Tag: Estate Litigation
Guardianship litigation can be messy and upsetting to those involved in such proceedings, particularly when there are multiple family members fighting over who should act as guardian.
It is also possible for a guardianship application to be brought on an uncontested basis, meaning that no one is opposing the appointment of the proposed guardian. That being said, given that the appointment of a guardian is a serious restriction on a person’s liberty, the courts do not take guardianship appointments lightly, and still have strict requirements for evidence, even in uncontested guardianships.
Pursuant to s. 22(1) of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 (the “SDA”), and s. 55(1) of the SDA, the court may appoint a guardian of property and/or personal care for a person who is incapable of managing property and/or personal care if, as a result of that incapacity it is necessary for decisions to be made on his or her behalf by a person authorized to do so.
Least Restrictive Course of Action
Sections 22(3) and 55(2) of the SDA provide an important restriction on the court’s ability to appoint a guardian, requiring that a court not appoint a guardian if it is satisfied that the need for decisions to be made will be met by an alternative course of action that is less restrictive of the person’s decision-making rights than the appointment of a guardian.
In particular, if a person has made a power of attorney for property or personal care naming the individual(s) who they wish to make decisions on their behalf in the event of their incapacity, the court may be reluctant to appoint a guardian and override the person’s own choice of a substitute decision-maker. Accordingly, a guardianship application should include evidence as to whether the alleged incapable person has executed powers of attorney, and what efforts the applicant has made to determine whether powers of attorney exist.
It is also important to remember that even if a person is incapable of managing their property or personal care, he or she may still be capable of making a power of attorney in this regard. Allowing a person to name their own substitute decision maker will of course be less restrictive of his or her decision-making rights than the court imposing a guardian on him or her. Accordingly, a person’s capacity to make powers of attorney should always be considered in the context of a guardianship application, and evidence in this regard should be provided to the court.
Furthermore, if a person is capable of naming his or her own attorney by executing powers of attorney, it may be possible to avoid the costs of a guardianship application, which can be significant.
A Finding of Incapacity is Required
There is also a statutory requirement in s. 58(1) of the SDA that the court make a finding of incapacity in order to appoint a guardian. The court will require evidence in support of a finding of incapacity. Most frequently, this will take the form of a capacity assessment by a trained capacity assessor.
Sometimes applicants are hesitant to obtain a capacity assessment of an alleged incapable person, either due to the cost of the assessment, fear of upsetting the person, or some other reason. While these concerns are understandable, it is important that the court be provided with evidence sufficient to allow it to make the finding of incapacity. Otherwise, it will not be able to appoint a guardian. The cost of the capacity assessment will almost certainly be less than the cost of bringing a guardianship application, only to be unsuccessful when the court is unwilling to appoint a guardian without adequate evidence to satisfy it as to incapacity.
A capacity assessment is also useful as it may reveal that an alleged incapable person does have some level of capacity. As noted above, a person may be capable of executing a power of attorney, even if he or she is incapable of managing his or her own property or personal care. In that case, a guardianship application may be able to be avoided altogether.
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In Ontario, the Succession Law Reform Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.26 allows a deceased person’s dependants, to whom the deceased has not made adequate provision for his or her proper support, to seek an order for support to be made to the dependant out of the deceased’s estate. In order to qualify as a “dependant”, a person must be a spouse, parent, child, or sibling of the deceased “to whom the deceased was providing support or was under a legal obligation to provide support immediately before his or her death.” There are therefore several conditions for a person to be able to obtain an order for dependant’s support:
- they must have one of the required relationships with the deceased (spouse, parent, child, or sibling);
- the deceased must have been providing them with support, or have a legal obligation to provide support, immediately before the deceased’s death; and
- any provision made for the person in the deceased’s Will (if any) must be inadequate.
