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 (again) that r. 21 isn’t for limitations defences

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Clark v. Ontario (Attorney General) is another emphatic instruction not to bring motions for judgment on a limitations defence under r. 21:

[40]      The second problem is that the Attorney General seeks to use a r. 21.01(1)(a) motion to assert the Limitations Act defence that it has not pleaded. That rule involves the determination of a question of law raised in a pleading, and it is clear that the application of the Limitations Act is not a matter of law. This point has been made by this court on several occasions. For example, in Beardsley this court stated as follows, at paras. 21-22:

The motion to strike based on the expiry of a limitation period could only be made pursuant to rule 21.01(1)(a), which provides that a party may move for the determination of a question of law “raised by a pleading”. The expiry of a limitation period does not render a cause of action a nullity; rather, it is a defence and must be pleaded.

Plaintiffs would be deprived of the opportunity to place a complete factual context before the court if limitation defences were determined, on a routine basis, without being pleaded. Adherence to rules that ensure procedural fairness is an integral component of an appearance of justice. The appearance of justice takes on an even greater significance where claims are made against those who administer the law.

[41]      Despite these remarks, this court stated in Beardsley that it would be “unduly technical” to require a statement of defence to be delivered if “it is plain and obvious from a review of the statement of claim that no additional facts could be asserted that would alter the conclusion that a limitation period had expired”: at para. 21. To the extent that this comment created an exception, it was extremely limited in scope, as the example given makes clear: the expiry of the two-year limitation period under the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. H. 8, in connection with a claim for property damage only, in circumstances in which the panel noted that the discoverability rule clearly did not apply.

[42]      Although this court has not categorically precluded the use of r. 21.01(1)(a) on limitations matters in subsequent cases, in several cases it has sought to discourage its use. In Metropolitan Toronto Condominium Corporation No. 1352 v. Newport Beach Development Inc.2012 ONCA 850 (CanLII)113 O.R. (3d) 673, at para. 116, Laskin J.A. said that a defendant could move to strike a claim based on a limitation defence“[o]nly in the rarest of cases” if the defendant has yet to deliver a statement of defence. A fuller explanation was provided in Salewski v. Lalonde2017 ONCA 515 (CanLII)137 O.R. (3d) 762, at para. 42, in which the panel stated that “this court’s comment in Beardsley” had “likely been overtaken by the enactment of the Limitations Act, 2002”. The court in Salewski further limited the effect of the Beardsley comment by stating that it “was never intended to apply to a case that is legally or factually complex”: at para. 42.

[43]      Significantly, the panel in Salewski stated at para. 45 that, because the basic limitation period is now premised on the discoverability rule, the application of which raises mixed questions of law and fact, “[w]e therefore question whether there is now any circumstance in which a limitation issue under the Act can properly be determined under rule 21.01(1)(a) unless pleadings are closed and it is clear the facts are undisputed”.

[44]      The situation contemplated in Salewski – the close of pleadings and the absence of any factual dispute – is very narrow, and this court has continued to discourage the use of r. 21.01(1)(a) motions on limitations matters. In Brozmanova v. Tarshis2018 ONCA 523 (CanLII)81 C.C.L.I. (5th) 1, at para. 19, this court emphasized that “[t]he analysis required under s. 5(1) of the Limitations Actgenerally requires evidence and findings of fact to determine. It does not involve a ‘question of law’ within the meaning of rule 21.01(1)(a).” Justice Brown described reliance on r. 21.01(1)(a) to advance a limitation period defence as “a problematic use of the rule”, one that risks unfairness to a responding plaintiff: at paras. 17, 23.

Ontario: Court of Appeal says don’t use r. 21.01(1)(a) to advance limitations defences

In Brozmanova v. Tarshis, the Court of Appeal has brought certainty to the question of whether a defendant may advance a limitations defence in a r. 21.01(1)(a) motion.  The answer is no.   Rule 21.01(1)(a) is for the determination of questions of law.  The expiry of the limitation period is a question of fact (or mixed fact and law).  Further, evidence is not admissible without leave under r. 21.01(1)(a), which puts the plaintiff in the unfair position of needing to seek leave to admit the evidence relevant to the limitations defence when it should be admissible as of right:

[10]      The Rules of Civil Procedure make available two sets of procedural devices by which a party can seek to dispose finally of a proceeding on a contested basis.

