Ontario: a limitations defence appropriate for r. 21(1)(a)

The decision in Kaynes v. BP, PLC is a rare example of a limitation defence appropriately determined on a r. 21(1)(a) motion:

[68]           In my opinion, as explained below, there are no material facts that could be pleaded or any discoverability issues that could or would postpone the running of the limitation period for the fraudulent misrepresentation cause of action. It is plain and obvious that all of the possible claims arising from the Deepwater Horizon disaster were discovered by June 1, 2012. In my opinion, as explained below, the case at bar is one of those cases where pursuant to rule 21.01 (1)(a), the court can and should strike a claim as statute barred.

The defendants had also moved for judgment based on admissions in the Statement of Claim pursuant to r. 51.06(2).  Plainly, they had heeded the Court of Appeal’s direction in Brozmanova v. Tarshis to move under this rule where the allegations in the Statement of Claim entitle the defendant to judgment on a limitations defence.  Having allowed the motion to strike, the court didn’t consider r. 51.06(2) relief, which from a limitations law perspective is unfortunate because to my knowledge it would have been the first instance of a r. 51.06(2) limitations analyses.

The decision also provides an excellent overview of the distinction between the cause of action and the claim in the limitations scheme:

[73]           Before the enactment of the current Limitations Act, 2002a limitation period commenced when a cause of action accrued and when the cause of action was discovered.

[74]           There are over a hundred causes of action and there were rules for when a cause of action accrued and rules about when an accrued cause of action was discovered. Prior to the enactment of s. 5(1)(a)(iv) of the current Limitations Act, 2002the judge-made discoverability principle governed the commencement of a limitation period. The discoverability principle stipulated that a limitation period begins to run only after the plaintiff has the knowledge, or the means of acquiring the knowledge, of the existence of the material facts that would support a claim for relief; i.e. knowledge of the factual constituent elements of a cause of action.[24] The discoverability principle conforms with the idea of a cause of action being the fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial redress or relief against another.[25]

[75]           A cause of action is a set of facts that entitles a person to obtain a judgment in his or her favour from a court exercising its common law, equitable or statutory jurisdiction.[26] In Ivany v. Financiere Telco Inc.,[27] and 1309489 Ontario Inc. v. BMO Bank of Montreal,[28] Justice Lauwers observed that the idea of cause of action is used in two related senses: (1) it identifies a factual matrix from which claims or complaints arise; and (2) it identifies the legal nature of those claims, which is the nominal or technical meaning of cause of action.

[76]            With the enactment of the Limitations Act, 2002a limitation period commences when a “claim” is discovered”. The words “cause of action” do not appear in the Act, and the goal of the legislators was that for the purpose of determining when a limitation period began to run, “claim” and “claim” discovery would replace cause of action accrual and cause of action discovery. [29] This goal, however, was not achieved and the case law continues to use the idea of a cause of action in association with the idea of a “claim” under the Act. Under the Act, a claim is discovered on the earlier of two dates: the day on which a plaintiff either knew or ought to have known the constitutive elements of the claim and that a proceeding in Superior Court would be an appropriate means to seek a remedy.[30]

[77]           This continued connection between the ideas of claims as defined by the Limitations Act, 2002 and causes of action as understood under statutes and in law and equity is understandable, because civil procedure requires a plaintiff to plead the material facts of a viable cause of action and just pleading that the defendant’s conduct harmed the plaintiff does not provide the plaintiff with a remedy for his or her legal grievance or give the defendant notice of the cause of action that he or she must defend.

[78]           Section 1 of the Limitations Act, 2002 defines “claim” to mean: “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission”. A claim is a function of cause of action, which is the fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial redress or relief against another.[31] In Lawless v. Anderson,[32] the Court of Appeal stated at paras. 22-23:

  1. 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. This principle conforms with the generally accepted definition of the term “cause of action” — the fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial redress or relief against another”….
  2. Determining whether a person has discovered a claim is a fact-based analysis. The question to be posed is whether the prospective plaintiff knows enough facts on which to base an allegation of negligence against the defendant. If the plaintiff does, then the claim has been “discovered”, and the limitation period begins to run: seeSoper v. Southcott(1998), 1998 CanLII 5359 (ON CA), 39 OR (3d) 737 (C.A.) and McSween v. Louis (2000), 2000 CanLII 5744 (ON CA), 132 OAC 304 (C.A.).

