Ontario: don’t rely on a lawyer’s affidavit to establish discovery

The Superior Court decision in 1365 California Ltd. v. Moss Property Management Inc. is an appeal from a master’s decision granting leave to add a proposed defendant.  It provides two important reminders: a lawyer’s affidavit is a lousy way of rebutting presumptive discovery and sometimes lawyers get cross-examined on their affidavits.

The court held that the master’s determination of when the plaintiffs subjectively discovered their claim was in error.  The plaintiffs had not filed any evidence of when they discovered their claims.  They had filed only a lawyer’s affidavit that did say when discovery occurred.  On cross-examination by the proposed defendants, the lawyer admitted that he didn’t know what the plaintiffs knew, and that he hadn’t spoken with them.  Accordingly, for want of evidence the plaintiffs couldn’t rebut the presumption that subjective discovery occurred on the date of the act or omission giving rise to the claim .

These are the material paragraphs:

[19]           With respect, the Master’s finding that the Respondents did not have actual knowledge of the claims against the Proposed Defendants until they received the Second Report is not supported by the evidence.

 [20]           In support of their motion for leave to amend, the Respondents relied upon the affidavit of Mark Russell (the “Russell Affidavit”), an associate at the firm representing the Respondents in this litigation but who is not involved in the file.  The Russell Affidavit gives a chronology of the steps in the proceeding, as described above.  It does not state when the Respondents had actual knowledge of the facts underlying the New Claims against the Proposed Defendants.  Nor does the Russell Affidavit state that the Respondents did not know that they had claims against the Proposed Defendants until the Second Report was received, or at any time before December 16, 2016.  The affidavit is silent as to what the Respondents knew and when they knew it.
 [21]           On cross-examination, Mr. Russell admitted that he did not know what the Respondents knew, and that he did not know whether they knew more or less than he did.  Mr. Russell stated that he had not spoken to the Respondents and repeatedly stated that he did not have carriage of the file.
 [22]           Since the Respondents bear the burden of showing that they lacked the requisite knowledge as of two years before the motion was brought, the “critical issue” is “what the plaintiff or its agents (chiefly its lawyers) knew or ought to have known about the facts underlying the [proposed claim.]”  Sealed Air, at para. 18.

[24]           In determining whether the Respondents rebutted the statutory presumption, the issue was not, as the Master stated, whether the Respondents had actual knowledge as of the date of the First Report, but whether they had actual knowledge at any time before December 16, 2016.  At no time did the Respondents state that they did not know facts underlying the New Claims when the acts took place.  The Respondents adduced no evidence as to when they knew those facts.  The lack of any “suggestion” that the Respondents knew of the claims when they occurred was not sufficient to rebut the presumption.  In the absence of any evidence from the Respondents as to when they had actual knowledge, the Master committed a palpable and overriding error in finding that they had no knowledge until they received the Second Report.

[25]           Without any evidence on the Respondents’ knowledge, it could not be inferred that the Respondents did not have actual knowledge until they received the Second Report.  A chronology of steps taken in the litigation, without more, is insufficient to draw any inference as to the state of the Respondents’ knowledge in this case.
[26]           The Respondents’ failure to rebut the statutory presumption of knowledge under s. 5(2), means that, pursuant to s. 5(1)(a), the claim was discoverable when the act or omission took place.  The two-year limitation period would run from that date.  The allegations in the Statement of Claim end in November 2011.  Other than to give the chronology leading up to the delivery of the Second Report, the Amended Statement of Claim does not allege specific acts or dates in relation to the Proposed Defendants.  Accordingly, the limitation period expired in November 2013.  Pursuant to s. 21(1) of the Limitations Act, if a limitation period in respect of a claim against a person has expired, the claim shall not be pursued by adding the person as a party to any existing proceeding.