Ontario: limitation period in Teacher’s Life policy invalid

In Parmar v. Teachers Life, Justice Faieta held that the limitation period in Teachers Life’s “Educators Income Protection Plan and Policy” doesn’t apply to a claim for denial of coverage under the policy.  Instead, the Limitation Act‘s basic two-year limitation applies:

[32]           The defendant submits that this action is barred by the two-year limitation period found in Policy.  The relevant provision, at p. 50 of the Policy, states:

In the case where benefits have not been paid or have been paid on a without prejudice basis, a legal proceeding shall not be commenced in respect to a claim under this policy after the second anniversary of the day the claim was discovered.  Discovery of a claim shall be defined as the earlier of the date a claim was first filed with Teachers Life, or the day a reasonable person ought to have known that a claim for benefits should have been filed with Teachers Life. [Emphasis added.]

[33]           However, the Act provides that a limitation period under the Act applies despite any agreement to vary or exclude it unless (1) such agreement was made before January 1, 2004; or (2) it is a “business agreement”, among other exceptions: see s. 22 of the Act.  I find that neither exception applies.

[34]           First, the Policy states that it was revised September 1, 2009 and “replaces all previous polices issued for Plan holders who are not currently receiving Disability Benefits”: see Policy, at p. 2.  Accordingly, I find that the Policy was not made before January 1, 2004.

[35]           Second, the Policy names (1) the defendant as the insurer; (2) the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, District 12, as the Plan Sponsor; and (3) the individual member as the Policyholder.  I find that the Policy is not a “business agreement” because (1) the plaintiff is a party to the Policy; and (2) the Policy was made for “personal, family or household purposes”: see Kassburg v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, 2014 ONCA 922 (CanLII), at paras. 58-61.  Accordingly, the limitation period provision found in the Policy, including the trigger for the discovery of a claim, has no effect.

Ontario: For some, the Limitation Act remains a novelty (Exhibit 2)

In February, I cautioned against taking the bench’s familiarity with the Limitation Act, 2002 for granted. For I some, I suggested, it remains a novelty.

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Thompson v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada should encourage readers to head this advice.  A motion judge ignored or misapprehended section 22 off the Act when determining whether to enforce a shortened limitation period in a group insurance policy:

[5]         The primary ground of appeal advanced by Ms. Thompson is that the motion judge erred in concluding that her action was barred by reason of a contractual one-year limitation provision contained in the Policy. We agree that the motion judge erred in reaching that conclusion.

[6]         The January 1, 2006, Group Benefits Handbook for the Policy described the limitation period for long-term disability benefit claims as follows: “No legal action may be brought by you more than one year after the date we must receive your claim forms or more than one year after we stop paying Long-Term Disability benefits.”

[7]         In his reasons, the motion judge simply wrote in respect of this issue: “The plaintiff’s claim in this action is barred by the contractual one-year limitation provision of the policy.” The reasons of the motion judge do not explain how he reached that conclusion. Section 22 of the Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, permits the variation of the general two-year limitation period set out in s. 4 in two circumstances. First, s. 22(2) provides that a limitation period under the Act may be varied or excluded by an agreement made before January 1, 2004. Second, s. 22(5) provides that the s. 4 limitation period may be varied or excluded by a business agreement made on or after October 19, 2006.

[8]         The motion judge made no finding whether the Policy was made before January 1, 2004. Nor did the motion judge make any finding as to whether the Policy was a “business agreement” within the meaning of s. 22(5) of the Act. In the absence of such findings, the conclusion by the motion judge that Ms. Thompson’s action was barred by the contractual one-year limitation provision of the Policy is not supportable.

[9]         Moreover, in light of this court’s decision in Kassburg v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, 2014 ONCA 922, which was released after the motion judge had granted summary judgment in this case, there is strong reason to doubt that the Policy would fall within the “business agreement” exception contained in s. 22(5) of the Act.

Ontario: the limitations jurisprudence of 2014 in review

This post is a paper I wrote for LawPro on the year’s limitations jurisprudence.  It may be of interest to Under the Limit readers; if you’d like a PDF version , just ask.