[79]           Although functionally closely related to causes of action, a claim as defined under the Limitations Act, 2002 is somewhat different from a cause of action. A cause of action has discrete constituent elements. For example, as noted above, negligent misrepresentation has five specific constituent elements, but a claim under the Limitations Act, 2002 has just two generic elements; namely: (1) and act or omission of misconduct; and (2) injury, loss or damage caused by the misconduct. Strictly speaking, the application of the Limitations Act, 2002 does not require identifying the cause of action, it requires only determining whether the plaintiff has discovered wrongful conduct and harm for which a lawsuit would be appropriate to remedy the harm. Another  difference between claims and causes of action is that all claims have the element of damages, but some causes of action are actionable without damages having occurred. The cause of action for contract, for instance, requires a contract and a breach of the contract; damages, which typically do occur when a contract is breached, are, however, not a constituent element of the cause of action for breach of contract. Another difference is that no causes of action have appropriateness of a lawsuit as a constituent element, which is a factor in what counts for a discovered claim under the Limitations Act, 2002. A subtle deviation between claim and cause of action is that discovery of a claim under the Limitations Act, 2002 requires the plaintiff to have knowledge of an occurrence of injury caused by the defendant’s misconduct for which a law suit would be an appropriate means to seek a remedy, but discovery of a cause of action under the common law requires the plaintiff to have knowledge that the defendant’s conduct occasioned the material facts of the constituent elements of a particular cause of action.

[80]           All of the above reveals that the relationship between claim and cause of action is subtle and sometimes confusing. When a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy, it is not enough for the plaintiff to just plead a claim as defined under the Limitations Act, 2002, he or she must still plead a reasonable cause of action. To assert a cause of action so as to interrupt a limitation period, the pleading must allege the facts necessary to identify the constituent elements of the cause of action.[33]

[81]           With some statutory adjustment, the discoverability principle continues to operate for claims, and the principle has been codified by the Limitations Act, 2002 Discoverability has been adjusted by s. 5(1)(a)(iv), and thus subject to s. 5(1)(a)(iv), a limitation period commences at its earliest when the plaintiff discovers the underlying material facts or, alternatively, when the plaintiff ought to have discovered those facts by the exercise of reasonable diligence, but because of s. 5(1)(a)(iv), discoverability may be postponed.

[82]           Under the Limitations Act, 2002the discoverability of a claim for relief involves the identification of the wrongdoer, and also, the discovery of his or her acts or omissions that constitute liability.[34] It is not enough that the plaintiff has suffered a loss and has knowledge that someone might be responsible; the identity and culpable acts of the wrongdoer must be known or knowable with reasonable diligence.[35]

[83]           For the limitation period to begin to run, it is not necessary that the plaintiff know the full extent or quantification of his or her damages; rather, the period begins to run with the plaintiff’s subjective or objective appreciation of being damaged, i.e., of being worse off than before the defendant’s conduct.[36]

[84]           Section 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act, 2002 adjusts the operation of the discoverability principle, and s. 5(1)(a)(iv) can have the effect of delaying the commencement of the running of limitation period. Where a person knows that he or she has suffered harm; i.e., when the plaintiff knows the elements of ss. 5(1)(a)(i),(ii), and (iii), the delay lasts until the day when a proceeding would be an “appropriate” means to remedy the harm having regard to the nature of the injury, loss or damage.

[85]           The appropriateness factor of 5(1)(a)(iv) introduces some uncertainty in the operation of the Limitations Act, 2002 but it also introduces some flexibility and fairness in the application of the discovery principle, which presumptively operates against the claimant as soon as a cause of action becomes objectively apparent.[37] In Markel Insurance Co. of Canada v. ING Insurance Co. of Canada,[38] the Court of Appeal held that for s. 5(1)(a)(iv) to have a delaying effect, there must be a juridical reason for the person to wait; i.e., there must be an explanation rooted in law as to why commencing a proceeding was not yet appropriate. Appropriateness must be assessed on the facts of each particular case, including taking into account the particular interests and circumstances of the plaintiff.[39]

[86]           Subject to the adjustment made by s. 5(1)(a)(iv), with respect to the basic limitation period of two years under the Limitations Act, 2002, a claim is “discovered” on the earlier of the date the claimant knew – a subjective criterion – or ought to have known – an objective criterion – about the claim.[40] Pursuant to s. 5(2) of the Act, the discovery of a claim presumptively occurs for the plaintiff on the date of the act or omission, but the plaintiff may rebut the presumption by demonstrating that he or she could only have reasonably discovered the underlying material facts after the date of the act or omission.

