Ontario: Court of Appeal on raising a limitations defence for the first time on appeal

In Vellenga v. Boersma, the Court of Appeal provides a reminder that you raise a limitations defence for the first time on appeal at your peril:

[41]      Finally, the appellants argue that Mr. Vellenga’s claim was statute-barred under s. 4 of the Real Property Limitations Act, which creates a ten-year limitation period for an action to recover land: Waterstone Properties Corporation v. Caledon (Town)2017 ONCA 62364 M.P.L.R. (5th) 179, at para. 31. Since Mr. Vellenga became aware that Weijs Investment owned the Boundary Lake Property as of 2004 at the latest, the appellants argue that his trust claim in 2015 was commenced after the expiry of the limitation period.

[42]      As this argument is being put forth for the first time on appeal, this court must consider whether or not to grant leave to allow the argument to be heard: Kaiman v. Graham2009 ONCA 77245 O.A.C. 130, at para. 18.
[43]      The decision to grant leave is discretionary. Appellate courts will not generally entertain entirely new issues on appeal, as “it is unfair to spring a new argument upon a party at the hearing of an appeal in circumstances in which evidence might have been led at trial if it had been known that the matter would be an issue on appeal”: Kaiman, at para. 18. The court’s discretion is to be “guided by the balancing of the interests of justice as they affect all parties”: at para. 18.
[44]      In my view, it would not be in the interests of justice to grant leave. Mr. Vellenga first commenced his application in 2004 and later amended his claim in 2015 to specifically include a trust claim. The application was not heard until 2018. The appellants had more than enough time to consider and raise this argument. They provided no persuasive reason to explain their failure to do so.
[45]      Furthermore, this court has explained that “[t]he expiry of a limitation period does not render a cause of action a nullity; rather, it is a defence and must be pleaded”: Beardsley v. Ontario (2001), 2001 CanLII 8621 (ON CA)57 O.R. (3d) 1 (C.A.), at para. 21. While this matter was commenced by way of application and did not involve formal pleadings, the key point is that the limitation argument was not raised at any time prior to this appeal.

Ontario: a pleading read generously

When considering whether an amendment raises a fundamentally new claim and is therefore statute-barred, the court must read the pleading generously.  The decision in Virji v. Kotton is an example of what this generosity looks like.  The court “teased out” the necessary causes of action in a pleading drafted with “understatement”:

[26]           Accordingly, if the amended pleading is not to be seen as putting forward a new cause of action, an existing claim in fraud and conspiracy would have to be teased out of the language in paragraphs 35 and 50. Both of those suggest that the false representations of value issued by Bosley Farr were knowingly done. Knowledge, of course, is generally considered to be distinct from intention, and so it is questionable whether these two paragraphs really set out something like the causes of action that Plaintiff counsel attributes to them.

[27]           That said, context is everything when it comes to matters of interpretation. Under the circumstances, I do not think that what the Plaintiff meant by alleging that Bosley Farr “knowingly” made false representations is that Bosley Farr knew it was making representations of value; rather, I assume that what the Plaintiff meant was that Bosley Farr knew of the falsehood of the representations it was making but made them anyway. Read in this way, there is an element of intentionality embedded in the allegation of “knowingly”.
[28]           In addition, in the context of Bosley Farr having been retained to do a valuation by Kotton, the suggestion behind the value having been knowingly misrepresented is that it was done for Kotton’s benefit. While this is only indicated in an oblique fashion, nothing else would really make sense. I cannot assume that the Plaintiff meant to allege that Bosley Farr knowingly misrepresented the value of an investment property just for the sake of doing so. Instead, I understand the allegation to be that it did so for the purpose of collaborating with the party that retained it and that would stand to benefit from the misrepresented value – i.e. Kotton.
[29]           With all due respect, there is good reason that the Plaintiffs have sought to amend the Statement of Claim. As originally drafted, it does not convey its own meaning very well. However, if one brings a generous attitude to the task of deciphering it, and one digs deep enough into its barely stated implications, one can see that there is a glimmer of a fraud and conspiracy allegation peeking through the fog.
[30]           As Perell J. stated in Kaynes v. BP, PLC2019 ONSC 6464, at para 87, where a pleading is sought to be amended after the limitation period has expired, the key to the analysis is “whether substantially all of the material facts of the tendered cause of action have already been pleaded, in which case, the amendment will be allowed, or whether new material facts are sought to be added to support the cause of action, in which case, the amendment will not be allowed or if already pleaded, it will be struck.” The present pleading meets the test of the material facts of fraud and conspiracy having already been pleaded, but just barely.
[31]           It is safe to say that had counsel for the Plaintiffs not gone to some effort in this motion to point out the fact that the basic elements of fraud and conspiracy – intentionality and collusion – were already pleaded, I would have missed them. I assume most other readers, including the Defendants, might have missed them as well.
 [32]           I do not know whether the Statement of Claim was deliberately drafted with this level of understatement or whether the intentionality and collusion ingredients made their way into a couple of paragraphs by chance; however, I do see that now that my attention has been fully drawn to them and to the context in which they are stated. Given this recognition, I am compelled to conclude that the proposed amendments represent embellishments on causes of action that were already contained in the Statement of Claim.