The limitations jurisprudence of 2014 in review

Dan Zacks[1]

January 1, 2014 marked ten years since the Limitations Act, 2002 came into force. Now many aspects of the old limitations regime are forgotten, or will be soon. Consider for instance the classification of actions. Once a key step in the limitations analysis, it is barely remembered, and rarely fondly.[2]

Meanwhile, the courts have developed an extensive body of jurisprudence interpreting and applying the new Act. To be sure, this jurisprudence remains in development. Many of 2014’s leading decisions consider fundamental limitations issues arising from the Limitations Act for the first time. For example, in 2014 we learned from the Court of Appeal how a plaintiff should plead a discoverability argument (by reply), and that there is no legislative gap that would prevent the Limitations Act from applying to claims for unjust enrichment (Collins v. Cortez and McConnell v. Huxtable respectively, both discussed below). The Superior Court also delivered decisions of consequence, in particular by confirming that the Limitations Act applies to will challenges (Leibel v. Leibel, also discussed below).

While it is difficult to identify definite trends in the year’s limitations jurisprudence, several lower court decisions point toward an increasing receptiveness to boundary-pushing discovery analyses. In one case, the “no, I won’t pay my 407 toll” decision, the Court found that proportionality can be a factor when determining whether a plaintiff has discovered that a proceeding is an appropriate means to seek a remedy.[3] In another somewhat eccentric case, the Court found that, pursuant to “cultural dimension theory”, being Slovenian can determine when a plaintiff discovers her claim.[4] It will be interesting to see whether courts follow either of these decisions, and more generally, whether they remain open to creative discovery arguments.

What follows is a summary of the more consequential Ontario limitations decisions from 2014. For mostly up-to-date reporting on this year’s limitations jurisprudence, you are welcome to visit limitations.ca.

McConnell v. Huxtable: In which the Court of Appeal says yes, a claim for unjust enrichment is subject to the Limitations Act[5]

McConnell is a family law decision involving an unmarried couple. The applicant made a constructive trust claim for an ownership interest in the respondent’s house and, in the alternative, for compensation in money. The respondent sought the dismissal of the claim on the basis that it was barred by the expiry of the limitation period.

The motion judge’s 2013 decision[6] was sensational, at least in the rather staid world of limitations. In thorough and persuasive reasons, Justice Perkins held that the discovery provisions of the Limitations Act cannot apply to a remedial constructive trust based on a claim of unjust enrichment. Taken to its logical conclusion, this meant that in a great many circumstances, only the equitable doctrine of laches and acquiescence would limit a claim for unjust enrichment.

A limitation period commences when the injured party discovers the claim within the meaning of section 5 of the Limitations Act. Justice Perkins concluded that a claim for constructive trust is not in all circumstances discoverable as contemplated by this section. If a claim is not discoverable, the limitation period will never commence. If the limitation period never commences, there is no limitation period. This is how he described the problem:

I think that section 5(1)(a) makes it impossible to know when if ever the limitation [period] would start running because the claimant may never (reasonably) know of a “loss, damage or injury” and because there is no act or omission of the respondent that the claimant is required to or is even able to point to in order to “discover” a claim for a constructive trust. Claims to recover land aside, the Limitations Act, 2002 may have been meant to but does not manage to encompass constructive trust claims. I am unable to give effect to the precise and detailed wording of sections 4 and 5 so as to make them apply to constructive trusts in family law cases.[7]

Not surprisingly, Justice Rosenberg, writing for the Court of Appeal, disagreed, and held that there is no legislative gap:

I do not agree with the motion judge that a remedial constructive trust claim does not require any act or omission by the person against whom the claim is brought. Generally speaking, a claim of unjust enrichment requires that the defendant retain a benefit without juristic reason in circumstances where the claimant suffers a corresponding deprivation. In other words, the relevant act of the defendant is simply the act of keeping the enrichment (or the omission to pay it back) once the elements of the unjust enrichment claim have crystallized. In the family law context, this may typically occur on the date of separation, when shared assets, including real property, are divided and the possibility therefore arises of one party holding onto more than a fair share.[8]

Justice Rosenberg acknowledged that in some cases it may be difficult to apply section 5 to a claim for unjust enrichment, but it applies nonetheless. Even if the difficulty means the claim is never discovered, the ultimate limitation period will still limit it. This is sound reasoning, but terribly disappointing to the plaintiffs’ bar, who had begun to think very hard about how to make every old claim one for unjust enrichment.