British Columbia deals with dependant’s support differently than Ontario. In B.C.’s Wills, Estates and Succession Act, S.B.C. 2009, c 13, s. 60 provides that if a testator does not make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of his or her spouse or children in his or her Will, the court may order the provision that it thinks adequate, just, and equitable in the circumstances for the spouse or children out of the testator’s estate. Unlike the Ontario law, it is not a requirement that the testator had been providing support to his or her spouse or children prior to death. This difference is significant because in Ontario, independent adult children are typically not able to obtain dependant’s relief as they do not meet the requirements of a “dependant”. In BC case law, there is also a greater emphasis on a testator’s moral duty to his or her dependant’s than there is in Ontario.
The BC Supreme Court decision in Jung v Poole Estate, 2021 BCSC 623 provides an example of how the difference in the law in Ontario vs. B.C. can result in vastly different outcomes. In Jung v Poole, the testator was survived by his two twin daughters, Courtney and Chelsea. Courtney and Chelsea’s mother had been dating the testator when she became pregnant. The testator suggested an abortion but the mother chose to keep the twins, and raised them as a single mother without any involvement or financial assistance from the testator. The mother died when the twins were 4 years old, and a custody battle ensued between the testator and the twins’ grandmother on their mother’s side, on the one hand, and a couple who were friends of the mother’s and whom the mother had named in her Will to be the twins’ joint guardians, on the other hand. The testator expressed a desire to be involved in raising the twins at that time.
Ultimately, the court determined that the couple chosen by the mother to be the twins’ guardians would become the twins’ custodial parents. The testator and the grandmother were allowed specific and generous parenting time, access, and consultations regarding major areas of the twins’ lives. However, the testator never exercised any of these rights and, with the exception of one attempt to contact the twins the year after the custody decision, ceased to have any involvement in their lives.
The testator executed two Wills after the custody decision, both of which disinherited the twins. In one Will the testator referred to the twins as his illegitimate children, and in the other he explained that one of his reasons for disinheriting them was that they had not made efforts to contact him.
As stated by the court, if the court concludes that the testator owed a moral obligation to the twins and did not make adequate provision for their proper maintenance and support, the court has the authority to vary the testator’s Will to make the provision for them that, in its view, is adequate, just and equitable in the circumstances.
The court did ultimately conclude that the testator abandoned the twins from the outset, as well as after the custody battle, and had a strong moral obligation to them, which he failed to meet during his lifetime. As a result, the court varied the testator’s Will to provide 35% to each of Courtney and Chelsea, and 15% to each of the two friends of the testator who had been named as estate trustees and sole beneficiaries of his estate. The court was of the view that the testator had blamed the twins for the decision in the custody battle, even though that was beyond the twins’ control, and also blamed them for the lack of relationship, notwithstanding what the court found were valid and rational reasons given by the twins in this regard (including that they were hurt that the testator had wanted their mother to abort them, and the testator’s actions during their lives made it clear to them that he did not want them in his life).
It is unlikely that the same decision would have been reached had this situation occurred in Ontario. The fact that the twins were independent adults, and that the testator had not been providing them with support, nor under a legal obligation to provide them with support, immediately before his death, would likely have resulted in a decision that the twins were not entitled to support, regardless of the unfortunate circumstances between the twins and the testator.
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During the COVID-19 pandemic, our Courts have unfortunately, but necessarily, been impacted. As a result, the Courts have, at times, had to restrict the matters that may be heard to only those that are urgent, as defined by the Notices to the Profession that have been published by the Court. For instance, the Consolidated Notice to the Profession, Litigants, Accused Persons, Public and the Media lists a number of matters that are to be considered urgent. With respect to civil and commercial list matters, this includes “urgent and time-sensitive motions and applications in civil and commercial list matters, where immediate and significant financial repercussions may result if there is no judicial hearing.” Discretion is also granted to allow the Court to decline to hear any particular matter described in the Notice as being urgent, if appropriate, or to allow a hearing that the Court deems necessary and appropriate to be heard on an urgent basis.