Ontario: misnomer and the John Doe doctor

The decision in Tschirhart v. Grand River Hospital is a good example of a misnomer analysis in regards if a John Doe doctor .  It’s worth noting that the court rejected the doctor’s argument that the Statement of Claim couldn’t satisfy the litigation finger test because it didn’t plead that the plaintiff was seen in the emergency department where the doctor worked:

[36]           In my view, the reasonable person reviewing the Statement of Claim and having knowledge of the facts would know that the “litigating finger” was pointed at Dr.  Benhabib. Assessing the Statement of Claim, I am satisfied that the allegations as against Dr. Benhabib are pleaded with sufficient particularity such that Dr. Benhabib’s insurer and representative, the CMPA, would have known that the litigating finger was pointed at him. Namely, the Statement of Claim sets out the Plaintiff’s name, the name of the hospital he attended (GRH), the date he attended GRH, the symptoms he presented and the fact that he underwent a triage assessment, was examined and sent home without further testing (para. 10).  The Statement of Claim also sufficiently sets out the causes of action and basis for liability (paras.14-15).

[37]           The CMPA, Dr. Benhabib’s insurer, a “relevant person” with access to the relevant notes and records, received the Statement of Claim when the named doctors were served and would have known by reading it that the litigating finger was pointed at the emergency room physician who saw the Plaintiff on April 30, 2015 at GRH and could have easily and quickly ascertained from the ER Records and/or further inquiries of GRH that it was Dr. Benhabib. I also conclude that had he received the Statement of Claim, Dr. Benhabib, who also had access to the relevant notes and records including the ER Records, could have easily and quickly determined that he was the intended emergency physician. As he admitted on cross-examination, although he did not initially remember the Plaintiff, he was able to consult the ER Records to determine that he had in fact seen the Plaintiff on April 30, 2015 at GRH (Cross-examination of Dr. Benhabib held June 3, 2019, Questions 30-43). This conclusion is supported by the fact that, although not a representative of Dr. Benhabib, GRH was able to identify Dr. Benhabib as the emergency room physician who saw the Plaintiff, pleaded this in its Statement of Defence, advised him accordingly and confirmed his identity on examination for discovery.
[38]           In my view, the facts of this case are analogous to Ormerod. In particular, Dr. Benhabib’s name was illegible in the ER Records, however, he could be identified easily and quickly by his insurer and representative, the CMPA, by reviewing the ER Records and/or making inquiries of GRH. I do not accept Dr. Benhabib’s submissions that misnomer does not apply because he and his insurer had to make additional inquiries. Consistent with Ormerod and Spirito, the fact that his insurer could have easily identified him from the ER Records or other inquiries as the physician who saw the Plaintiff as pleaded is sufficient to establish that it would have known that the litigating finger was pointed at him.
[39]           I also reject Dr. Benhabib’s submission that the Statement of Claim is vague and non-specific because it does not explicitly state that the Plaintiff was seen in the emergency department at GRH. The fact that the Statement of Claim states that the Plaintiff “underwent a triage assessment and examination” and “was sent home without further testing” is sufficiently specific. This finding is supported by Dr. Benhabib’s evidence on cross-examination:

It also provides a comprehensive summary of misnomer principles at paras. 15-27.