This is the impact of the distinction:

[88]           Applying these principles to the circumstances of the immediate case, pursuant to the Limitations Act, 2002 around June 1, 2010, presumptively and also subjectively and objectively factually, Mr. Kaynes discovered he had a “claim” against BP. He subjectively knew that BPs misconduct had caused him harm and he knew that court proceedings would be appropriate. For the purpose of the commencement of limitation periods, it was not necessary for Mr. Kaynes to put a cause of action name to his “claim”. Whatever way the statement of claim was later framed to name a cause of action, the “claim” to which the cause of action was connected had been discovered in 2010 and the limitation period clock was running.

[89]           In other words, having discovered a “claim” in 2010, Mr. Kaynes had two years to plead the misconduct connected to the claim by pleading the material facts of negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraudulent, misrepresentation, an oppression remedy, nuisance, or whatever. For the purpose of commencing a proceeding, however he might label his claim as a cause of action in a statement of claim, the limitation period for the “claim” was running by June 1, 2010. As it happened, albeit late, in November 2012, Mr. Kaynes pleaded a cause of action for negligent misrepresentation in Ontario, and he gave his claim a cause of action name, but regardless of its name in accordance with the principles of the Limitations Act, 2002, the negligent misrepresentation claim was already statute barred. A fraudulent misrepresentation claim had it been pleaded in November 2012 in Ontario would also have been statute barred.

The court also found that uncertainty as regards forum does not impact on appropriateness (consistent with Lilydale Cooperative Limited v. Meyn Canada Inc., which held similarly but isn’t cited in the decision):

[90]           In a creative argument, Mr. Kaynes, however, argues that his April 2012 action in Alberta was a timely claim in Alberta, with which I would agree, and until the Alberta court declined to take jurisdiction with respect to that claim, which did not occur until November 2012, it could not be said that a claim in Ontario had been discovered until November 2012. In this regard, he submits that under s. 5 (1)(a)(iv) of Ontario’s Limitation Act, 2002, it was only after Alberta declined to take jurisdiction that it could be said that proceedings in Ontario were appropriate and thus until the November decision in Alberta, the claim in Ontario had not been discovered.

[91]           This argument, however, does not work because the appropriateness of a proceeding in Ontario is not determined by the inappropriateness of a proceeding somewhere else. If any, the decision in Alberta, confirmed that Ontario was the appropriate forum for proceedings against BP.


Ontario: Court of Appeal says that the Limitations Act applies to claims, not causes of action

Justice Strathy’s decision in Apotex Inc. v. Nordion (Canada) Inc. is one of the most important limitations decisions from the Court of Appeal since the Limitations Act came into force.  It’s the first decision to make explicit that the Limitations Act doesn’t apply to causes of action, but to “claims” (as defined in s. 1 of the Limitations Act).

This distinction is most often missed by Ontario courts., which generally treat the cause of action and the “claim” as interchangeable for limitations purposes.  I have written about this issue extensively (see this, for example), including the problems that result.

Justice Strathy noted one of those problems.  Because damage is always an element of the “claim” but not of any cause of action based on conduct that is actionable per se, they accrue differently.  A breach of contract is the most common example:

[84]   Before the reform of limitations law brought about by the LA 2002, the previous statute, the Limitations ActR.S.O. 1990, c. L.15, looked to when the cause of action arose (an expression not used in the LA 2002) to determine the commencement of the limitation period. The “cause of action” for breach of contract accrued on the date of the breach and the limitation period began to run on that date: see Graeme Mew, Debra Rolph & Daniel Zacks, The Law of Limitations, 3d ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2016) at §9.6; Robert Simpson Co. Ltd. et al v. Foundation Co. of Canada Ltd. et al (1982), 1982 CanLII 1750 (ON CA)36 O.R. (2d) 97 (C.A.), at p. 105Schwebel v. Telekes1967 CanLII 163 (ON CA)[1967] 1 O.R. 541 (C.A.), at p. 544.

[85]   This was the case whether or not damages had yet been incurred. Damages are not an essential element of the cause of action for breach of contract: Mars Canada Inc. v. Bemco Cash & Carry Inc.2018 ONCA 239 (CanLII)140 O.R. (3d) 81, at para. 32.

[86]   Under the LA 2002, the limitation period for breach of contract does not necessarily run from the date of the breach. As I have observed, in contrast to the former statute, the date of the “act or omission” – the breach of contract itself – is not the only factor to be considered in determining when a claim is discovered under the LA 2002. Instead, the date on which the plaintiff knew of the occurrence of the act or omission is only one factor to be determined. In addition to that factor, the person with the claim must also know that the “injury, loss or damage had occurred” (s. 5(1)(a)(i)), that it was caused or contributed to by the act or omission (the breach of contract) (s. 5(i)(a)(ii)), and that the act or omission was that of the defendant (s. 5(1)(a)(iii)).