McConnell also brings clarity to the application of the Real Property Limitations Act. The fact that the respondent sought a monetary award in the alternative to an interest in land did not mean that the claim wasn’t for a share of property, and subject to section 4 of the Real Property Limitations Act with its plaintiff-friendly ten year limitation period.[9]

Longo v. McLaren Art Centre: The Plaintiff must not delay, not even for Rodin[10]

This Court of Appeal decision written by Justice Hourigan quickly became a leading authority on the duty imposed by the Limitations Act on plaintiffs to investigate potential claims. It is already much-cited by defendants when arguing that a plaintiff was dilatory in discovering their claim and, more specifically, when envoking section 5(1)(b) of the Act.

Justice Hourigan’s reasoning is not especially novel; rather, he adopts a line of discoverability jurisprudence developed under the previous Act exemplified by Soper v. Southcott (1998)[11]. In essence, a plaintiff must take reasonable action to investigate the matters described in section 5(1)(a) of the Act. What is reasonable depends on the plaintiff’s circumstances and the nature of the potential claim. However, it is never necessary for the plaintiff to investigate to the point where she knows with certainty that a potential defendant is responsible for the impugned acts or omissions. It is enough that she has prima facie grounds to infer that the potential defendant caused the acts or omissions. Establishing these grounds may require an expert report.[12]

Longo has almost glamorous facts.   At issue was the appellants’ discovery of damage to their sculpture Walking Man, possibly the work of Rodin. The sculpture was harmed while in the respondents’ care and the appellants claimed for damages. The court dismissed the claim on motion for summary judgment on the basis that it was commenced out of time.

Justice Hourigan set aside the decision of the motion judge and held that there was a genuine issue requiring a trial. Determining whether a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the appellants ought to have discovered the claim required a full trial record. Justice Hourigan nevertheless shared his view on what was appropriate in the circumstances. On learning of concerns about the condition of Walking Man, a reasonable person would arrange for an inspection of the sculpture.

 

Collins v. Cortez: Respond with a reply[13]

This decision is a primer on how pleadings should address a limitations defence, which is often a point of confusion for counsel.

Cortez moved to dismiss Collins’s personal injury claim on the basis that it was commenced two years after her accident and statute-barred by the expiry of the limitations period. Justice Gordon granted the motion. He gave effect to the presumption in section 5(2) of the Limitation Act that the limitation period commenced on the date of the accident. He held that because Collins did not plead discoverability facts in her Statement of Claim, she could not make out a section 5(1) discoverability argument.

Not so, held the Court of Appeal. In the normal course, if a limitations defence is raised in a Statement of Defence, and the plaintiff relies on the discoverability principle, the plaintiff should plead the material facts relevant to discoverability in reply, not the Statement of Claim. The expiry of a limitation period is a defence to an action that must be pleaded in a Statement of Defence. As such, a plaintiff needn’t anticipate discoverability and address it in her Statement of Claim.

Leibel v. Leibel: Two year to challenge a will[14]

Since the Limitations Act came into force, the estates bar has speculated as to whether a limitation period applies to will challenges. Many thought that it would not, based in part on an influential article by Anne Werker on limitation periods in estate actions:

It has been suggested that the 15-year absolute limitation period applies to will challenges. I do not agree. Section 16(1)(a) of the new Act expressly states that there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding for a declaration if no consequential relief is sought”. [15]

The courts have tended increasingly toward asserting the application of the Limitations Act, and it came to seem likely a court would apply the Act to a will challenge. This is what Justice Greer did in Leibel.

The case involved two wills. The testatrix’s son Blake applied for a declaration that the wills were invalid, and another son and other respondents moved for an order dismissing the application on the basis that it was statute-barred by the expiry of the limitation period.

Justice Greer held that the limitation period began running in June 2011, the date of the testatrix’s death, because a will speaks from death. However, Blake discovered his claim within the meaning of the Limitation Act about a month later in July 2011 (for reasons that don’t bear mentioning here, but are at paragraph 39 of the decision). This meant that he commenced his application out of time.