Ontario: the consequences of failing to plead discovery in reply

The defendant in Anisman v. Drabinsky argued that the plaintiff could not argue discovery in response to a limitations defence because he hadn’t served a Reply pleading the material facts of discovery.  The court rejected this (very optimistic argument) argument:

[17]           Finally, Defendants’ counsel submits that the Plaintiff’s factum makes improper reference to his response to the Defendants’ limitation argument. It is the Defendants’ position that since the Plaintiff never issued a Reply pleading in response to the limitation point raised in the Statement of Defence, the Plaintiff is prohibited from arguing any defence to the limitation challenge. Defendants’ counsel therefore asks that those paragraphs be struck from the Plaintiff’s factum.

[19]           The Plaintiff may not have a pleading to support his point, but there is evidence in the record that has been fairly adduced that supports it. The Court of Appeal has expressly held that under such circumstances it would be an error to proceed on the basis suggested by Defendants’ counsel: “Again, this was a summary judgment motion, the resolution of which depended on a consideration of the evidence adduced by the parties, and not their pleadings:” Collins v Cortez2014 ONCA 685, at para 12.

[20]           The Plaintiff here seeks summary judgment, and it is incumbent on me to consider the record as a whole rather than to focus narrowly on the pleadings alone. I therefore find no reason to redact or excise any portion of the evidentiary record or any factum.

[46]           The Statement of Claim herein was issued on June 18, 2019, some 3 years and 9 months after the impugned transfer of title. Defendants’ counsel submits that the 2-year limitation period under the Limitations Act, 2002 was missed by the Plaintiff. Defendants’ counsel further submits that the Defendants having pleaded a limitation defence, it was incumbent on the Plaintiff to serve a Reply pleading. He argues that failing that, the Plaintiff is foreclosed from including anything in the present Motion Record by way of a response to the limitation defence.

[47]           Counsel for the Defendants relies on Rule 25.08 for the proposition that a Reply pleading is necessary in these circumstances. That Rule provides:
25.08 (1) A party who intends to prove a version of the facts different from that pleaded in the opposite party’s defence shall deliver a reply setting out the different version, unless it has already been pleaded in the claim.

(2) A party who intends to reply in response to a defence on any matter that might, if not specifically pleaded, take the opposite party by surprise or raise an issue that has not been raised by a previous pleading shall deliver a reply setting out that matter…

[48]           It is evident from the wording of both parts of Rule 25.08 that it is the element of surprise that determines whether or not a Reply is required. That is, the Defendants must not be taken by surprise by facts of which they were unaware.

[49]           This court has long noted that, “[i]f a limitation defence is raised, the plaintiff should, where appropriate, serve a reply raising any facts and contentions relied upon to rebut the defence and pleading the basis for any discretion that the court may have in the matter”: D.S. Park Waldheim Inc. v Epping (1995), 1995 CanLII 7091 (ON SC)24 OR (3d) 83 (Gen Div), quoting Graham Mew, The Law of Limitations (Markham: Butterworths, 1991), p. 54. This is particularly the case where “the plaintiff…relies on…the doctrine of discoverability…[which] depends on an unresolved question of fact”: Epping, at 85.
[50]           The Plaintiff makes a number of arguments in response. In the first place, he submits that there is nothing in his response to the limitation point that will take the Defendants by surprise. Secondly, he contends that the cause of action pleaded in the Statement of Claim was not discovered by him until substantially later, and that there was nothing in the conduct of the parties that would have tipped him off that a transfer of title had taken place with respect to the Property.
[51]           The Plaintiff points out that the Statement of Claim herein was served with a Certificate of Pending Litigation, which the Plaintiff had obtained on an ex parte basis at the outset. Since the Certificate was obtained without notice to the Defendants, the Plaintiff also served them at the same time with his Motion Record in support of the Certificate, as required. That Motion Record contained an affidavit sworn by the Plaintiff setting out how he had discovered the transfer of title. At paragraph 8 of his affidavit, served together with the Statement of Claim on June 25, 2019, the Plaintiff stated:
On September 11, 2015, shortly after my request for payment of August 24, 2015, Mr. Drabinsky transferred his interest in his house at 478 Spadina Road (the ‘Property’) to his wife. I learned of this transfer on April 20, 2019, before I examined Mr. Drabinsky in aid of execution.

[52]           The circumstances and date of discovery – i.e. that he first learned of the transfer when he searched title in preparation for an examination in aid of execution on the judgment he had obtained on November 15, 2018 – are the crucial facts on which the Plaintiff relies in responding to the limitation defence. It is this brief statement of fact that would likely have been contained in a Reply had one been served.  Given that it was contained in the package of materials served together with the Statement of Claim and Certificate of Pending Litigation, the Defendants were on notice in much the same way as they would have been had the sentence been repeated in a Reply pleading.

