Estate litigation involves risk and reward, heartbreak and vindication. Costs and other consequences often flow from the strength of litigants’ positions. Delay, however, is shared equally. In a protracted legal battle, the symptoms of delay – stress, distraction, gloomy foreboding – linger around like a shadow or a bad cold. Wary of these tribulations, the courts are increasingly focused upon smoothing and straightening, and thereby shortening, the road to decisions.
In today’s blog we explore how this shift has affected the granting of adjournments in estate litigation.
Judicial economy is not always served by the refusal of an adjournment. For example, if two proceedings are interrelated, the preliminary matter should be heard first. If an appeal is scheduled before an associated lower court motion, the appeal should be adjourned until the other has been settled, lest the courts “waste limited judicial resources and increase expense for all of the parties” (Mancinelli v. Royal Bank of Canada,  O.N.S.C. 1526 at para. 5).
Reasons for granting adjournments include the ill health of a party, the emergence of new issues, and “to permit the appellants to file fresh evidence” (Morin v. Canada,  F.C.T. 1420 at para. 11). Courts are also more inclined to adjourn when the other party is not prejudiced by such a request. If there is an urgent need for resolution of the dispute – in the estates context, for instance, when an estate has been tied up for years, to the detriment of the beneficiaries – an adjournment could be denied. Other factors which may lead to the denial of a request for an adjournment consist of “a lack of compliance with prior court orders, previous adjournments … the desirability of having the matter decided and a finding that the applicant is seeking to manipulate the system by orchestrating delay” (The Law Society of Upper Canada v. Igbinosun,  O.N.C.A. 484 at para. 37).
Long waits and swollen court bookings have influenced today’s judicial decision-making. Judges are more inclined, progressively, to punish vexatious litigants, encourage parties to settle, and employ other strategies that are conducive to easing the strain on the courts. Much as the courts have emphasized the need to expedite decisions, however, the adjournment is still a mainstay in the judicial tool belt:
Perhaps to the chagrin of those opposing adjournments and indulgences, courts should tend to be generous rather than overly strict in granting indulgences, particularly where the request would promote a decision on the merits. (Ariston Realty Corp. v. Elcarim Inc.,  CanLII 13360 (O.N.S.C.) at para. 38).
In other words, fast adjudication should not compromise fair adjudication.
Enjoy the rest of your day, and thanks for reading.
Suzana Popovic-Montag and Devin McMurtry
A recent master motions in the Estate of Robert William Drury Sr., 2019 ONSC 6071, considered the issue of an extension of time to serve a statement of claim.
Robert Sr. owned a property where the defendant Shirley lived with her spouse Hugh Drury. When Hugh Drury died, Robert Sr. sought vacant possession of his home. Robert Sr. died on September 8, 2016. Days later there was a fire on the property on September 24th and Shirley was criminally charged with arson.
Almost two years later, the estate trustee for Robert Sr.’s Estate issued a statement of claim for malicious and intentional arson damage, or gross negligence causing loss of enjoyment of life, or damages for loss of property. That claim was issued on September 19, 2018 while Shirley’s criminal proceedings were underway. Pursuant to Rule 14.08(1), Robert Jr. had 6 months to serve the civil claim on Shirley which expired on March 19, 2019. Shirley was not served until June 14, 2019 when Robert Jr. brought a motion for an extension of time.
In applying the test that was set out by the Court of Appeal in Chiarelli v Wiens, 2000 CanLii 3904, the extension of time was ultimately allowed by Master Sugunasiri.
The delay was only three months and the prejudice to Shirley was minor. Robert Jr. explained that he acted on the advice of counsel when the decision was made to serve Shirley after the conclusion of the criminal proceeding. This decision was not personal or contemptuous. As for Shirley, while memories fade over time, the criminal proceeding was found to be an ameliorating factor that preserved her evidence for the civil proceeding.
In reaching this decision, Master Sugunasiri also considered an instance where an extension of time was denied because the delay was caused by the Plaintiff’s decision not to serve the claim until he had enough money to fund the proceeding. In that case, the Court found that the Plaintiff ought to bear the consequences of the risk that he took under the Rules.