In particular, Justice Greer rejected Blake’s argument that no limitation period applied to his will challenge pursuant to section 16(1)(a). She held that the legislature did not intend for section 16(1)(a) to exclude will challenges from the two-year limitation period:

To say that every next-of-kin has an innate right to bring on a will challenge at any time as long as there are assets still undistributed or those that can be traced, would put all Estate Trustees in peril of being sued at any time. There is a reason why the Legislature replaced the six-year limitation in favour of a two-year limitation.[16]

Kassburg v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada: In business agreements, the party isn’t literal[17]

Kassburg demonstrates the Court’s commitment to protecting individuals from contracts that impose shortened limitation periods. It deals with section 22(5) of the Limitations Act, which permits contracting out of the statutory limitation period through “business agreements” unless one of the parties to the contract is an individual. Rather than limiting the word “parties” in this section to its literal meaning, the Court of Appeal instructs us to adopt a meaning consistent with the objective of protecting individuals from unexpectedly or unfairly abridged limitation periods.

Kassburg was an insured under a group policy issued by the appellant Sun Life to the North Bay Police Association. The respondent submitted a claim for long-term disability benefits that Sun Life denied.

She commenced an action claiming entitlement to the benefits. Sun Life moved for summary judgment on the basis that her claim was out of time. Among other things, Sun Life relied on a one-year limitation period contained in the insurance contract. It argued that this was a limitation period subject to section 22(5).

The motion judge held that the insurance policy fit within the business agreement exception. Because the parties to the insurance contract were the Police Association and the appellant, the contract was not entered into by an individual.

Justice van Rensburg rejected this reasoning. The word “parties” in section 22(5) must be given a broad, purposive reading. The literal reading of “parties” is inconsistent with the objective of section 22, which is to restrict the circumstances in which a contract can alter the statutory limitation periods in the Limitations Act. Although the group insurance contract under which Kassburg made her claim was between the Police Association and Sun Life, Justice van Rensburg deemed Kassburg to be a party for the purpose of asserting her claim, and for Sun Life’s limitations defence.[18]

Green v. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce: Plaintiffs must fully control whether they commence an action in time[19]

In Green, the Court of Appeal overturned its decision in Sharma v. Timminco (2012)[20], thus restoring peace and order to the limitation scheme under the Securities Act. [21]

Timminco created a distinctively perverse phenomenon in limitations jurisprudence: a limitation period that did not allow plaintiffs to control whether they commenced an action in time. As Justice Feldman noted in her decision for the Court of Appeal, this was unprecedented and entirely foreign to the concept of limitations.

At issue in both cases was the statutory cause of action in section 138.3 of the Securities Act. This section creates a cause of action for misrepresentations regarding shares trading in the secondary market. A plaintiff, most often a representative plaintiff in a class proceeding, can only commence a section 138.3 claim with leave. Pursuant to section 138, a plaintiff has three years from the date of the misrepresentation to obtain leave and commence the action. [22]

The Timminco Court held that a claim for damages under section 138.3 is statute-barred if the plaintiff does not obtain leave to commence it within the three-year limitation period, and that section 28 of the Class Proceedings Act[23], which suspends limitation periods in favour of class members once a claim is asserted in a class proceeding, will not operate in respect of a 138.3 claim until leave is obtained.

The Timminco Court reasoned that a section 138.3 claim is “asserted” within the meaning of section 28 of the Class Proceedings Act only when leave is granted because leave is a component of the cause of action. Given the dictionary definitions before the Court of “assert”, this conclusion was sound, at least in theory.

In practice, it was problematic. Its effect was to require representative plaintiffs to move for and obtain leave to commence a section 138.3 claim within three years, but the plaintiffs could not control the timeliness. Obtaining leave within three years was challenging, if not impossible.

This limitation period is not subject to the discoverability provisions of the Limitations Act because it commences on the date of the misrepresentation. The longer it takes to discover the misrepresentation, the shorter the time for obtaining leave and commencing the action. Even if a plaintiff brought the motion in good time, the defendant could initiate procedural steps resulting in delay, and court availability could affect the timing of the hearing and the rendering of the decision.

And so the Court reversed itself. Justice Feldman set aside the Timminco Court’s interpretation of the Class Proceedings Act, holding instead that when a representative plaintiff brings a section 138.3 claim within the limitation period, pleads section 138.3 together with the facts that found the claim, and pleads an intent to seek leave to commence, the claim has been “asserted” for the purposes of the Class Proceedings Act, and the limitation period is thereby suspended for all class members.

