Ontario: s. 7 capacity analyses

The Superior Court decision in Wood v. David Mitchell et al. makes two points relevant to s. 7 analyses.

First, a lawyer’s observations and views about a person’s capacity can be factors in a s. 7 analysis:

[23]            Several months after the Master wrote her endorsement, the Court of Appeal released its decision in Carmichael v. GlaxoSmithKline Inc., 2020 ONCA 447 (CanLII). In that case, Jamal JA dealt comprehensively with the issue of proof of incapacity under s. 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002. At para. 105, he wrote:

(vii)      Evidence

[104]   A potential litigant will usually require persuasive medical or psychological evidence to prove that they lacked the capacity to commence the proceeding in respect of the claim: see e.g., Deck International Inc. v. The Manufacturers Life Assurance Company2012 ONCA 309, at para. 6Winter v. Sherman Estate2018 ONCA 379, at para. 14, leave to appeal refused, [2019] S.C.C.A. No. 438; Reid v. Crest Support Services (Meadowcrest) Inc.2013 ONSC 6264, at para. 17Klimek v. Klos[2013] O.J. No. 3740 (S.C.), at para. 25Hussaini v. Freedman2013 ONSC 779, at para. 51; and Landrie, at para. 35.

[105]   Other evidence may also be relevant, such as:

  •      Evidence from persons who know the plaintiff well, the appearance and demeanour of the plaintiff, testimony of the plaintiff,or the opinion of the plaintiff’s own counsel: see e.g., Costantino v. Costantino2016 ONSC 7279, at para. 58Huang, at para. 20; and Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, at para. 34;
  •      The plaintiff’s ability to commence other civil proceedings (see e.g., Asagwara v. Money Mart2014 ONSC 6974, at para. 72Kim v. The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company2014 ONSC 1205, at para. 55) or to defend criminal proceedings (see e.g., Winmill v. Woodstock Police Services Board et al.2017 ONSC 2528, at para. 32, rev’d on other grounds, 2017 ONCA 962, 138 O.R. (3d) 641Cooper v. Comer2017 ONSC 4142, at para. 57); and
  •      Other indicators of capacity, such as the potential litigant’s ability to travel, instruct counsel, swear affidavits, and make decisions affecting legal rights, if they bear on the capacity to commence a proceeding in respect of the claim: see e.g., Reid, at para. 17; Klimek, at paras. 24-25.

[106]   Finally, just because a person can function on a day-to-day basis and make the decisions required in daily life does not necessarily mean they have the capacity to start an action in respect of a claim: see Bisoukis, at para. 48. On the other hand, just because a person has a mental illness does not necessarily mean that they are incapable of instructing a lawyer or commencing a proceeding: see Mew, at p. 205, at §6.17, citing Panciera v. Rokotetsky et al.2009 MBQB 129, 252 Man.R. (2d) 115, at para. 20Evans v. Evans2017 ONSC 4345, 96 R.F.L. (7th) 300, at paras. 51-53; and Kim v. The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company2014 ONSC 1205, 31 C.C.L.I. (5th) 252, at paras. 54-60, aff’d 2014 ONCA 658, 40 C.C.L.I. (5th) 12.
[Bolded emphasis added.]

[24]            Jamal JA expressly held that counsel’s opinion of a client’s capacity is evidence bearing on the issue of capacity for the purposes of s. 7 (1)(a) of the statute. He also held that evidence of the client’s ability to instruct counsel and make decisions affecting his rights will be relevant if they bear on (or are probative of) his capacity to commence a claim. To be sure, contemporaneous medical evidence is the principal means of proof of capacity or incapacity. But, as Jamal JA notes in para. 106, proof of mental illness alone is not necessarily sufficient to prove incapacity.

[25]            The Master recognized that Mr. Wood’s lawyers’ observations and views about Mr. Wood’s capacity were properly factors in the calculus. She rightly notes that this would not make the lawyers’ entire file producible per se. But, rather than delimiting the relevant portions of the file, she went straight to privilege and then held that the only producible document in the lawyers’ file would be medical evidence in the form of a formal capacity assessment, if any.

[26]            In my respectful view, the Master erred by failing to continue her analysis of relevancy. She found that the lawyers’ view was a relevant factor and then simply dismissed the request for the entire file. Mr. Veel argues that there may be many things in the file that might be relevant and not privileged. For example, if the lawyer wrote to third parties and discussed Mr. Wood’s capacity, the letter would be relevant and could not be privileged. Moreover, if the lawyer took a note of his observations of Mr. Wood’s physical, cognitive, or emotional state those could be facts relevant to capacity without being privileged communications.

Second, when assessing whether a plaintiff is represented by a litigation guardian, the question is not merely whether the plaintiff’s litigation guardian has announced him or herself to the defendants:

[44]            The discussion of “holding out” in Azzeh related to the reasons why the irregularity in the manner of appointment of the litigation guardian was nevertheless sufficient under s. 7 (1)(b). But did the Court of Appeal mean to say that holding out is always necessary to satisfy s. 7 (1)(b)? Maybe. Or perhaps there may be other factors at play in a case where litigation is actually commenced with no litigation guardian by a plaintiff who later claims he was incapacitated at the time. That is a different question and a difficult one at that.

[45]            Ms. McFarlane argues that under s. 9 of the Limitations Act, 2002, defendants have the opportunity to move to appoint a litigation guardian for a reluctant plaintiff so there is no risk of an unlimited extension of the limitation period. That may be correct. But it appears to also have been the case in Azzeh had it been argued. That may be one of many open questions to be resolved.

[46]            In my respectful view, the Master erred in law in finding that all that is relevant to the question of whether a plaintiff “is … represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim” under s. 7 (1)(b) of the Limitations Act, 2002, is whether…“Mr. McQueen represented himself to the any of the defendants as Mr. Wood’s litigation guardian.” That is one factor that made an imperfect commencement of a claim sufficient in Azzeh. But no case has decided that it is the only relevant factor or a necessary factor in every case. If it is, it may provide a significant loophole to de facto litigation guardians who keep quiet. In my view, it is an open question. The relevant question of law is in issue in a bona fide and not frivolous way. Such questions are for the trial judge on a full evidentiary record. They are not for resolution on a production motion. See: Jodi L. Feldman Professional Corporation v. Foulidis, 2018 CanLII 121633 (ON SC), at para. 21.