[53]           It is the Defendants’ position that if the relevant facts did not find their way into a Reply, they are to be ignored in assessing the merits of the limitation defence. I do not accept that position. To ignore what was in the Plaintiff’s motion record and affidavit because it was not repeated in a Reply would be to elevate form over substance to an unacceptable degree: Marshall v Watson Wyatt & Co., 2002 CanLII 13354, at para 25 (Ont CA).
[54]           As is evident from the narrative in Part II above, prior to the examination in aid of execution there was nothing to prompt the Plaintiff to search title of the Property. Mr. Drabinsky consistently lead him to believe that he would be receiving payment imminently, and even provided him with replacement cheques when the previous ones became stale-dated. Further, Mr. Drabinsky was more than just another debtor; he was a rather renowned debtor who was very much in the public eye. It did not occur to the Plaintiff (or, presumably, to any other creditors) that Mr. Drabinsky would be denuding himself of substantial assets such as the Property. As the Plaintiff submits, there is only a duty to investigate when there is something that leads one to investigate: Fennell v Deol2015 ONSC 4835, para 8.

Ironically, the issue was moot because the plaintiff was seeking to recover land, which means the ten-year RPLA limitation period applied.

Ontario: the Court of Appeal on adding a new claim

In Klassen v. Beausoleil, the Court of Appeal provides a helpful summary of the analysis for determining whether proposed amendments assert a fundamentally new claim:

(1)         The test to be applied

[24]      I begin with the text of r. 26.01 of the Rules. It provides:

On motion at any stage of an action the court shall grant leave to amend a pleading on such terms as are just, unless prejudice would result that could not be compensated for by costs or an adjournment. [Emphasis added.]

[25]      The rule is framed in mandatory terms: the court must allow the amendment, unless the responding party would suffer non-compensable prejudice, the proposed pleading is scandalous, frivolous or vexatious, or the proposed pleading fails to disclose a reasonable cause of action: 158844 Ontario Ltd v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co.2017 ONCA 42 (CanLII), 135 O.R. (3d) 681, at para. 25; Iroquois Falls Power Corp. v. Jacobs Canada Inc., 2009 ONCA 517 (CanLII), 264 O.A.C. 220, at paras. 15-16.

[26]      The expiry of a limitation period is one form of non-compensable prejudice. A party cannot circumvent the operation of a limitation period by amending their pleadings to add additional claims after the expiry of the relevant limitation period: Frohlick v. Pinkerton Canada Ltd2008 ONCA 3 (CanLII), 88 O.R. (3d) 401, at para. 241100997 Ontario Ltd. v. North Elgin Centre Inc.2016 ONCA 848 (CanLII), 409 D.L.R. (4th) 382, at paras. 21-23United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, Local 175 Region 6 v. Quality Meat Packers Holdings Limited, 2018 ONCA 671 (CanLII), at paras. 64Davis v. East Side Mario’s Barrie2018 ONCA 410 (CanLII), at paras. 31-32. In this regard, the “addition of new statute-barred claims by way of an amendment is conceptually no different than issuing a new and separate Statement of Claim that advances a statute-barred claim” (emphasis added): Quality Meat Packers, at para. 64; citing Frohlick, at para. 24.

[27]      An amendment will be statute-barred if it seeks to assert a “new cause of action” after the expiry of the applicable limitation period: North Elgin, at paras. 19-23, 33; Quality Meat Packers, at para. 65. In this regard, the case law discloses a “factually oriented” approach to the concept of a “cause of action” – namely, “a factual situation the existence of which entitles one person to obtain from the court a remedy against another person”: North Elgin, at para. 19; Quality Meat Packers, at para. 65.

[28]      An amendment does not assert a new cause of action – and therefore is not impermissibly statute-barred – if the “original pleading … contains all the facts necessary to support the amendments … [such that] the amendments simply claim additional forms of relief, or clarify the relief sought, based on the same facts as originally pleaded”: Dee Ferraro, at paras. 4, 13-14; North Elgin Centre Inc., at paras. 20-21; East Side Mario’s Barrie, at paras. 31-32; Quality Meat Packers, at para. 65. Put somewhat differently, an amendment will be refused when it seeks to advance, after the expiry of a limitation period, a “fundamentally different claim” based on facts not originally pleaded: North Elgin, at para. 23.