This decision is obviously of great significance to the securities bar, but beyond that, it preserves the fundamental principle of limitations that a plaintiff must have unilateral control over whether it misses a limitation period.

 

And for the insurance bar…

Lastly, several insurance decisions bear noting.

From Sagan v. Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company, we learned that time begins to run for a claim for denied accident benefits on the date of the denial.  A party can’t stop the commencement of the limitation period by sneakily (or inadvertently) omitting certain documents from the accident benefits application.[24]

In Sietzema v. Economical Mutual Insurance Company,[25] the Court of Appeal held that the limitation period begins to run for a claim for statutory accident benefits when the insurer denies the application for those benefits.

In Schmitz v. Lombard General Insurance Company of Canada[26], the court determined when the limitation period commences for a claim for indemnity under OPCF 44R, an optional endorsement for underinsured motorist coverage to the standard form automobile insurance policy. The limitation period does not start to run when the demand for indemnity is made because default must first occur. The limitation period begins to run the day after the demand for indemnity is made.

[1] Dan is a contributor to the upcoming fourth edition of The Law of Limitations and a lawyer at Clyde & Co. His practice focuses on commercial litigation and lawyers’ professional negligence. He also publishes Under the Limit, a blog about developments in the always riveting world of limitations jurisprudence.

[2] This is subject to the occasional exception. See for example Economical Mutual Insurance Company v. Zurich Insurance Company, 2014 ONSC 4763, in which the Court undertakes a classification of actions analysis, presumably out of nostalgia.

[3] See 407 ETR Concession Company v. Ira J. Day, 2014 ONSC 6409.

[4] See Miletic v. Jaksic, 2014 ONSC 5043 and the related post on Under the Limit, <http://limitations.ca/?p=19>.

[5] 2014 ONCA 86.

[6] 2013 ONSC 948.

[7] 2013 ONSC 948 at para. 143.

[8] 2014 ONCA 86 at para. 51.

[9] Conversely, the mere fact that a claim affects real property will not exclude the application of the Limitations Act. See Zabanah v. Capital Direct Lending, 2014 ONCA 872.

[10] 2014 ONCA 526 (“Longo”).

[11] 1998 CanLII 5359 (Ont. C.A.).

[12] See Longo, supra note 1, at paras. 41-44.

[13] 2014 ONCA 685.

[14] 2014 ONSC 4516.

[15] Anne Werker, “Limitation Periods in Ontario and Claims by Beneficiaries”, (2008) 34:1 Advocates’ Q at 24-28.

[16] 2014 ONSC 4516 at para. 52.

[17] 2014 ONCA 922.

[18] 2014 ONCA 922 at paras. 58-61.

[19] 2014 ONCA 90.

[20] 2012 ONCA 107.

[21] R.S.O. 1990, C. S.5.

[22] See also section 19 of the Limitations Act, 2002.

[23] S.O. 1992, C. 6.

[24]2014 ONCA 720.

[25] 2014 ONCA 111.

[26] 2014 ONCA 88.

Ontario: Read business agreements varying the limiation period “broadly and purposively”

Section 22(5) of the Limitations Act, 2002 permits contracting out of the statutory limitation period unless one of the parties to the contract is an individual.  The word “parties” in this section does not have only its literal meaning. The Court of Appeal in Kassburg v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada instructs us to read it broadly and purposively so that its meaning is consistent with the objective of the section.

The respondent in Kassburg was an insured under a group policy issued by the appellant Sun Life to the North Bay Police Association.  The respondent submitted a claim for long-term disability benefits that Sun Life denied.

She commenced an action claiming entitlement to the benefits.  Sun Life moved for summary judgment on the basis that her claim was out of time.  Among other things, Sun Life relied on a one-year limitation period contained in the insurance contract.  It argued that this was a limitation period subject to section 22(5) of the Limitations Act, 2002.  Section 22(5) and 22(6) provide as follows:

The following exceptions apply only in respect of business agreements:

Section 22(5)

  1. A limitation period under this Act, other than one established by section 15, may be varied or excluded by an agreement made on or after October 19, 2006.
  2. A limitation period established by section 15 may be varied by an agreement made on or after October 19, 2006, except that it may be suspended or extended only in accordance with subsection (4).