[87]   As a result of the presumption under s. 5(2), the limitation period begins to run on the date of the breach (being the date of the “act or omission”), unless it is proven that the person with the claim did not know of one or more of the matters set out in s. 5(1)(a), and that a reasonable person would not have known of those matters.

[88]   A plaintiff with a claim for breach of contract may displace the presumption in s. 5(2) if, for example, they establish that they did not know that “the injury, loss or damage” had occurred or, if it had occurred, they did not know that it was caused by an act or omission of the defendant – the breach of contract. But it is well-settled that the person need not know the extent of the injury, loss or damage to trigger the commencement of the limitation period. It is enough that they know that some damage has occurred. In Hamilton (City) v. Metcalfe & Mansfield Capital Corp.2012 ONCA 156 (CanLII)290 O.A.C. 42, at paras. 59-61, this court adopted the common law rule expressed in Peixeiro v. Haberman1997 CanLII 325 (SCC)[1997] 3 S.C.R. 549, at para. 18, that “some damage” is sufficient to start the running of the limitation period.

Justice Strathy set out the impact this has on a limitations analysis for a breach of contract: 91-92

[91]   First, to determine when a claim is discovered in a breach of contract case, it is necessary to examine the terms of the contract and the nature of the alleged breach (the “act or omission”) on which the claim is based: see Mew, Rolph & Zacks, at §9.5, citing to NFC Acquisition L.P. v. Centennial 2000 Inc., 2010 ONSC 733, 67 B.L.R. 218, at paras. 29-30, affirmed in 2011 ONCA 43 (CanLII)78 B.L.R. (4th) 11Hopkins v. Stockman2013 SKCA 118 (CanLII)427 Sask. R. 4, at para. 10. As van Rensburg J.A. noted in Morrison v. Barzo, at paras. 33, 49, the application of the test in s. 5(1)(a) requires the identification or definition of the claims at issue. This is a necessary starting point.

[92]   Second, in many cases, the act or omission, causation, and the injury, loss or damage will occur simultaneously, and will be discovered simultaneously. But this will not always be the case. In some cases, discovery of the “act or omission” will not start the limitation period running unless injury, loss or damage has occurred and has been discovered (s. 5(1)(a)(i)).

To understand the significance of this decision, compare it to the Court’s description of discovery in Lawless:

[22]         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.  This principle conforms with the generally accepted definition of the term ‘cause of action’ – the fact or facts which give a person a right to judicial redress or relief against another”:Aguonie v. Galion Solid Waste Material Inc. (1998), 1998 CanLII 954 (ON CA), 38 O.R. (3d) 161 (C.A.), at p. 170.

Here the Court describes discovery in terms of knowledge of the material facts of the cause of action, which is a statement of common law discovery, not discovery as codified in s. 5 of the Limitations Act.  Apotex, together with recent decision in Gillham, suggests that the Court is moving away from the misconception that underlies reliance on Lawless.   

Two other points:

  1. Justice Strathy’s decision begins with s. 2 of the Limitations Act.  Because this is the provision that determines the application of the Limitations Act, this is the correct starting point for any limitations analysis.  However, you rarely see courts considering it.
  2. It would have been helpful for the Court to include a paragraph explaining why the cause of action does not feature in the Limitations Act.  It was a deliberate decision.  The Legislature sought to resolve the enormous problems inherent in cause of action accrual by converting all causes of action into one unit, the claim.  This also allowed for universal limitation periods, rather than limitation periods for different categories of causes of action.


Ontario: the Limitations Act doesn’t apply to claims before administrative tribunals

Mea Culpa! Given my take-away from this decision below, I clearly read it too quickly.  It is actually one of the more remarkably wrong limitations decisions from the past several years, not least because it holds that any personal injury claim involving a tenant and a landlord is not subject to the Limitations Act, but the one year temporal limit in the Residential Tenenacies Act.  It’s under appeal.  (What follows may be the only thing right about the decision).  


The Limitations Act plainly applies only to court proceedings and not claims brought before administrative tribunals.  Should you ever need an authority for this proposition (aside from the plain meaning of s. 2), look to Justice Sloan’s decision in Letestu v. Ritlyn Investments:

[62]        Section 2 of the Limitations Act makes it clear that the Limitations Act applies to “claims pursued in court proceedings”.

[63]        Nowhere in the Limitations Act does it state that the Limitations Act applies to claims brought before administrative tribunals.