Despite the Notices from the Court, there may still be confusion amongst parties as to whether their matter qualifies as “urgent” or not. As The Honourable Justice Myers stated in the recent decision of Nicholas v. Ogniewicz, 2021 ONSC 4442, “Self-induced urgency is not ‘urgent’.”
In Nicholas v Ogniewicz, the issue was that there had been an agreement of purchase and sale with respect to real property, which provided that the purchaser would submit requisitions two weeks prior to closing. Unfortunately, the requisitions submitted by the purchaser were extensive, and as noted in the decision, it was apparent that several of the requisitions could not be physically accomplished before the closing date.
A week after the requisitions were received, the vendor asked for an urgent hearing date, pursuant to the Notice to Profession – Toronto, Toronto Expansion Protocol for Court Hearings during Covid-19 Pandemic, to resolve the validity of the requisitions.
Justice Myers described the current state of the civil list in Toronto as follows:
The civil list in Toronto is building a backlog of motion and application hearings. It is currently suffering unacceptably long timeouts for civil motions and applications due to the effects of the pandemic and a lack of resources. Truly urgent matters are being heard on an urgent basis. But no judge is sitting around waiting for them to come in. They are heard at a cost to other cases waiting in the queue or to case conferences that the judge may have to defer, or to parties waiting for the release of the judge’s reserved decisions that the judge was writing in her non-sitting time.
In the court’s view, in this particular case the time-sensitivity present was self-induced by both sides. It was also noted that no one was at risk of physical injury, the property was not about to suffer irremediable waste, no confidential information was at risk of disclosure or misuse, and no business was at risk of imminent failure or irreparable harm unless misconduct is urgently prevented. Ultimately, the court determined that the matter was not urgent as set out in the Notice to the Profession, and there was no basis for it to jump the queue.
Although there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, we must all still be mindful of the long-lasting consequences, including the heavy backlog that continues to exist, and will likely continue to exist for some time, in our courts.
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When a parent transfers assets to an adult child, the rebuttable presumption of resulting trust will apply to that transfer. Unless the child can rebut the presumption, it will be presumed that the child was holding the transferred assets in trust for the parent.
But what kind of evidence will be needed to rebut the presumption? Ideally there would be some kind of documentation made contemporaneously with the transfer to support the parent’s intention. If the documentation is lacking, there may be evidentiary issues where the parent has passed away or is incapable, and is not able to give evidence as to his or her intention at the time of the transfer.
In the recent decision of Pandke Estate v Lauzon, 2021 ONSC 123, the court considered two cheques paid by a mother, Carol, to her adult son and daughter-in-law, Steven and Marnee, in the amounts of $35,000.00 and $90,000.00, respectively, shortly before her death. The court reviewed the evidence in determining whether the presumption of resulting trust was rebutted, or whether Carol had intended the cheques to be gifts.
Carol was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2017, and died about a month following her diagnosis. At the time that she was diagnosed, she lived with her husband, William, to whom she had been married since 1992. Following her diagnosis, it was decided that Carol would move in with Steven and Marnee, as William was not physically capable of providing her the care that she would require. Shortly after moving in with Steven and Marnee, Carol provided a cheque in the amount of $35,000.00, payable to Marnee, with a note on the cheque stating that it was “For Rent”. Four days later Carol provided another cheque payable to Steven, in the amount of $90,000.00, with the note on the cheque stating “Medical Expenses”. The total value of the two cheques constituted the majority of Carol’s liquid assets. William, who was the sole beneficiary of Carol’s estate, challenged these payments following Carol’s death.
The court found that the $35,000.00 payment was intended to be a gift by Carol to Steven and Marnee. Part of the evidence on which the court’s conclusion in this regard was based was Marnee’s hearsay evidence of what Carol had told her about why she was making the payment, being that Steven had left his job to care for Carol and she did not want him to suffer financially as a result. The court found that Marnee’s hearsay evidence could be admitted, notwithstanding that it was hearsay, on the basis that it fell within a traditional exception to the hearsay rule (that the statement is adduced to demonstrate the intentions or state of mind of the declarant at the time the statement was made) and under the principled approach to hearsay evidence as it met the necessity and reliability requirements. The court also found that Marnee’s evidence was corroborated by independent evidence.
