McMillan v. Johnson (Estate)
The recent B.C. Court of Appeal decision of McMillan v. Johnson (Estate) 2011 BCCA 48, deals with the valuation of an unjust enrichment claim of a long-time common law wife against the estate of her deceased common law husband.
The couple lived together for almost 40 years and both contributed to a family fishing business, of which the deceased was the sole shareholder. The deceased did not properly provide for his wife and although she would have had a claim under the Wills Variation Act, she was out of time and so claimed a constructive trust against the only valuable asset in the estate, a $2.4 Million shareholder’s loan owed to the deceased by the fishing business.
The trial below proceeded summarily and rather than declaring a constructive trust, the trial judge awarded the wife a monetary remedy of 50% of the value of the loan ($1.2 Million).
On appeal the estate argued that the value should have been assessed at 50% of the market value of the company at the time of trial, which would reflect the decline in the fishery since death, and that the judge erred in awarding the book value of the loan valued as at the date of death. The estate led no evidence of the actual value of the company at trial and sought to introduce this as fresh evidence on appeal.
The appeal was allowed and a new trial ordered on the question of the value of the loan and the company as at the date of the new trial. Fresh evidence as to the value of the company was not allowed. The judge intended to award a monetary remedy in lieu of a proprietary remedy, and therefore the valuation date should have been the date of trial.
If you are interested in a more in depth consideration of the case law on constructive trusts, unjust enrichment and quantum meruit, and whether/when an in personam monetary remedy or proprietary remedy is appropriate, you should refer to the decision for some helpful comment on these issues.
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