[29]      The relevant principle is summarized in Paul M. Perell & John W. Morden, The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario, 3rd ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis, 2017), at p. 186:

A new cause of action is not asserted if the amendment pleads an alternative claim for relief out of the same facts previously pleaded and no new facts are relied upon, or amount simply to different legal conclusions drawn from the same set of facts, or simply provide particulars of an allegation already pled or additional facts upon [which] the original right of action is based.[2]

[30]      In the course of this exercise, it is important to bear in mind the general principle that, on this type of pleadings motion, it is necessary to read the original Statement of Claim generously and with some allowance for drafting deficiencies: Farmers Oil and Gas Inc. v. Ontario (Ministry of Natural Resources)2016 ONSC 6359 (CanLII), 134 O.R. (3d) 390 (Div. Ct.), at para. 23.

[31]      Finally, the court may refuse an amendment where it would cause non-compensable prejudice. The prejudice must flow from the amendment and not some other source: Iroquois Falls, at para. 20. At some point the delay in seeking an amendment will be so lengthy, and the justification so inadequate, that prejudice to the responding party is presumed. In this event, the onus to rebut the presumed prejudice lies with the moving party: State Farm, at para. 25.

[32]      Alternatively, the responding party may resist the amendment by proving actual prejudice – i.e. by leading evidence that the responding party has lost an opportunity in the litigation that cannot be compensated by an adjournment or an award of costs as a consequence of the amendment. It is incumbent on the responding party to provide specific details of the alleged prejudice: State Farm, at para. 25.

[33]      Irrespective of the form of prejudice alleged, there must be a causal connection between the non-compensable prejudice and the amendment. The prejudice must flow from the amendment and not from some other source: State Farm, at para. 25.

[34]      Bearing in mind these principles, the framework to determine the issues raised by this appeal is as follows:

  •     Are the proposed amendments to assert a claim to a 33% ownership interest the assertion of a “new cause of action”? If the proposed amendments are the assertion of a new cause of action, are the amendments statute-barred?

  •     Irrespective of the above, is this a case where non-compensable prejudice will arise as a consequence of the amendments?

Ontario: some self-evident points on the timing of limitations defences

The Court of Appeal’s decision in Filice v. Complex Services Inc. is a reminder of certain commonsense, probably generally self-evident principles about the timing of limitations defences.  Raise a limitations defence in response to an amendment motion (if there is one to raise) on the motion, and when you raise a limitations defence generally, it shouldn’t for the first time on appeal:

[55]      There is no information in the record whether the issue of the limitations period was argued when the respondent sought leave to amend his statement of claim.  That is where it ought to have been argued but I have to assume it was not. If so, it is, in my view, again too late to raise the issue in this court.  However, even if it were open to the appellant to raise the issue now, I would not give effect to it.  The appellant was on notice of the respondent’s essential claim, that is, that his dismissal was improper.  Whether the claim is styled as wrongful dismissal or constructive dismissal, the appellant was fully aware of the nature of the claim it was facing within the two year limitation period.

Ontario: sometimes issuing a statement of claim doesn’t mean discovery of the claim


Is commencing a proceeding in respect of a claim determinative of the discovery of that claim?  Not always, according to the Court of Appeal in Har Jo Management Services Canada Ltd. V. York (Regional Municipality).

Flood waters flowing from adjacent land, which the respondent municipality had expropriated for a construction project, damaged the appellant’s property.

In 2011, the appellant commenced proceeding before the Ontario Municipal Board claiming damages for injurious affection in respect of the expropriation.

On June 3, 2013, the appellant sent a letter to the respondent stating that its activities on the adjacent land caused the flooding and resulting damage.  The respondent denied causing the flooding on June 28, 2013.

The appellant commenced an action two years form the respondent’s denial.  The respondent pleaded a limitations defence and move for summary judgment .

The Statement of Claim tracked the language of the appellant’s claim to the respondent.  The Motion Judge found that the appellant knew of his claim on the day he issued it.

Not so, held the Court of Appeal.  The Expropriations Act provides for damages for injurious affection and gives the OMB exclusive jurisdiction to award such damages.  If the flooding damage was caused by the respondent’s construction, the Superior Court would have no jurisdiction to hear the claim.