However, with respect to the $90,000.00 payment, the court found that there was insufficient evidence to rebut the presumption of resulting trust. Although the court admitted Steven’s evidence of statements made by Carol to him as to her state of mind at the time the cheque was signed, the court also raised other concerns with Steven’s evidence. For instance, the reference to “Medical Expenses” noted on the cheque was concerning, as there were no medical expenses, and the court wondered why Carol would not have simply indicated that it was a gift if that is what she intended it to be. The court was also not convinced by a statement that Steven said was made by Carol that she was making the payment because she did not want Steven to suffer financially because he had left work to care for her, given that only a few days before Carol had made the $35,000.00 payment, which paid off Steven’s truck loan, line of credit, and left around $15,000.00 cash to spare. There was also no corroborating evidence of Carol’s intention to gift the $90,000.00 amount to Steven. As a result, Steven held the $90,000.00 in trust for Carol’s estate.
Unfortunately, it is often the case that payments to adult children are challenged after the parent has died. Unless the parent has taken special care to document his or her intention in making the payment, the intention can be difficult to determine with any degree of certainty. Accordingly, a parent making a gift to an adult child should consider seeking legal advice as to the best way to document such a transfer in order to ensure that their intentions will be upheld. From the opposite perspective, if a parent wants to make a transfer on the basis that their adult child will hold the asset in trust for him or her, or his or her estate, the parent should also consider seeking legal advice to ensure that this is properly documented in order to reduce the chance of issues arising in this regard after his or her death.
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Dr. Zachariadis was divorced and estranged from his two daughters. After his divorce, he began a romantic relationship with Ms. Giannopoulos. They were together for almost twenty years as common law spouses until Dr. Zachariadis’ passing. A year before his death, Dr. Zachariadis moved in with Ms. Giannopoulos and they had plans to marry. Dr. Zachariadis transferred his medical practice to Ms. Giannopoulos’ son Aris, and he gave Ms. Giannopoulos a bank draft for $700,000.00 which she deposited into her own bank account. He died within six months of that bank draft.
Dr. Zachariadis did not have a relationship with his daughters from his first marriage. He was not invited to their weddings and he has never met his grandchildren. Dr. Zachariadis died without a Will and his daughters became the estate trustees and beneficiaries of this Estate. More than two years after Dr. Zachariadis’ passing, the daughters commenced an action against Ms. Giannopoulos to recover the payment of $700,000.00 to her on the basis of breach of trust, fraud at equity, conversion and unjust enrichment. The action was dismissed on a motion of summary judgment by Justice Koehnen. The appeal of Justice Koehnen’s decision, 2019 ONSC 6505, and his Honour’s costs order, 2020 ONSC 588, were also dismissed by the Court of Appeal, 2021 ONCA 158.
On the motion for summary judgment, Justice Koehnen found that the daughters were statute barred by section 38(3) of the Trustee Act in failing to commence their claims within two years of Dr. Zachariadis’ death. The daughters failed to make out any fraudulent concealment on Ms. Giannopoulos’ part that would toll the operation of section 38(3). Rather, Justice Koehnen found that there was no positive obligation on Ms. Giannopoulos’ part to tell the daughters about the payment, and he found that the payment was a gift in any event. All of which were upheld by the Court of Appeal.
The Court of Appeal also found that there was no basis to interfere with Justice Koehnen’s costs order. The Estate and the daughters, in their personal capacities, were ordered to pay Giannopoulos costs of $199,602.46 on a substantial indemnity scale. The allegations of fraud in the underlying claim were unsupported and pursued to the end. Justice Koehnen noted that the daughters could have pursued their claims on the basis of constructive trust and resulting trust without going so far as alleging fraud. The daughters were also found to have taken unnecessarily aggressive steps and to have lengthened the proceeding due to their lack of cooperation with Ms. Giannopoulos’ counsel while Ms. Giannopoulos’ offers to settle were weighed against them. Issue was also taken with the length of the daughters’ materials which were noted to be in violation of the page limits and other formatting requirements for facta. Lastly, Justice Koehnen rejected the daughters’ argument that they were only pursuing the claim to ensure the due administration of the Estate and out of their concern that the Estate would have sufficient funds to pay its CRA liability. Interestingly enough, Justice Koehnen commented that, if that were the case, the daughters could have simply turned over the claim for CRA to pursue.