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For those who are about to enter, or are in the very midst of, a long and arduous legal dispute, beware the ineffaceable nature of social media activity. The sands of time might erode Rome and the Pyramids, but they will bounce off the public record of your impassioned posts and hyperbolic tweets. Keeping in mind that such evidence lasts forever, and is also readily accessible, devoid of context, and cheap to procure, litigants may be wise to keep their online communication to a minimum – lest they spoon-feed their opponents material that could later prove hamstringing and self-defeating.
In recent years there have been stories about criminals sharing their crimes with the world via Facebook Live. In family law, we have seen a support claimant attain more support by citing a payor’s lavish life on Instagram, and a father’s custody compromised by his errant Youtube video. In estates law, where there is often mystery and ambiguity involved with testamentary intention, and much of the evidence is “he-said-she-said” – in other words, uncorroborated parole evidence tainted by self-interest – parties scramble for whatever concrete material they can find, such as a screenshot of a social media tirade.
In one recent Ontario decision (Lyons v. Todd,  O.N.S.C. 2269), a man not only dragged out litigation against his sister, who was the estate trustee, but engaged in a campaign of harassment, menaces, and defamation – all of which the court was able to scrutinize with ease:
“The transcription of voice messages, copies of emails and other social media posts, establish that Bob threatened to make what he described as Victoria’s ‘perverted’ sex life public. He threatened to expose her to the clients of the Park and bankrupt her with the costs of litigation if she did not settle. With some of the Facebook posts, he posted the location of the Park.”
The court did not accept the man’s argument that the posts were unrelated to the proceedings, finding instead that the “gratuitous humiliation and embarrassment” the estate trustee suffered was a further reason for which she should receive the $60,000 in costs that she requested.
In Nova Scotia (Public Safety) v. Lee,  N.S.S.C. 71, a man came under the fire of CyberSCAN and the Director of Public Safety, which are government bodies mandated with the policing, punishment and prevention of cyberbullying. The man was purportedly vexed with his sister, who was the sole beneficiary of the mother’s will. The rambling posts were addressed to “anybody out there in Facebook land” and the “cowards in my family”, but in fact the speech was tantamount to a naked admission before a stern court.
The frustrated litigant or potential litigant who needs to vent would be safer, and likely more satisfied, by confiding his or her troubles to a friend in a private setting rather than airing from a veritable rooftop grievances which will echo for the end of time.
Thank you for reading,
Ian Hull and Devin McMurtry
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently upheld a motion judge’s decision striking a Statement of Claim and dismissing an action on the basis that it was (i) res judicata, (ii) a collateral attack on a previous order of the Court and (iii) an abuse of process.
The Appellant in the matter of Wright v Urbanek, 2019 ONCA 823, sought to challenge the validity of a family trust that was established in connection with an estate freeze involving a company that the Appellant and his late wife instituted in 2007.
The action was commenced by the Appellant four days after losing his daughter’s oppression application which resulted in his removal as trustee of the family trust and as director and officer of the company.
The motions judge found that having lost the oppression application, the Appellant sought to advance “a new and inconsistent theory” which could have been sought as part of the application itself.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the motions judge such that the cause of action challenging the validity of the family trust was known to the appellant and could have been pursued in the oppression application. In fact, the Appellant seemed to be questioning the validity of the family trust in his factum and did not ultimately pursue this theory in the application.
The Court of Appeal held that a challenge to the validity of the family trust would now interfere with the implementation of the Order in respect of the application which was upheld on appeal. It was further held that raising this issue would essentially involve re-litigating the application and would be a “misuse of the court’s procedures in a way that would bring the administration of justice into disrepute”.
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Occasionally in litigation, an innocent party will get caught in the crossfire between two litigants that have made competing claims to property held by the innocent party. The classic case is that of an insurance company in possession of the proceeds of an insurance policy, the benefit of which is claimed by two parties.
The insurer may not necessarily be a party to the litigation between the two claimants, but they are nonetheless implicated given that they hold the coveted payout. What is the insurer to do? Enter the interpleader motion.
The interpleader motion is a powerful yet rarely utilized tool that can be used by an innocent party to essentially extricate itself from a proceeding in which competing claims have been made against property held by that party. Rule 43.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure provide that a party may seek an interpleader order in respect of personal property if,
(a) two or more other persons have made adverse claims in respect of the property; and
(b) the first-named person (being the “innocent” party),
(i) claims no beneficial interest in the property, other than a lien for costs, fees, or expenses; and
(ii) is willing to deposit the property with the court or dispose of it as the court directs.