The appellant’s evidence explained that, to the extent the damage from the flood properly formed part of a claim for damages for injurious affection under the Expropriations Act, it would be part of the appellant’s existing OMB claim.  The action was merely “out of an abundance of caution” in case it turned out that the flooding was not caused by the respondent’s construction, but by some other factors that did not meet the definition of injurious affection.

There was no suggestion that something other than the construction might have caused the flooding until the respondent’s June 28, 2013 letter.  It was on this date that that appellant knew that a proceeding was an appropriate remedy for a claim against the respondent and not a proceeding before the OMB.

The curious aspect of this decision is that issuing a statement of claim (or even drafting the statement of claim) was not determinative of the discovery of the claim it pleads.  There is authority for the principle that it is logically inconsistent for a plaintiff to commence an action before discovering a claim.  See also s. 14(3) of the Limitations Act.

It’s certainly hard to understand how a court could find that a statement of claim does not indicate discovery of the claim pleaded in it, or that objective discovery can occur after subjective discovery.

Here, the Court seems to have avoided this problem by finding that the appellant’s evidence demonstrated that the statement of claim did not indicate subjective discovery of the claim.  This is likely to happen very rarely, and I expect that this decision will be an outlier.

I think the limitations defence might have been avoided if the statement of claim (which I haven’t seen) had pleaded explicitly that it advanced a claim only in regards of the damage that was not within the OMB’s exclusive jurisdiction.

Ontario: amendments are subject to time-bars

In Lucky Star Developments Inc. v. ABSA Canada International, the Court of Appeal rejected the doubtful argument that because the basic limitation period applies to the commencement of proceedings, it does not apply to proceedings that have already been commenced, and therefore does not bar amendments under r. 26.01:

[7]         In oral submissions, the appellant argued that s. 4 of the Limitations Act 2002, S.O. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B does not apply to proceedings that have already been commenced, and so does not bar amendments under r. 26.01. We disagree. As the court noted in Joseph, the rules must be read in light of the Act and its purpose in establishing a basic limitation period in s. 4. Amendments adding claims after the limitation period has expired constitute prejudice.


Though it’s  plain this argument was bound to fail—it would mean there is no limitation of new claims asserted in already-commenced proceedings—it’s a symptom of the conceptual difficulties that arises from the language “proceeding in respect of a claim”.

The jurisprudence seems to have settled on “proceeding” having the same meaning as it does under the Rules.   Rule 1.03 defines “proceeding” to include an action and an application, and the Court of Appeal has applied this definition to the term “proceeding” as used in the Limitations Act: see e.g. Giglio v. Peters, 2009 ONCA 681 at paras. 21-22 [“Giglio”]. See also Guillemette v. Doucet, 2007 ONCA 743 at para. 20.

Strictly applied, this means that s. 4 bars actions or applications commenced in respect of a claim.  A proposed amendment to add a claim to an existing action is of course not a proposal to commence a new action.  I’ve argued before that the solution to this tension is to abandon a narrow definition of “proceeding” and to define the commencement of a proceeding broadly enough to include amending a pleading to introduce a new claim.


Ontario: the limitation of new causes of action

In David v. Easte Side Mario’s Barrie, the Court of Appeal quotes from The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario for the principle that an alternative claim for relief arising out of the same facts is not a new cause of action for limitations purposes:

[32]      And, quoting from Paul M. Perell & John W. Morden, The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario, 3d ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada, 2017), at p. 186:

A new cause of action is not asserted if the amendment pleads an alternative claim for relief out of the same facts previously pleaded and no new facts are relied upon, or amount simply to different legal conclusions drawn from the same set of facts, or simply provide particulars of an allegation already pled or additional facts upon [which] the original right of action is based.

See also 1100997 Ontario Limited, at para. 20.

Ultimately, the Court applied the “fundamentally different claim” test to conclude that the plaintiff wasn’t entitled to the amendment.

As I discussed when the Court of Appeal last addressed this issue, the “fundamentally different claim” test makes a lot of sense.

My complaint, which I recognise verges on pedantry, is that a cause of action analysis, and the casual use of the word “claim”, is problematic in the limitations context.  The Limitations Act has nothing to do with causes of action, and, as I often note, does not appear in the Act.  This is because the Act uses the language of “claim”, which reflects an intentional break with cause of action accrual as determinative of the commencement of time.  Claims are not causes of action, and causes of action have very little do with the operation of the current limitations scheme.  It’s unhelpful when the Court fails to account for this.

