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 will rarely consider limitations defences before pleadings clsoe

In Taylor v. Workplace Safety & Insurance Board, the Court of Appeal emphasised that only in rare cases will the court hear a motion to dismiss an action as statute-barred prior to the delivery of a defence:

[22]      Thus, it is not necessary to decide whether the motion judge was correct in holding that Taylor’s claim would be barred by the two year limitation period in the Limitations Act. We do note, however, that neither defendant has delivered a statement of defence. This court has held consistently that only in rare cases, if any, will we entertain a motion to dismiss an action as statute barred under the Limitations Act in the absence of a statement of defence. See Salewski v. Lalonde2017 ONCA 515 (CanLII)137 O.R. (3d) 750, at paras. 42-46.

Ontario: The Court of Appeal on adding new claims to a proceeding

The Court of Appeal in 1100997 Ontario Limited v. North Elgin Centre Inc. sets out the test for amending a pleading to add a new claim outside a limitation period (making our last post rather unnecessary).  The court will refuse an amendment when it seeks to advance after the expiry of the limitation period a “fundamentally different claim” based on facts not originally pleaded:

[19]      A cause of action is “a factual situation the existence of which entitles one person to obtain from the court a remedy against another person”: Letang v. Cooper, [1965] 1 Q.B. 232 (C.A.), at pp. 242-43, as adopted by this court in July v. Neal (1986), 1986 CanLII 149 (ON CA), 57 O.R. (2d) 129 (C.A.), at para. 23.

[20]      In Morden & Perell, The Law of Civil Procedure in Ontario, 2nd ed. (Markham: LexisNexis Canada Inc., 2014), at p. 142, the authors state:

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. [Footnotes omitted.]

[21]      In Dee Ferraro Ltd. v. Pellizzari, this court noted the distinction between pleading a new cause of action and pleading a new or alternative remedy based on the same facts originally pleaded. The appellants had commenced an action against their lawyer claiming damages for breaches of contract, trust and fiduciary duty and for fraud and negligence. The appellants then sought to amend their pleading. This court, in overturning the motion judge’s dismissal of the motion to amend, concluded that the proposed amendments, such as claims for a mandatory order and a constructive trust over shares, could be made because they flowed directly from facts previously pleaded.

[22]      By contrast, a proposed amendment will not be permitted where it advances a “fundamentally different claim” after the expiry of a limitation period: Frohlick v. Pinkerton Canada Ltd. In that case, the court did not permit the plaintiff in a wrongful dismissal action to amend the statement of claim to assert a claim for damages for constructive dismissal on the basis that the limitation period had expired. This court dismissed the appeal. The amendment regarding constructive dismissal related to events that occurred prior to the events described in the original statement of claim that were unrelated to that claim. The defendant was unaware of the new allegations prior to the plaintiff seeking the amendments, and the events were not put in issue or encompassed within the original claim.

[23]      Based on the foregoing, 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.

I think this is a sound conclusion. Allowing amendments so long as they don’t advance a fundamentally different claim based on the facts originally pleaded makes sense, though it doesn’t seem like much of a departure from the “same factual matrix” test.  Indeed, later in the decision Justice van Rensburg refers to the factual matric concept:

[38]      I therefore conclude that the proposed amendments contained in the statement of claim ought not to have been refused on the basis that they raised new claims based on new causes of action.

Perhaps this new formulation’s chief virtue is that it doesn’t necessarily require a cause of action analysis.  Comparing claims is materially different than comparing causes of action.  “Claim” is a defined term in the Limitations Act, whereas the words “cause of action” don’t appear at all in the Limitations Act, and particular causes of action and their accrual are immaterial to a limitations analysis.  Mischief results when the court forgets this.

Other aspects of the decision are noteworthy.  Justice van Rensburg concludes that when a notice of application commences a proceeding, the court should consider both the notice of application and the supporting affidavit material to determine whether a proposed amendment sets forth a new claim.

Justice van Rensburg follows the 1989 Court of Appeal decision in Energy Probe v. Canada (Attorney  General) for the principle that affidavit materials on an application form part of the pleadings.  The interesting question that arises from this principle is its interaction with the affirmative nature of a limitations defence.  In an action, the defendant must plead the Limitations Act in the statement of defence.  The plaintiff may then plead the facts supporting a discovery argument in reply.  See the Court of Appeal decision in Collins.

Does this mean that the respondent to an application should “plead” the limitations defence in  a responding affidavit? Should the applicant then plead the facts supporting a discovery argument in a reply affidavit?  Increasingly, I’m of the mind that it’s impossible to square limitations law and application procedure (with certain exceptions, especially contested applications to pass accounts), but this is an issue (and likely an article) for another day.