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Some of the most challenging and expensive estate litigation I’ve dealt with involves accounting disputes. As such, it comes as no surprise to see that in some instances fiduciaries resist agreeing to requests to apply to the court to pass their accounts.**
In Ontario, although a fiduciary may be asked to pass accounts by a beneficiary or someone else the court determines has a financial interest, there is no statutory obligation to pass accounts. If the fiduciary does not agree to do so, the issue can be addressed before the court. Although obtaining such an order is often not difficult, the court has the discretion to deny the request.
Obvious grounds of denial may include the lack of a financial interest. For instance, an alleged creditor who had not yet proven the debt was denied the ability to compel a passing of accounts (see Workman v Colson,  OJ No 1577). Further, in Klatt v Klatt Estate, a case where the beneficiary’s interest was contingent, a passing was not forced upon the trustee (although notably there were additional facts that lent to that conclusion).
With no absolute right to compel a passing, the court may also refuse to order a passing where there is no default on the part of the trustee. This was the outcome in Gastle v Gastle, where the fiduciary responded to the concerns raised and agreed to submit to cross-examination. The court did, however, leave open the ability to revisit the issue after the cross-examination.
Other circumstances where a request to pass accounts may be denied include when the ask is made before the executor has a reasonable opportunity to attend to the administration within a year after death (see McEwen v. Little), and when the associated costs are disproportionate to the value of the estate (see Painter v. Painter Estate).
Although the above instances may provide some comfort to fiduciaries, it is better to avoid disagreement on the issue if possible, which may be achievable with active steps to progress the administration in a timely way and with periodic informal accountings being provided to the beneficiaries.
Thanks for reading and have a great day,
Natalia R. Angelini
**For a more thorough review of the issue, I suggest reading Melissa Saunders’s OBA paper entitled When Will Courts Decline to Exercise Discretion to Order a Passing of Accounts?, which aided me in writing this blog.
Sometimes when parties arrive at a settlement, notwithstanding that the settlement may objectively be in their interests, they may not necessarily be pleased with the outcome. If the settlement has been concluded and fully documented, however, a party who has had second thoughts will likely be out of luck if they want to avoid complying with the agreement. This is important because parties should usually be held to the bargains that they make in a settlement.
A settlement does not necessarily have to be in writing to be valid, but like any contract, there must be a “meeting of the minds” on the essential terms of the agreement.
In a recent decision, Daehn v Lalonde, 2021 ONSC 301, the court considered a motion to enforce a settlement where draft minutes of settlement had been exchanged, but not signed. The dispute between the parties underlying the settlement concerned the validity of competing Wills. The parties were engaged in negotiations between January and July 2019, during which time several offers and versions of draft minutes of settlement were exchanged. In mid-July, counsel for the responding parties to the motion advised the moving party that he would no longer be acting for the responding parties, and retracted all offers to settle made by the responding parties.
The moving party took the position that certain conduct by counsel for the responding parties should be taken as akin to acceptance of terms in the minutes of settlement. Such conduct included providing bank statements that had been requested as a condition of settlement, and proposing changes to some terms of the draft minutes without complaint about others. The court did not accept this argument, and did not find acceptance of the agreement by words or conduct of the responding parties.
The court briefly reviewed the law regarding validity and enforcement of settlements. Like a contract, a concluded settlement requires both a mutual intention to create a legally binding contract, and agreement on all essential terms of the settlement.