In other words, the interpleader motion permits a party to seek an order from the court allowing that party to deposit, with the Accountant of the Superior Court of Justice, the property against which the adverse claims are being made. However, that party must not have any beneficial interest in the property being deposited, although they are entitled to have any legal fees in bringing the motion, and other reasonable expenses, paid out of that property.
Some cases have opined on whether the court hearing the interpleader motion has an obligation to assess the likelihood of success of one or both of the claims to the property at issue. In Porter v Scotia Life Insurance Co, for example, the court considered whether, notwithstanding that one of the competing claims was “without strong foundation and built upon hearsay and suspicion”, it nonetheless held that the claim was “not frivolous” and granted the interpleader order.
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In the recent decision of Rabba v Rabba, 2019 ONSC 5205, the Honourable Justice Dietrich provides a helpful reminder and summary of the tests applied and the relevant factors considered by the court in determining whether or not a temporary stay or a consolidation of proceedings is appropriate.
Pursuant to rule 6.01(1) of the Rules of Civil Procedure, where two or more proceedings are pending in the court and it appears to the court that,
- they have a question of law or fact in common,
- the relief claimed in them arises out of the same transaction or occurrence or series of transactions or occurrences, or
- for any other reason an order ought to be made.
Additionally, the court may order that,
- the proceedings be consolidated, or heard at the same time or one immediately after the other, or
- any of the proceedings may be stayed until after the determination of any other of them, or asserted by way of counterclaim in any other of them.
In addition to the parameters provided for in rule 6.01, there are overriding policy considerations aimed at:
- avoiding the multiplicity of proceedings,
- promoting the expeditious and inexpensive determination of disputes, and
- avoiding inconsistent judicial findings.
Justice Dietrich then went on to highlight the factors considered by the court in determining whether to matters should be heard together, or one immediately after the other, as set out in Marchant (Litigation Guardian of) v RBC Dominion Securities, 2013 ONSC 2042:
- will the order sought create a savings in pretrial procedure?
- will the number of trial days be reduced?
- will a party be seriously inconvenienced by being required to attend a trial where they only have a marginal interest?
- will costs of experts’ time and witness fees be reduced?
- is one matter at a more advanced stage of litigation than the other?
- will the order result in delay in one of the actions?
- are any of the actions proceeding in a different fashion?
In considering whether a temporary stay is appropriate, Justice Dietrich outlined the principles set out in Hathro Management Property v Adler, 2018 ONSC 1560, including, among others:
- differences in the substantive scope and remedial jurisdiction of the two courts;
- the comparative progress of the two proceedings,
- whether the proceedings will proceed sequentially or in tandem,
- the ability of the defendant to respond to both matters, apart from just the financial burden or inconvenience of having to do so,
- the possibility for inconsistent results, and
- the potential for double recovery.
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It is not uncommon for people to find themselves in situations where they are facing a long legal battle, while simultaneously lacking funds to see them through to the finish line. In some instances, people may even seek out assistance from third parties.
Third-party litigation funding is a relatively recent and growing phenomenon in Canada. Canadian jurisprudence has recognized that the third-party litigation funding model can have a positive effect on access to justice. However, the model has raised concerns regarding strangers, involving themselves in the litigation of others’, improperly “stirring up strife.”
Historically, the common law has curtailed these concerns through the doctrines of champerty and maintenance. In McIntyre Estate v Ontario, the Ontario Court of Appeal has defined “maintenance” as being directed against those who, for an improper motive, become involved with the disputes of others, in which the maintainer has no interest whatsoever. Champerty is an egregious form of maintenance which carries with it the added element that the maintainer shares in the profits of the litigation.
Champerty is no longer a crime, and its strictures have been substantially loosened over time, recognizing that a bona fide business arrangement that did not “stir up” litigation was not necessarily champertous. In other words, the courts have recognized that a commercial motive is not necessarily an improper motive (see Buday v. Locator of Missing Heirs Inc.).
