Tag: limitations act
An important and useful tool in any estate planning toolkit is the ability to transfer title to real property between spouses, which typically occurs for nominal consideration and/or natural love and affection. These types of transfers are recognized at law. In certain circumstances, transfers of this nature may be used by spouses seeking to defeat, hinder, delay, or defraud creditors. The Fraudulent Conveyances Act (“FCA”) provides the legislative authority to set aside transfers of property that are entered into with the intent to defeat the claims of a creditor.
Such was the case in Anisman v Drabinsky, 2020 ONSC 1197. On September 11, 2015, Mr. Drabinsky and his wife, Ms. Winford-Drabinsky, transferred their joint ownership of their home to Ms. Winford-Drabinsky alone (the “Drabinsky Property”). At the time of said transfer, Mr. Drabinsky had several unpaid judgments against him as well as ongoing monthly debt payments that were nearly double his monthly income. One such judgment, dated November 2018, was in favour of the Plaintiff for monies owed by Mr. Drabinsky.
In an effort to recover monies owed to him, the Plaintiff obtained a Certificate of Pending Litigation against the Drabinsky Property. It was not until April 2019 that the Plaintiff testified that he learned of the transfer through a title search conducted on Mr. Drabinsky in preparation for his examination in aid of execution respecting the unpaid judgment. On June 18, 2019, some three years and nine months after the impugned transfer of title, the Plaintiff commenced an action seeking to reverse the transfer of title in the Drabinsky Property.
In his defence, Mr. Drabinsky argued that the transfer itself was not fraudulent, but that in any event, the Plaintiff’s claim was statute barred given that the 2-year limitation period provided for in the Limitations Act, 2002, SO 2002, c. 24 (“Limitations Act”) had expired.
In considering the validity of Mr. Drabinsky’s limitation defence, the court considered two key principles regarding limitation periods: discoverability of claims and the applicable statutory authority. With respect to the latter, the court considered whether it was the 2-year limitation period pursuant to the Limitations Act, or the 10-year limitation period in the Real Property Limitations Act (“RPLA”), that applied. The RPLA applies to actions to “recover” land. The question then became, does an action to set aside a conveyance of real property fall within the category of claims to “recover land”?
The court ultimately found that it was the 10-year limitation period in the RPLA that applied to the present action. In reaching its decision, the court relied on the case of Conde v Ripley, 2015 ONSC 3342, which found that claims made to set aside a conveyance of real property under the FCA are on their face, a claim to recover land. The court went further to say, “the Legislature has seen fit to… differentiate between actions involving recovery of land and other types of actions” given that the Limitations Act addresses claims in contract or tort, while the FCA addresses the recovery of real property.
However, as identified in this article, this line of reasoning contradicts earlier decisions that differentiated between the recovery of land itself and the recovery of debts connected to that land (see Wilfert v McCallum, 2017 ONSC 3853 and the Ontario Court of Appeal case of Zabanah v Capital Direct Lending Corp, 2014 ONCA 872), leaving the law in a state of uncertainty.
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The main issue on appeal was whether Justice Dietrich was right in finding that the applicant could still ask the court to determine whether certain codicils were valid (or invalid) seven years after death. Justice Dietrich based her limitations analysis on whether this proceeding would fall under section 16(1)(a) of the Limitations Act, 2002 where there is no limitation period in respect of “a proceeding for a declaration if no consequential relief is sought”.
In her reasons, Justice Dietrich distinguished the case before her from the other limitations cases that have applied the two-year, basic limitation period to will challenges: Leibel v. Leibel, 2014 ONSC 4516, Birtzu v. McCron, 2017 ONSC 1420, and Shannon v. Hrabovsky, 2018 ONSC 6593. The case before her was different from Liebel, Birtzu, and Shannon because nothing had been done by the respondent beneficiary to propound the codicils that she had an interest in. If the proceeding was started differently in 2015, by the very beneficiary who has an interest in the codicils, then the estate trustee would have a limitations defence against the beneficiary. Since the beneficiary had done nothing, it remained opened to the estate trustee to commence an application for declaratory relief. Such declaratory relief is “a formal statement by a court pronouncing upon the existence or non-existence of a legal state of affairs.’ It is restricted to a pronunciation on the parties’ rights” (see para. 46, 2019 ONSC 1190).