Section 22(6)

“business agreement” means an agreement made by parties none of whom is a consumer as defined in the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 (“accord commercial”) [Section 1 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2002 defines “consumer” as “an individual acting for personal, family or household purposes and does not include a person who is acting for business purposes; (“consommateur”)];

“vary” includes extend, shorten and suspend. (“modifier”)

The motion judge held that the insurance policy fit within this business agreement exception. Because the parties to the insurance contract were the Police Association and the appellant, the contract was not entered into by an individual acting for personal, family, or household purposes.

Justice van Rensburg rejected this reasoning.  The word “parties” in section 22(5) must be given a broad, purposive reading consistent with the objective of the provision:

[58]      The clear wording of s. 22(5) permits contracting out of the statutory limitation period, unless the parties to the contract include an individual, and the contract was for “personal, family or household purposes”. There are therefore two requirements for a business agreement to exist: the parties must not include individuals, and the contract must not have been for personal, family or household purposes.

[59]      The literal reading of the “parties” aspect of the section that appears to have been accepted by the motion judge, in my view, is inconsistent with the objective of s. 22 of the Limitations Act, 2002, which is to restrict the circumstances in which the statutory limitation periods under the Act can be altered by contract. In my view, the word “parties” in s. 22(6) should be given a broader, purposive reading to accord with the objective of s. 22.

[60]      In this action, the respondent is asserting a personal claim for LTD benefits provided under a group policy. She is entitled to assert the claim directly against the insurer under s. 318 of the Insurance Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. I.8. Although the group insurance contract under which she is making her claim was entered into between the NBPA and the appellant, the appellant relies on a limitation period contained in that contract to exclude her claim. The respondent is in effect deemed to be a party for the purpose of asserting her claim, and for the purpose of the appellant’s limitations defence.

[61]      With respect to the “purposes” requirement, the contract is for personal purposes, and accordingly is not a “business agreement” under s. 22(5).

Ontario: Even highways are subject to limitation periods (plus a novel discovery argument)

Readers of Under the Limit rejoice! There is now an answer to the question that worried us so while driving the 407: what limitation period applies to the collection of unpaid 407 tolls?

Not only did the Court answer this question in 407 ETR Concession Company v. Ira J. Day, it emphasised the universal application of the Limitations Act, 2002 and added a novel proportionality component to the discovery analysis.

Mr. Day refused to pay his 407 tolls.  Unfortunately, the cameras of the 407 ETR Concession Company are all-seeing, and so in June 2013 the 407 ETR commenced an action against Mr. Day for payment of $9,808, plus interest, owed for driving the 407 on 2,194 occasions.  Mr. Day admitted his use of the 407, but chose to fight a portion of the 407’s claim against him on the basis that it was statute-barred.  407 brought a r. 21 motion to determine the limitation issues. The 407 ETR was represented by a team of three from Lenczners led by Tom Curry.  Mr. Day was represented by a team of two captained by Ronald Manes of Torkin Manes.  The 407 is, evidently, serious business.

The 407 ETA’s argument was threefold. First, they argued that the Limitations Act, 2002 does not apply to claims brought by the 407 ETA. The basis for this position was the Highway 407 Act, which provides that “a toll and any related fee or interest is a debt owing to the owner, and the owner has a cause of action enforceable in any court of competent jurisdiction for the payment of that debt”.  If the legislature intended this debt to be like any other, the 407 ETA suggested, there would be no reason to specify separately that the 407 ETR has a cause of action to enforce the debt.  By implication, the cause of action is a stand-alone remedy available to the 407 ETA that is not subject to the Limitations Act, 2002 (presumably, the limiting principles of equity would still apply, though the 407 ETA doesn’t appear to have addressed this).

This is a problematic argument because it’s entirely at odds with a limitation period of general application. Justice Edwards rightly had none of it, noting that it “flies in the face” of the universal limitation period in section 4 of the act:

[41]      There is nothing from my review of the Limitations Act nor the Highway 407 Act which would explicitly exempt the 407 ETR from Ontario’s limitation regime, nor is there anything that prescribes a separate limitation period for the toll debt.  Presumptively the toll debt owed to the 407 ETR is, in my view, subject to sections 4 and 15 of the Limitations Act.