In Houle v St. Jude Medical Inc. the court summarized the current state of the law of champerty. Some of the main points are highlighted below:
- the elements of a claim of champerty are: (1) the defendant for an improper motive (officious intermeddling) provides assistance to a litigant in a lawsuit against the plaintiff; (2) the defendant has no personal interest in the lawsuit; (3) the defendant’s assistance to one of the litigants is without justification or excuse; and (4) the defendant shares in the spoils of the litigation;
- the law has evolved such that supporting another’s litigation is not categorically illegal, and thus, contingency fees and third-party funding of litigation has become a possibility;
- to approve a third-party funding agreement, the court must be satisfied that:
- (a) the agreement is necessary in order to provide access to justice;
- (b) the access to justice facilitated by the agreement must be substantively meaningful;
- (c) the agreement must be fair and reasonable;
- (d) the funder must not be overcompensated for assuming the risks of an adverse costs aware; and
- (e) the agreement must not interfere with the lawyer-client relationship.
In McIntyre Estate, the court held that it is the motive of the third party funder that is among the most relevant factors in determining whether maintenance is made out – if the motive is genuine and arises out of concern for the litigant’s rights, it is not maintenance.
In Houle, the court recognized that while the law no longer automatically treats third-party litigation funding agreements as unlawful, it does not follow -– in the class action industry – that a third-party funding agreement is necessary or appropriate in all cases. Instead, the court predicts that the common law in this area will continue to evolve incrementally, as each case comes forward.
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With the enactment of Rule 75.1 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, those involved in disputes relating to an estate, trust or substitute decision-making matter in Toronto, Ottawa or the County of Essex are referred to mediation unless there is a court order exempting it under Rule 75.1.04.
As lawyers, “mediation” is a term we are familiar with. However it may not be as familiar to clients. Many of them may have never heard of “mediation” before. As such, if you or a client have an upcoming mediation, it is important to prepare early to avoid being caught off guard during the mediation.
What is Mediation?
Mediation is a form of alternative dispute resolution where people can settle their disputes outside of court. It is a voluntary process in which the parties meet with a neutral third-party (referred to as the “mediator”) who provides them with assistance in negotiating a settlement. The mediator does not impose a judgment as the process is led by the parties.
Mediation vs. Litigation
The big “pull factor” to mediation is that it vastly differs from litigation. The major differences include:
- Decision-Making: With mediation, the parties decide the outcome but with litigation, a judge imposes his or her decision upon the parties
- Private vs. Public Process: Mediation is a private and confidential process, whereas litigation is a public process
- Costs: The costs of mediation are typically lower than that of litigation
- Time: The mediation process tends to be faster than litigation
- Adversarial vs. Non-Adversarial: Mediation is viewed as a non-adversarial process, whereas litigation is viewed as an adversarial process
Preparation for Mediation
Preparation for mediation should start well in advance of the mediation date.
Preparing the Client
Start by explaining to the client what mediation is and how the process works. Assure the client that the mediator will be a neutral facilitator and that abusive behaviour by the other party will not be tolerated.
As part of discussing the mediation process with the client, let the client know about the time commitment that mediation entails. The mediation could last the entire day or even multiple days.
Determine the client’s interests and goals for the mediation. Are they looking to settle the case at mediation or are they prepared to go to trial? What types of offers would they be willing to accept?
Preparation for the Lawyer
Know the mediator’s background and approach beforehand. Is the mediator someone who has a background in estates law? Are they a lawyer? Are they a former judge? Knowing the answers to these questions can help the lawyer determine what approach would be the most beneficial to employ during mediation.
Prepare a comprehensive mediation brief and send it to the opposing counsel and mediator well in advance of the hearing date. A comprehensive mediation brief can maximize a lawyer’s presentation at the mediation. It is helpful to include copies of all relevant documents, such as the wills in question, within the brief. Additionally, it might be helpful to include a chronology of events as a schedule to the mediation brief.
If the mediation results in a settlement, ensure that the terms of the settlement are formally documented and that each client has signed the document. In some cases, however, a “cooling-off period” of one or two days from the proposed settlement might be necessary.
At the end of the day, the best approach a lawyer can take in preparing for mediation is to know the mediator, prepare their documents ahead of time and provide the client with as much information about the mediation process as possible. The more prepared the lawyer and the client are, the smoother the mediation will go.