Ontario: The Court of Appeal reminds that limitations defences are affirmative


Two aspects of the Court of Appeal decision in Abrahamovitz v. Berens are noteworthy.

First, the court explains why the expiry of the limitation period is a defence that must be pleaded in enough detail to makes this a candidate for leading decision on the principle:

[30]      This court explained in Beardsley v. Ontario (2001), 2001 CanLII 8621 (ON CA)57 O.R. (3d) 1 (C.A.), at para. 21 that “the expiry of a limitation period does not render a cause of action a nullity; rather, it is a defence and must be pleaded”. See also:Strong v. Paquet Estate (2000), 2000 CanLII 16831 (ON CA)50 O.R. (3d) 70 (C.A.), at paras. 35-37Tran v. University of Western Ontario2016 ONCA 978 (CanLII)410 D.L.R. (4th) 527, at para. 18; and Salewski v. Lalonde2017 ONCA 515 (CanLII)137 O.R. (3d) 750, at para. 43.

[31]      There are two aspects to the statement from Beardsley. One is that from a procedural fairness point of view, a plaintiff is entitled to plead in response to a limitations defence, so that if a motion is brought to dismiss the claim, the court will have all the facts relied on to assess discoverability, or whatever other factors a plaintiff may wish to raise in response: Beardsley, at para. 22;Strong Estate, at para. 38Metropolitan Toronto Condominium Corp. No. 1352 v. Newport Beach Development Inc.2012 ONCA 850 (CanLII)113 O.R. (3d) 673, at paras. 115-116; and Greatrek Trust S.A./Inc. v. Aurelian Resources Inc.[2009] O.J. No. 611 (Ont. S.C.J.), at para. 18.

[32]      The requirement that an affirmative defence, including a limitations defense, be pleaded to avoid surprise to the opposite party is reflected in r. 25.07(4) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides:

In a defence, a party shall plead any matter on which the party intends to rely to defeat the claim of the opposite party and which, if not specifically pleaded, might take the opposite party by surprise or raise an issue that has not been raised in the opposite party’s pleading.

[33]      The second aspect of the statement from Beardsley, however, is more germane to this case. A limitations defence is “just that, a defence”: Lacroix (Litigation Guardian of) v. Dominique2001 MBCA 122 (CanLII)202 D.L.R. (4th) 121, at para. 18. A defendant chooses whether or not to rely on a limitations defence, but is not obliged to do so: Graeme Mew, Debra Rolph, & Daniel Zacks, The Law of Limitations, 3rd ed. (Toronto: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2016) p.166. See e.g.: Strong Estate, at paras. 35-40; and Girsberger v. Kresz (2000), 2000 CanLII 22406 (ON SC)50 O.R. (3d) 157 (C.A.), at para. 13.

[34]      The fact that the choice belongs to the defendant is codified in s. 22 of the Limitations Act, 2002, which allows a limitation period to be suspended or extended by agreement.

[35]      This is a very important and useful provision that allows parties to a potential claim to suspend the running of a limitation (toll the limitation period) to allow them to conduct investigations or settlement discussions, without pressure on the claimant to commence the action unnecessarily. It promotes judicial economy and is cost-effective for the parties.

[36]      Obviously, this provision would be ineffective if another party could assert the limitation period in spite of the defendant’s agreement to toll the limitation period, or if the action became a nullity on the expiry of the limitation period. See for example, Schreiber v. Lavoie (2002), 2002 CanLII 49430 (ON SC)59 O.R. (3d) 130 (S.C.J.), where a third party was not entitled to rely on r. 29.05(1) (a rule which allows a third party to plead a defence not raised by the defendant) to assert a limitations defense that the defendant had expressly agreed it would not rely on.

Second, there is a reminder that special circumstances doctrine is of no application:

[24]      I would not accept this argument for two reasons. First, the Estate has not commenced any proceeding or claimed any relief. The essence of this argument amounts to invocation of the old common law doctrine of special circumstances that no longer applies under the Limitations Act, 2002. See: Joseph v. Paramount Canada’s Wonderland2008 ONCA 469 (CanLII)90 O.R. (3d) 401. The Estate is essentially saying that because all of the facts have already been pleaded in the action, there is no surprise and no prejudice to the defendants (or other parties) to allow the Estate to be added as a party now, even though the limitation period has expired.