Lastly, Justice van Rensburg  also reminds us that an order refusing leave to amend a pleading to add a new claim outside a limitation period is a final order:

[17]      In Energy Probe v. Canada (Attorney General) (1989), 1989 CanLII 258 (ON CA), 68 O.R. (2d) 449 (C.A.), leave to appeal refused 37 O.A.C. 160 (S.C.C.), in determining whether a cause of action was disclosed, this court stated that “affidavit materials on an application are to be considered as the pleadings” (at para. 10). Further, where oppression proceedings commenced by notice of application were converted into an action in Przysuski v. City Optical Holdings Inc., 2014 ONSC 3686 (CanLII), Perell J. refused to strike paragraphs of the statement of claim as raising unanticipated claims as an abuse of process because “[t]he Notice of Application should be read with its supporting affidavits and with the evidentiary record for the Application” (at para. 11).

Ontario: the law requires reasonable investigation, not perfection

In Bowen v Rengro Ltd., Master Dash provides a useful, and likely to be frequently quoted, description of the due diligence plaintiffs must establish when seeking to add a party to an action after the expiry of the presumptive limitation period:

[12]              In my view, it is not to any degree “the standard of perfection” to require counsel to make reasonable, meaningful, endeavors to ascertain the proper owner of the properties involved; but rather it is the reasonable standard of investigation that ought to be expected and provided, in cases such as this.

Master Dash also criticised as unwise the plaintiff’s failure to inspect the site of an accident when ownership may be at issue:

[16]              […] I regard it as unwise to fail to make some investigation of the actual site in cases where ownership is likely to be a key element. However another approach might well be to conduct an examination of the available survey and other information preserved under the province’s Registry System[.]

Ontario: outcomes of a motion to add a presumptively out of time claim

In Howell v Jatheeskumar, Justice LeMay provides a helpful summary of the possible outcomes of an opposed motion to add a party to an action after the expiry of the presumptive limitation period:

[35]      When these cases are read together, it becomes clear that there are three possible outcomes to a motion such as this one.  First, the Court could determine that there was insufficient due diligence on the part of the Plaintiff and her counsel, and that there was no other to extend the time limits, thereby defeating any claim that the Plaintiff may have to extend the time limits as a result of the principles of discoverability.  Second, the Court could determine that there was a triable issue about the issues of discovery and whether the claim was timely as a result of the application of those principles.  This triable issue could include any question of whether there was any other Act by or under which the limitations period could be extended.  Finally, the Court could determine on the materials filed that there was clearly an issue of discoverability that made the claim timely.

In other news, expect quite a few updates in the coming days as we make up for a our lack of diligence in February and March.

Ontario: amending a pleaded date of discovery (you can do it)

Here’s a novel limitations issue.  A plaintiff intends to plead that he discovered his claim within the limitation period, but inadvertently pleads that he discovered it on an earlier date so that the claim is statute-barred.  Is the plaintiff entitled to amend the Statement of Claim to plead the correct date, assuming there’s no noncompensable prejudice to the defendant, or is he in effect amending to add a statute-barred claim?

Master Pope held in Islam v. Tadin that it’s just a regular amendment, and the defendant who doesn’t consent to it wrongly seeks advantage from another lawyer’s slip (i.e., a jerk).

The plaintiff’s Statement of Claim in Islam pleaded that he discovered his claim against the defendants in June 2011.  This meant that the limitation period expired in June 2013 and before he issued the Statement of Claim.

The defendants’ pleaded a limitations defence.  Immediately after service of the Statement of Defence, the plaintiff advised defence counsel that the date of discovery pleaded in the Statement of Claim was a factual error.  The plaintiff served a proposed amended Statement of Claim, but the defendants refused their consent to the amendment.

The defendants’ position was that the plaintiff wasn’t entitled to amend his pleading to bring the claim within the limitation period.  Just as the expiry of a limitation period gives rise to a presumption of prejudice, an amendment that makes a statute-barred claim timely gives rise to the same presumption of prejudice.  The expiry of the presumptive limitation period in section 5(2) of the Limitations Act gave rise to a further presumption of prejudice.

If there was any logic to these arguments, it’s hard to tell from the decision.  One senses that Master Pope wasn’t impressed with them, noting with what I imagine was some irritation that “a great deal of material was filed and time spent on the defendants’ submissions”.  In any event, Master Pope rejected them.

The plaintiff was not seeking to add claim beyond the limitation period, or even a claim at all.   The issue of the expired limitation period arose when the plaintiff served the Statement of Claim, not because of the proposed amendments.  The amendment did not engage section 5(2) at all.  The presumptive limitation period wasn’t at issue, but when the plaintiff pleaded he had subjectively discovered the claim.

Master Pope also took note of the circumstances of the motion. Plaintiff’s counsel immediately sought consent for the amendment.  The plaintiff filed an uncontested affidavit stating that the date of discovery pleaded in the Statement of Claim was unintentional and incorrect.  In her view, the motion “was unnecessary given the mandatory wording of rule 26.01 and the fact that there was no case law to support the defendants’ position.  She awarded substantial indemnity costs against the defendant.