For more information on preparing your client for an estate mediation, visit this link.
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull & Celine Dookie
Earlier this year, the Ontario Court of Appeal considered the issue of an estate’s entitlement to the residual assets of a partnership upon the death of its sole limited partner.
Canadian Home Publishers Inc. v. Parker, 2019 ONCA 314, is a lawsuit between the general partner and the Estate Trustees of the deceased limited partner, David. Canadian Home Publishers Inc. was incorporated when Lynda and David decided to purchase Canadian House and Home magazine in 1985. Lynda and David were married at the time. The corporation was owned by Lynda as the sole general partner and by David as the sole limited partner. It was their intention that Lynda would run the company as her own business and David would make use of its tax losses.
The couple later divorced in 1991. Litigation ensued and there was a previous decision about the nature of the parties’ oral partnership agreement in the ’90s. David dies in 2012. By the time of his death, David had received over $26 million from his interest as the limited partner. The magazine itself was valued at over $50 million. Lynda, as the general partner, sought a declaration that 1) the limited partnership was dissolved upon David’s death, and 2) that David’s Estate was only entitled to a share of the profits to the date of his death and a repayment of his remaining capital contribution (i.e. that the Estate was not entitled to share in the residual value of Canadian Home Publishers).
The lower court found that 1) the limited partnership was indeed dissolved upon David’s death and 2) that David’s Estate was entitled to an equal share of the residual value of Canadian Home Publishers with Lynda. While the Court of Appeal upheld the finding that the limited partnership was dissolved on death, the second finding was overturned and the Estate was limited from any additional benefit over above its share in profits as of the date of death and a return of capital.
The Court’s analysis provides a helpful description of the differences between limited partnerships and ordinary partnerships. A limited partner is meant to be a passive investor whose exposure to liability is limited to the extent of his or her capital contribution unless otherwise provided in the Limited Partnerships Act (see paras. 20-21). A limited partner has no broader right to participate in the upside of the limited partnership, just as the limited partner has no broader obligation to suffer or contribute in the downside (para. 25).
Since we are talking about House & Home, here is a recipe from their website for pineapple honey ribs 🙂
Thanks for reading and until next time!
In Drummond v Cadillac Fairview, the Court of Appeal for Ontario considered the issue of the admissibility of hearsay evidence on a motion for summary judgment. The facts in Drummond are quite simple. The plaintiff tripped on a skateboard while shopping at the Fairview Mall in Toronto, owned by the defendant. The plaintiff brought an action for occupier’s liability, supported by an affidavit sworn by him. The defendant, Cadillac Fairview, responded by bringing a motion for summary judgment.
At the hearing of the motion, not only did the judge dismiss Cadillac Fairview’s motion for summary judgment, but it granted summary judgment in favour of the plaintiff (a remedy that the plaintiff was not seeking). Cadillac Fairview appealed and was successful at the Court of Appeal.
In granting the appeal, the Court identified serious concerns regarding the hearsay evidence relied on by the plaintiff in responding to Cadillac Fairview’s summary judgment motion. The plaintiff’s responding affidavit relied heavily on statements purportedly made by his fiancée and his daughter, and two unidentified staff members working at the mall. The trial judge agreed that these statements were hearsay but admitted them nonetheless under the business records exception to the hearsay rule and under Rule 20.02 of the Rules of Civil Procedure.
The Court of Appeal rejected the admission of the hearsay statements. While the Court agreed that Rule 20.02 permitted the admission of affidavit evidence “made on information and belief”, the Court also noted that the Rule permits a trier of fact to draw an adverse inference if a party with personal knowledge of contested facts does not give evidence.
The Court of Appeal found that the information relayed by the plaintiff from his fiancée and his daughter “went to the heart” of his claim. The plaintiff’s failure to have his fiancée or daughter swear their own affidavits with respect to the key facts at issue caused the Court to have considerable reservations about admitting their evidence. The Court of Appeal ultimately held that the finding of liability against Cadillac Fairview was based on an “erroneous admission of hearsay evidence on key, contested issues” and reversed the decision.
On motions for summary judgment, courts will expect the parties to put their best foot forward, including the nature and source of relevant evidence. As can be seen in this case, a party’s failure to do so can have serious consequences.
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