[11]      One set is evidence-based, under which the parties adduce evidence by various means, on the basis of which the court decides whether to grant or dismiss a proceeding. The Rules permit or offer several standard evidence-based procedural devices by which to obtain such a final adjudication on the merits: (i) the conventional trial; (ii) the hybrid trial; (iii) two forms of summary judgment – rules 20.04(2)(a) and 20.04(2)(b); and (iv) a rule 38 application.

[12]      The second set of procedural devices enables a party to ask the court to determine a question of law that may dispose of all or part of a proceeding. These law-based devices include: (i) a rule 22 special case; (ii) rule 21.01(1)(a), where a question of law is raised by a pleading; and (iii) rule 21.01(1)(b), where a pleading discloses “no reasonable cause of action or defence”.

[13]      The law-based character of the devices available under rules 21.01(1)(a) and (b) is reinforced by the limits placed on the use of evidence on motions brought under those rules. No evidence is admissible on a “no reasonable cause of action” motion; nor is evidence admissible on a “question of law” motion, except with leave of the judge or on consent of the parties: rule 21.01(2).

[14]      The rationale for these prescriptions is a simple one: the allegations asserted in the pleading, which the court must accept as provable at trial, are sufficient to determine the question of law or whether the pleading discloses a cause of action or defence recognized by law: see Hunt v. Carey Canada Inc.1990 CanLII 90 (SCC), [1990] 2 S.C.R. 959, at pp. 980, 988 and 990-991. No further facts are required to determine the legal sufficiency of the claim.

[15]      In the present case, Dr. Tarshis was sued for conduct as a medical practitioner. He and Ms. Brown are represented by a law firm with long experience in representing medical practitioners. They sought to dismiss Ms. Brozmanova’s action relying on two law-based rules: 21.01(1)(a) and (b).

The “question of law” under rule 21.01(1)(a)

[16]      The “question of law” the respondents raise under rule 21.01(1)(a) is that Ms. Brozmanova commenced her action outside of the two-year limitation period.

[17]      Relying on rule 21.01(1)(a) to advance a limitation period defence is a problematic use of the rule. Some decisions of this court characterize the issue of whether a plaintiff has commenced a proceeding within the limitation period as one involving a question of fact: Pepper v. Zellers Inc. (2006), 2006 CanLII 42355 (ON CA), 83 O.R. (3d) 648 (C.A.), at para. 19; and Arcari v. Dawson2016 ONCA 715 (CanLII), 134 O.R. (3d) 36, at para. 9, leave to appeal refused, [2016] S.C.C.A. No. 522. Others describe it as involving a question of mixed fact and law: Salewski v. Lalonde2017 ONCA 515 (CanLII), 137 O.R. (3d) 762, at para. 45; and Ridel v. Goldberg2017 ONCA 739 (CanLII), at para. 12. Regardless, it does not involve a question of law.

[18]      In the basic case, the court must ascertain “the day on which the claim was discovered”: Limitations Act, 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, s. 4 (the “Limitations Act”). This, in turn, requires making two findings of fact: (i) the day on which the person first knew of the four elements identified by s. 5(1)(a)(i)-(iv) of the Limitations Act;[1] and (ii) under s. 5(1)(b), “the day on which a reasonable person with the abilities and in the circumstances of the person with the claim first ought to have known of the matters referred to in” s. 5(1)(a). The earliest of the two dates is the date on which the claim is discovered: s. 5(1).

[19]      The analysis required under s. 5(1) of the Limitations Act generally requires evidence and findings of fact to determine. It does not involve a “question of law” within the meaning of rule 21.01(1)(a).

