideration at this motion is as follows:  Can an estate trustee move to strike a beneficiary’s Notice of Objection to Accounts in the face of the estate trustee’s Application to Pass Accounts, based on the Limitations Act, 2002, or laches or acquiescence?  For reasons that follow, I am satisfied that the beneficiary, Elizabeth Wall, is not barred from filing an objection to the accounts for the entire period under administration.

Marjorie Wall died in 2005.  The objector was Elizabeth Wall, her daughter and beneficiary of the estate.  Marjorie left the bulk of her estate to her two children in trust until they attained the age of 60 years.  Both children were under 60 at the time of Marjorie’s death.  The trustee had absolute discretion to pay funds to the children during their lifetime prior to reaching 60.  If they didn’t reach 60, the will provided that the estate’s residue was to be divided amongst nieces and nephews.  Elizabeth was 54 at the time of the application, so she had a vested interested in the discretionary trust and a contingent interest in the residue of the estate.

In response to her objection, the trustee took the position that he was not required to address it because it was time-barred, either by the Limitations Act or equity.

The court disagreed.  Relying on the decision in Armitage, the court reasoned that if a passing of accounts doesn’t fit the definition of a “claim” in the Limitations Act, neither does a Notice of Objection:

[31]           Based on the facts in Armitage, Hourigan J.A. found that the passing of accounts does not fit within the definition of a claim within the Limitations Act, 2002.  In my view, if the passing of accounts does not constitute a claim, I am not satisfied that a Notice of Objection is a claim.  In filing a Notice of Objection, the beneficiary is seeking answers to questions about steps taken by the estate trustee during the currency of an administration of an estate.  Answers to those questions may assist the beneficiary in consenting to the passing of accounts without the necessity of a formal hearing.  An absence of consent will require a formal hearing.  A formal hearing will assist the court in determining if the fees sought and investment steps taken are appropriate under all the circumstances.

[32]           The objections taken at their highest may result in a reduction or loss of compensation for the estate trustee or other remedies.  In this case, if the objections are successful to any extent, no additional funds would be payable immediately to Elizabeth as beneficiary of the discretionary trust.  The corpus of the estate would be enlarged, increasing the funds available for the discretionary trust, and ultimately, could increase the amount available to be paid to Elizabeth, but only if she survives to age 60.  On the facts here, I am not satisfied that the Notice of Objection rises to the level of a “claim” as contemplated by the Limitations Act, 2002.

This reasoning is problematic.  The threshold question is whether the Notice of Objection contains a “claim”.  If so, as the Limitations Act applies to all claims pursued in court proceedings, it would limit the claim pursued in the Notice of Objection.  Section 1 of the Limitations Act defines “claim”:  “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission”.  Accordingly, answering the threshold question requires assessing whether the elements that comprise a claim—wrongful conduct and resulting damage—are present.

In Armitage, the Court of Appeal found that an attorney for property’s application to pass accounts was not a “claim”. The application did not seek a remedy for any damage, but rather court approval of the attorney’s conduct.

The decision Wall does not quote the definition of “claim” and does not explicitly consider its elements. Rather, it reasons that if the application to pass accounts in Armitage was not a “claim”, then neither was the Notice of Objection.  This is not a sound limitations analysis.

Indeed, the decision certainly gives the impression that the Notice of Objection was “claim”.  In it, Elizabeth alleged that the trustee had wrongfully carried out his duties resulting in a diminution of the funds available to her; in other words, she sought to remedy damage resulting from wrongful conduct.

It may be that the court arrived at the correct decision, but from a limitations perspective it’s a very dubious decision.

Update!

Leigh Sands kindly brought to my attention Iaboni Estate v. Iaboni in which an application judge considered a limitations defence raised in response to a notice of objection without any suggestion that this is an unsettled area of the law:

Did the limitation periods expire, such that the claims made in his Notice of Objection are out of time?

[32]           The objections of Mr. C. Iaboni that the trustee ‘excluded’ many valuable assets such as a mortgage, two businesses, a condo and life insurance policy from the estate of Lidia Iaboni and that when Lidia Iaboni became disabled, her husband’s wealth evaporated and the applicant has no interest in marshalling this wealth is, in part, a complaint about the administration of Umberto Iaboni’s affairs, between the onset of his disability in 2006 and his death in 2010 and latterly a complaint about the administration of his mother’s affairs between the onset of her disability in 2006/2007 and before her death in 2012. His allegations in the Notice of Objection filed in his mother’s estate, as outlined above were in substance the same as those made in the litigation he initiated on December 15, 2010.  All of the transactions about which he complains were disclosed to him no later than the accounting delivered on behalf of his siblings pursuant to the Minutes of Settlement, with the possible exception of the discharge of the mortgage on his sister’s home, which was a matter of public record.  His civil action was dismissed on May 15, 2013.