The court found that the responding parties never agreed to the terms of settlement. Despite the moving party’s argument that the responding parties had agreed to the sole “essential” term, the court found that it cannot be the case that the moving party alone can dictate what terms of the settlement are essential. The court concluded that a settlement cannot be imposed where no agreement was reached.
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Something that surely no testator or beneficiary wants to see is the failure of a gift made in a Will. Unfortunately, circumstances can arise where the language of a Will may be ambiguous, or where events occurring during the estate administration expose uncertainty in a term of the Will that wasn’t necessarily apparent at the time of drafting or execution.
In Barsoski v Wesley, 2020 ONSC 7407, the estate trustee sought directions from the court regarding a clause in the deceased’s Will that allowed the deceased’s friend (the “Respondent”) to live in the deceased’s home during his lifetime, or such shorter period as the Respondent desires. Upon the earlier of the Respondent advising that he no longer wished to live in the home, or the Respondent “no longer living” in the home, the house and its contents are to be sold, and the proceeds added to a gift to another beneficiary of the Deceased’s Will, a charity, St. Stephens House of London (“St. Stephens”).
The deceased died in June 2017. Confusion arose when it became apparent that the Respondent was not actually living in the home on a full-time basis. This first came up around December 2017 and continued for a couple of years. The home was in London, but the Respondent continued living and working full-time in Toronto following the deceased’s death, and seemingly up until 2019. He then started a full-time job in Sault Ste. Marie in 2019.
The Respondent’s evidence was that he was using the home as his primary residence in that he spent time at the home on weekends 1-2 times per month, and used it as his address for his driver’s license and for CRA purposes. He stated that he planned to live in the home full-time after he retired around July 2021.
St. Stephens, as the gift-over beneficiary of the home, took the position that the Respondent had not been living in the home, and therefore it should be sold pursuant to the terms of the Will.
The court first considered whether the Will gave the Respondent a life estate or a licence to use the home subject to a condition subsequent, concluding that the proper interpretation was that it was a licence with a condition subsequent. The condition subsequent in question was when the Respondent was “no longer living” in the home. The court outlined that a “condition subsequent is void for uncertainty if the condition is ‘far too indefinite and uncertain to enable the Court to say what it was that the testator meant should be the event on which the estate was to determine’”. Accordingly, the court concluded that it was impossible to define, on the terms of the deceased’s Will, what it meant to “live” in the home.
The question of whether, on the facts, the Respondent’s use of the home constituted him “living” there is an interesting one. However, due to the court’s conclusion that the terms granting the Respondent an interest in the home were void for uncertainty, it was unnecessary for the court to make any findings of fact on this particular question.
The estate trustee, who was also the drafting lawyer, gave evidence (that was ultimately inadmissible) that the deceased had been considering some changes to her Will prior to her death. The changes would put time restrictions on the Respondent’s use of the home, including that he would be required to move into the home within 90 days of her death, and not be absent from it for more than 120 days. These additional terms may have provided sufficient certainty for the beneficiary to know what he had to do in order to maintain his interest in the home, and for the estate trustee to administer the estate. Although this evidence had no impact on the court’s decision, it can serve as an important reminder that if one wants to change their Will, one should do so as soon as possible to ensure the Will reflects their wishes at the time of their death.
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As my colleague, Nick Esterbauer, blogged about last week (here and here), the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed all of us, including the courts and the legal profession, towards the increasing use of technology. This has included the use of video-conferencing for examinations of witnesses in the litigation context. As we adapt to this new world, there are inevitably going to be ‘hiccups’. It is crucial to maintain the integrity of the process and to ensure that virtual examinations are not abused.
A recent decision of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dealt with just such a situation. In Kaushal v Vasudeva et al., 2021 ONSC 440, the cross-examination of the respondent to an application was held over Zoom. The respondent required an interpreter for his cross-examination, and the respondent, his lawyer, and the interpreter all attended at the lawyer’s boardroom for the examination. They were all in the same room together, but on separate devices. The respondent’s wife and son came to the lawyer’s office with him, but according to the respondent they remained in the reception area at all times. It was confirmed on the record by the respondent’s lawyer that the only people present with the respondent during the examination were the lawyer and the interpreter.