[20]      Yet, here the respondents invoked a law-based rule to establish a largely fact-based defence. I recognize, as respondents’ counsel submits, that some jurisprudence exists that has allowed a defendant to resort to rule 21.01(1)(a) to determine its limitations defence “where it is plain and obvious from a review of a statement of claim that no additional facts could be asserted that would alter the conclusion that a limitation period had expired”: see the commentary on rule 21.01(1)(a) in Todd. L. Archibald, Gordon Killeen & James C. Morton, Ontario Superior Court Practice, 2018 (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2017), at p. 1128. See also Paul M. Perell & John W. Morden, The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario, 3d ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2017), at p. 611.

[21]      However, courts must always remember that permitting a defendant to move under 21.01(1)(a) to establish a limitations defence could prove unfair to a plaintiff, especially a self-represented one. By selecting rule 21.01(1)(a) as the procedural means to adjudicate its fact-based limitations defence, a defendant puts a plaintiff in the position where she cannot, as of right, file evidence to explain when she discovered her claim. Instead, she must seek leave of the court.

[22]      A plaintiff who risks the dismissal of her action on the basis of a limitations defence should not have to ask a court for permission to file evidence on the issue of when she discovered her claim. She should be entitled to do so as of right. It is unfair for a defendant to attempt, tactically, to deprive her of that right and put her to the unnecessary expense (and risk) of asking permission to do so.

[23]      Notwithstanding the jurisprudence that opens the rule 21.01(1)(a) door to some efforts to prove a limitations defence, in my respectful view such an approach risks working an unfairness to a responding plaintiff. Requiring a defendant to move under an evidence-based rule – either rule 20 (summary judgment) or rule 51.06(2) (concerning admissions of the truth of facts in a pleading) – avoids such potential unfairness and is to be preferred.

This strikes me as an excellent, well-reasoned decision.

The Court also noted that it would have been available to the defendant to move under r. 51.06(2) on the basis that the plaintiff had admitted discovery of her claim in the statement of claim:

[34]      The material facts pleaded by Ms. Brozmanova at paras. 8-9 and 15-16 of her statement of claim were admissions of the truth of certain facts. She clearly pleaded that in 2009, as a result of dealing with an insurance company on a matter regarding her ankle injury, she discovered that her OHIP record contained entries for billings by Dr. Tarshis, which she alleges were fraudulent.

[35]      Given the admissions in her pleading, it would have been open to the respondents to move on those admitted material facts to dismiss the claim on the basis that Ms. Brozmanova had discovered it in 2009 and therefore the action was statute-barred: rules 20 or 51.06(2).[3] In 2009, she knew that some “damage” had occurred within the meaning of s. 5(1)(a) of the Limitations Act because she knew that her actual position was worse than her position before: Hamilton (City) v. Metcalfe & Mansfield Capital Corporation2012 ONCA 156 (CanLII), 290 O.A.C. 42, at para. 42. That the “damage” she discovered in 2009 was not the same damage for which she sought recovery in her action – her alleged inability in 2015 to purchase travel insurance – does not matter. Knowledge of “some damage” is sufficient for the cause of action to accrue and to start the limitation period: Hamilton, at para. 61.

While I’ve not seen a limitation defence advanced using this procedure, it makes good sense for those rare circumstances where a plaintiff unwittingly pleads facts that demonstrate discovery of a claim.

 

Ontario: limitation defences and r. 21

In Salewski v. Lalonde, the Court of Appeal casts doubt on whether there is any circumstance where r. 21.01(1)(a) is appropriate for determining a limitations issue except where pleadings have closed and the facts are undisputed:

[45]      However, the basic limitation period established by the Limitations Act, 2002 is now premised on the discoverability rule. The discoverability rule raises issues of mixed fact and law: Longo v. MacLaren Art Centre2014 ONCA 526 (CanLII)323 O.A.C. 246, at para. 38. We therefore question whether there is now any circumstance in which a limitation issue under the Act can properly be determined under rule 21.01(1)(a) unless pleadings are closed and it is clear the facts are undisputed. Absent such circumstances, we are sceptical that any proposed limitation defence under the Act will involve “a question of law raised by a pleading” as required under rule 21.01(1)(a).