[33]           It appears, therefore, that Mr. C. Iaboni’s Notice of Objection raises issues as particularized above that are outside of the 2-year period within which they may have been pursued.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision:

[10]      We are not persuaded that the motions judge made any error. The appellant consented to the passing of accounts from the time of the appointment of BNS, and has not appealed that aspect of the order. Even if the appellant were able to identify errors with respect to the abuse of process and Limitations Act claims, the motions judge’s findings of fact on the merits are fatal to the appeal. She made findings that the appellant had not substantiated his suspicions with respect to the discharge of mortgage, the share certificate, or general dissipation of funds. She also found the evidence of the respondent Norma to be credible and reliable. Those findings are entitled to deference and are dispositive of the appeal.

It is certainly arguable that this decision is determinative of the issue, even if the court determined it without analysis or acknowledgement that it is the subject of debate.

However, Matthew Furrow, who is a far greater authority on these issues than me, disagrees.  He notes that really, all the Court held was that the facts were dispositive of the appeal, and not the limitations analysis.  I think he’s right, which means uncertainty remains.

 

 

 

Ontario: rectification is a “claim”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Court held that policy considerations cannot drive the results:

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

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

 

 

 

Ontario: the limitation of human rights claims pursued in court

An issue in Torres v. Export Packers was whether the Limitations Act or the Human Rights code applies to a human rights claim in a civil action.  It arose in the context of a motion to strike paragraphs from a pleading, and because the court found the question undecided, it denied the relief:

[24]           There can be no doubt that the law is unsettled as to which limitation applies.  The Defendant’s own factum, under the heading “Ontario Superior Court’s Inconsistent Application of the Limitations Act and the Code“, refers to a number of cases where Superior Court Judges have applied both the Code and the Limitation Act limitation period in an action.   I should note that it does not appear that the issue was squarely before those courts as it is in this motion.

I have trouble finding any uncertainty, especially subsequent to the Court of Appeal decision in Letestu Estate.  The limitation period in the Human Rights Code applies explicitly to applications to the Human Rights Tribunal.   The Limitations Act applies to claims pursued in court proceedings. If you are suing in court, and if your suit involves a “claim” as defined by the Limitations Act, its provisions apply.

 

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: no limitation period without a claim

Justice Emery’s decision in Inzola Main Street Inc. v. Brampton (City of) is a statement of a very often overlooked but fundamental principle of the Ontario limitations scheme: there is no claim, and therefore no applicable limitation period, until the claimant suffers damage:

[51]           Inzola has made the basic submission on this motion that a limitation period for damages claim does not commence running until damage actually occurs. Mr. Svonkin refers to the definition of “claim” in section 1 of the Limitations Act 2002 as “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission”. This language is consistent with section 5(1)(a) that sets out the components of the discoverability rule, and provides that a claim is discovered on the earlier of the day on which the person with the claim first knew that the injury loss or damage “had occurred”.

[52]           From reading the definition “claim” in section 1 that a claim must relate to damage, and to the qualifier “had occurred” to injury, loss or damage in section 5(1)(a)(i), the legislature has employed definitive language to require that the damage to which the claim relates must have taken place for the injury, loss or damage to be known. Where damage is an element of a cause of action or claim, a limitation period can only commence when the person with the claim suffers some damage that has occurred, and that damage is discoverable: Peixeiro v. Haberman1997 CanLII 325 (SCC)[1997] S.C.J. No. 31, at paras. 18 and 36, andPickering Square Inc. v. Trillium College Inc.[2016] O.J. No. 1118, at para. 33.

[53]           The prospect of injury, loss or damage at some future date is not sufficient to commence a limitation running. A claim does not arise only because a person recognizes or is concerned that they may suffer that injury, loss or damage at some point in the future. Justice Belobaba explained it this way in IPEX v. Lubrizol2012 ONSC 2717 (CanLII), at para. 22:

22.   In my view, it is self-evident that the injury, loss or damage that “has occurred” must be injury, loss or damage that was sustained by the person with the claim. It is also, in my view, a self-evident proposition of modern limitations law that the clock begins to run with actual harm (known or discoverable) and not just the possibility of future harm. The latter proposition doesn’t make any sense either in terms of public policy or otherwise.

Ontario: Limitations Act doesn’t apply to applications for attorney compensation

In April, I reported that in Armitage v. The Salvation Army, Justice Ray held wrongly that the limitation period for claiming compensation as a property attorney commences on the death of the person who granted the power of attorney.  I wrote that the Limitations Act doesn’t apply to such an application.  In December, the Court of Appeal agreed.

Armitage brought applications to pass her accounts as attorney for property and as estate trustee.  The Salvation Army filed notices of objection in both proceeding raising a limitations defence.  Justice Ray held that the death of the person who granted the power of attorney terminated the continuing power of attorney and was the commencement of the applicable limitation period.  The applications were accordingly timely.