[…]

[43]      In my view it would take explicit language in the 407 Act, and or an exception provided for in the Limitations Act, to give to the 407 ETR an ability to make a claim free of any limitations defence.  No such language can be found in the 407 Act, nor is there any exception in the Limitations Act.

The 407 ETA’s second argument was that the applicable limitation period was 15 years pursuant to the transponder lease agreement Mr. Day signed. It argued that the agreement was valid under section 22 of the Limitations Act, 2002, which permits parties to extend a limitation period by agreement.

This argument also failed.  Section 22(5) allows for the variance and exclusion of limitation periods under the act in respect of “business agreements”. The act defines “business agreement” as “an agreement made by parties none of whom is a consumer as defined in the Consumer Protection Act, 2002”.  The Consumer Protection Act, 2002 defines a consumer as “an individual acting for personal, family or household purposes and does not include a person who is acting for business purposes.”

The lease agreement could not be a business agreement:

[51]      The application for the Transponder Lease signed by Mr. Day makes quite clear on its face that he is signing for personal use as opposed to business use.  The 407 ETR must have therefore known of the distinction between a consumer applying for a transponder in his personal capacity versus someone acting in his business capacity.  Mr. Day, when he leased the transponder, did so as a consumer as defined by the Consumer Protection Act.  As such, the 407 ETR cannot rely upon the 15 year limitation period set forth in the Transponder Lease Agreement, as the 407 ETR does not fall within the exception set forth in section 22(5)(1) of the Limitations Act given that it only applies in respect of business agreements.  The Transponder Lease Agreement as signed by Mr. Day was not a business agreement.

This serves as a reminder to carefully word agreements excluding the Limitations Act, 2002.

The 407 ETA’s last argument was that the limitation period commenced when Mr. Day’s license plate went into “denial”, and not, as Mr. Day argued, on the date the 407 ETA issued each invoice. The Highway 407 Act empowers the 407 ETR to ask the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to deny the renewal of a license plate associated with outstanding 407 invoices.

Justice Edwards undertook a discovery analysis. He focussed on the criterion in section 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act, 2002, whereby a party must discover that, “having regard to the nature of the injury,  loss or damage, a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it”:

[57]           It would be difficult to argue that the 407 ETR would not have the means to discover when an invoice is unpaid.  In this age of computers it would undoubtedly be possible for the 407 ETR to have available to it the necessary information to determine that with the non-payment of an invoice 30 days after its issuance, that in fact “injury, loss or damage had occurred”.  To require the 407 ETR to issue a claim for every unpaid invoice would not be an effective means, nor would it be an appropriate means to seek its remedy.  The invocation of section 5(1)(a)(iv) of the Limitations Act is not a question of discoverability, but rather an application of proportionality, common sense and the effective means emphasized by the Divisional Court in 407 ETR Concession Company Limited (supra).

To my knowledge, this is a novel reading of section 5(1)(a)(iv). If there’s a standard definition of “appropriate”, it’s “legally appropriate” (see Markel Insurance Company of Canada v. ING Insurance Company of Canada at para. 34). This section is mostly invoked to delay the commencement of a limitation period while the underlying damage, though discovered, is trivial and a claim for damages is legally inappropriate. Here the issue isn’t the triviality of the 407 ETR’s damage, but the burden of imposing a limitation period that would oblige it to commence thousands of claims.

If this proportionality approach to section 5(1)(a)(iv) finds traction, I look forward to seeing how the courts determine the balance. If the prospect of thousands of actions means a claim is not legally appropriate, what of the prospect of just a thousand actions, or five hundred, or fifty? How much burden must there be to prevent a claimant from discovering its claim?

Another implication of Justice Edwards’s analysis is to give the 407 ETR control of the commencement of the limitation period.  It’s the 407 ETR that initiates a plate denial.  In theory, the 407 ETR could wait years before causing the limitation period to run, subject only to the 15 year ultimate limitation period, and enjoy the benefit of accruing interest.  This gives defendants no security that they “will not be held to account for ancient obligations”, a fundamental purpose of limitations legislation (see M.(K.) v. M.(H.)).