Ontario: the limitation period in s. 51 of the SABS is not subject to discoverability

In Tomec v. Economical Mutual Insurance Company, the Divisional Court held that the limitation period in s. 51 of the Statutory Accident Benefits Schedule is not subject to common law discovery or the discovery provisions in s. 5 of the Limitations Act.  It is a “hard” limitation period in that it runs from a fixed event, which is the refusal to pay the benefit claimed.

 

Ontario: SABS denied? Sue within the limitation period

The Court of Appeal decision in Blake v. Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company provides some useful obiter on the limitation of statutory accident benefit claims.

The submission of a new application for benefits by a claimant following a clear refusal by the insurer to pay benefits will not restart the limitation period. When an insurer denies statutory accident benefits, the remedy is to seek recourse within the limitation period, not to submit a further application.

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: In an accident benefit claim, a denial triggers the limitation period

Time begins to run for the mediation of a denied accident benefit claim from 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.

The appellant in Sagan v. Dominion of Canada General Insurance Company was in a car accident in March 2008. In the same month, he advised his insurer of his claim. The insurance company sent him a package that included the OCF 1 application for accident benefits form and the OCF 3 disability certificate. The appellant filed the OCF 1 form but not the OCF 3 certificate.

The respondent denied the claim in April 2008. In April 2011, the appellant applied for mediation of the denial. The respondent took the position that the two-year limitation period had expired. The appellant commenced an action, which the Court dismissed on a motion for summary judgment.

The appellant argued that the limitation period begins to run not from the date of just any claim, but a valid claim. The appellant’s claim was invalid because it didn’t include a disability certificate. A claim for accident benefits requires a disability certificate pursuant to section 35(2) of the Regulations under the Insurance Act governing claims for accident benefits.

The Court rejected this position:

 1.         A plain reading of section 35(2) provides that the disability certificate is to be filed with the application for benefits.  It is not the application.  In addition, section 35(6) provides for claims to be considered in cases where there is no disability certificate filed at all.

2.         The statutory regime is designed to ensure timely submission and resolution of accident benefits.  It is not in keeping with this overall purpose to suggest that a claimant can delay the start of the limitation period – perhaps indefinitely – by not submitting a disability certificate.

And so sound judicial resoning triumphed over a cute, but improbable argument.