Not so, I wrote.  While there may be sound policy reasons for limiting a claim for attorney’s compensation after the death of the grantor, no limitation period applies to such an application.  The application is not a “claim” within the meaning of the Limitations Act because it doesn’t seek to remedy loss resulting from an act or omission.  If it’s not a “claim”, the basic and ultimate limitation periods can’t apply.  In fairness to Justice Ray, we noted that neither party raised this point.

Armitage raised the point on appeal, and Justice Hourigan accepted it:

[19]      While I agree with the result reached by the application judge, I disagree with his conclusion that the Limitations Act, 2002had any application in the circumstances of this case. As I will discuss below, in my view, the Limitations Act, 2002 does not apply because compensation for an attorney for property through the passing of accounts process does not constitute a “claim” within the meaning of the Limitations Act, 2002.

[20]      It is useful to briefly consider the nature of compensation for attorneys for property and how the passing of accounts process works. An attorney for property is a fiduciary and has an obligation under s. 32(6) and 38(1) of the SDA to, among other things, keep accounts of all transactions involving the property.

[21]      The attorney for property may bring an application to the Superior Court to have his or her accounts approved. Through that process, the attorney for property may also seek court approval of compensation for his or her services. The responding parties to the application have an opportunity to file a notice of objection to the accounts, and to object to the compensation that the attorney for property proposes to take or has taken.

[22]      Where the attorney for property has not commenced an application for the passing of accounts, an interested party may bring an application under s. 42(1) of the SDA to compel the passing of accounts.

[23]      As noted by Matthew Furrow and Daniel Zacks in their very recent article “The Limitation of Applications to Pass Accounts” (2016) 46 Adv. Q. 2, historically in Ontario there was no statutory limitation period for the passing of accounts. The only bars were the equitable defences of laches and acquiescence. The question becomes whether the enactment of the Limitations Act, 2002changed the law and imposed the general two-year limitation period on claims for compensation for attorney for property.

[24]      At first blush it would appear that such claims might be captured by the general limitation period. The Limitations Act, 2002 was designed to comprehensively deal with all manner of civil claims, whether grounded in equity, law, or statute. There are specific carve outs in the legislation for claims that are not subject to the Act. It is arguable, therefore, that if compensation for attorneys for property was intended to be exempted from the general limitation period it would have been specifically exempted under the Limitations Act, 2002.

[25]      The difficulty with that argument is that the Limitations Act, 2002 applies only to the assertion of a “claim”, and a claim is defined in the Act as follows: “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission.”

[26]      The appellant submits that the right under the SDA to seek compensation is a new statutory right and, as with all rights, where there is a right there must be a remedy. Further, the appellant argues that the respondent’s claim for compensation fits within the statutory definition of a claim. Counsel for the appellant submits that in seeking compensation at this time the respondent has suffered a loss because she chose not to seek self-help and take her compensation earlier. He goes on to argue that this loss is the result of the respondent’s omission in failing to claim compensation earlier.

[27]      I am unable to accede to this rather circular argument. The fact is that in seeking court approval of the passing of accounts, an attorney for property is not seeking redress for any loss, injury, or damage. Rather, he or she is seeking approval from the court of his or her actions in managing the property, including approval for compensation previously taken or now sought. A passing of accounts application is the opposite of remedial; it is a process that seeks a court order that no remedy is necessary with respect to the accounts: see Furrow and Zacks, at pp. 9-10. Thus, the passing of accounts does not fit within the first part of theLimitations Act, 2002 definition of claim.

[28]      An application for the passing of accounts also does not fit within the second part of the statutory definition of claim. Where the definition speaks of an act or omission, it must surely refer to an action taken or not taken by a third party that has the effect of causing loss, injury, or damage. It would be a strange result if a limitation period could not be triggered until the party asserting the claim took an action or omitted to do something.

[29]      The result, in my view, is that a passing of accounts under the SDA is not subject to the two-year general limitation period found in the Limitations Act, 2002.[1] The common law in that regard was not changed with the enactment of that legislation. Consequently, the only defences available are the equitable defences of laches and acquiescence, neither of which were asserted in the present case.

Obviously, I think this is sound reasoning (based as it is on a paper I wrote with my colleague Matthew Furrow).

Importantly, Justice Hourigan explicitly not does hold that the Limitations Act has no applicability to the passing of accounts process under the SDA:

[1] I do not mean to categorically provide that the Limitations Act, 2002 has no applicability to the passing of accounts process under the SDA. In particular, it may be that the filing by a beneficiary of a notice of objection after an attorney has sought a passing of accounts is a claim within the meaning of the Limitations Act, 2002. However, I leave this determination to another case where it arises directly on the facts.

In our paper, Matthew and I argue a notice of objection that asserts a claim within the meaning of the Limitations Act is subject to its limitation periods.  Send me a note if you’d like a copy.