Following the examination, the applicant noticed that a microphone and camera in the respondent’s lawyer’s boardroom had been left on, and he could hear the respondent’s wife and son speaking. It appeared to the applicant that the wife and son had listened in on the examination.
The respondent denied that his wife and son were present in the boardroom during his cross-examination. His lawyer’s legal assistant also provided affidavit evidence that the wife and son were not in the boardroom during the examinations.
The interpreter, however, ultimately swore two affidavits that the wife and son were present in the boardroom throughout the respondent’s examination, and were prompting the respondent’s answers by hand and facial gestures. The court accepted the interpreter’s evidence in its entirety.
The court concluded that there was misconduct during the respondent’s cross-examination on the basis that his wife and son were present and made hand and facial gestures to assist him with his answers. The court further concluded that the respondent’s misconduct amounted to abuse of process and that his affidavit responding to the application must be struck. It was the court’s view that it “must send a strong message that interference in the fact-finding process by abusing or taking advantage of a virtual examination will not be tolerated. In a broader sense, this type of misconduct strikes at the very heard of the integrity of the fact-finding process such that general deterrence is also a factor.”
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In a recent decision from the British Columbia Court of Appeal, Mayer v Mayer Estate, 2020 BCCA 282, the court considered an application to reopen a trial to admit new evidence or to have a mistrial declared (the “post-trial application”). The post-trial application arose as a result of an email between the respondent’s daughter-in-law (who had been assisting the respondent with the litigation) and the respondent’s counsel. The appellant had obtained the email from the deceased’s computer. The deceased and the respondent had shared an email address, and when the appellant connected the computer to the internet some emails were downloaded from the shared account, including the email in question. The appellant took the position that the email that she had obtained impugned the respondent’s credibility by contradicting evidence she had given in the previous proceedings. The post-trial application was dismissed, and the appellant appealed the decision.
The Court of Appeal dealt with the question of the email fairly briefly. The post-trial application judge had concluded that the email was a communication that was subject to solicitor-client privilege. The Court of Appeal appears to have accepted that finding.
The content of the email is not specifically set out in the decision, but appears to have related to the purpose for which the respondent had made certain transfers to the deceased. It appears that, notwithstanding the finding that the email was privileged, the court still considered whether the contents of the email did impact the respondent’s credibility.
The respondent swore affidavit evidence in the original proceedings that she had made two transfers to the deceased to assist him in paying some tax debts. The email apparently indicated that at the time the respondent swore her affidavit, she knew that the deceased did not, in fact, have any tax debt. The post-trial application judge’s analysis stated that it appeared the deceased may have been untruthful with the respondent at the time the transfers were made, and probably used the funds for something other than tax debts, which he did not have. However, the respondent’s evidence in this regard was not a lie, because at the time of the transfer, all she knew was what the deceased had told her, namely that he intended to use the funds to pay his tax debts.
Additionally, the post-trial application judge had already addressed minor inconsistencies of this nature in the respondent’s evidence in his reasons from the original proceeding, noting that they were not consequential and fully explained by the respondent.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. In making this decision, the Court of Appeal notes that “it is apparent that the appellant is seeking largely to re-argue the case as originally tried before Justice Crossin, particularly as to credibility, which is not open to her.”
The Court of Appeal also awarded the respondent special costs (on a higher scale), based on its conclusion that the very serious allegations made and maintained by the appellant against the respondent constituted “sufficiently reprehensible conduct to merit rebuke in the form of an award of special costs”.
Although scenarios may exist where new evidence could have such an impact on credibility that it would warrant reopening a trial, one should be careful to fully assess the nature and strength of such evidence. The award of special costs also serves as further caution that serious allegations such as fraud and perjury should be made very selectively, when they are appropriate and fully supported by the evidence.
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