The Court of Appeal agreed that there was no limitation period in this case because the applicant did not seek consequential relief in addition to a determination of the validity or invalidity of the codicils. The Will had not been probated and nothing had been done for seven years to resolve the issue.
“In these circumstances, Helen was entitled to seek declaratory relief, simply to establish the validity, or lack of validity, of the codicils – to define the rights of the parties in order to avoid future disputes.”, Strathy C.J.O., MacPherson J.A., and Jamal J.A.
Thanks for reading and more on these limitation cases to follow later this week!
When most people reference a “limitation period” in Ontario, chances are that they are referencing the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, 2002, which generally provides an individual with two years from the date on which a claim is “discovered” to commence a claim before it is statute barred. Although an individual is presumed under the Limitations Act to have “discovered” the claim on the date that the loss or injury occurred, if it can be shown that the individual did not “discover” the claim until some later date the limitation period will not begin to run until that later date, potentially extending the limitation period for the claim to be brought for many years beyond the second anniversary of the actual loss or damage.
Although the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act must be considered for situations in which an individual intends to commence a claim against someone who has died, individuals in such situations must also consider the much stricter limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act.
Section 38 of the Trustee Act imposes a hard two year limitation period from the date of death for any individual to commence a claim against a deceased individual in tort. Unlike the limitation period imposed by the Limitations Act, the limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is not subject to the “discoverability” principle, but is rather a hard limitation period that expires two years from death regardless of whether the individual has actually yet to “discover” the claim. If an individual starts a claim against a deceased individual in tort more than two years after the deceased’s individual’s death it is statute barred by section 38 of the Trustee Act regardless of when the claim was “discovered”.
The non-applicability of the “discoverability” principle to the two year limitation period imposed by section 38 of the Trustee Act is confirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate, (2000) 47 O.R. (3d) 370, wherein the court states:
“As indicated earlier in these reasons, based on the language of the limitation provision, the discoverability principle does not apply to s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The effect of s. 38(3) is, in my view, that the state of actual or attributed knowledge of an injured person in a tort claim is not germane when a death has occurred. The only applicable limitation period is the two-year period found in s. 38(3) of the Trustee Act.” [emphasis added]
Although the Court of Appeal in Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate appears firm in their position that the court should not take when the claim was “discovered” into consideration when applying the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act, it should be noted that in the recent decision of Estate of John Edward Graham v. Southlake Regional Health Centre, 2019 ONSC 392 (“Graham Estate“), the court allowed a claim to brought after the second anniversary of the deceased’s death citing “special circumstances”. Although the Graham Estate decision is from the lower court while the Waschkowski v. Hopkinson Estate decision is from the Court of Appeal, such that it is at least questionable whether it has established a new line of thinking or was correctly decided, the Graham Estate decision may suggest that the application of the limitation period from section 38 of the Trustee Act is not as harsh as it was once considered. More can be read about the Graham Estate decision in Garrett Horrocks’ previous blog found here.
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Section 38 of Ontario’s Trustee Act provides that an estate trustee may commence or maintain, on behalf of a Deceased individual, an action in tort that could otherwise have been commenced by that individual. As discussed in related blogs on this section, such actions are ordinarily subject to a stricter limitation period than that of other civil claims.
In typical civil claims, Ontario’s Limitations Act imports a two-year limitation period which begins to run as of the date the cause of action was discovered. The limitation period under the Trustee Act, however, begins to run as of the Deceased’s date of death and is not subject to this principle of discoverability, unless the Plaintiff can satisfy the Doctrine of Special Circumstances. The decision in Graham Estate v Southlake Regional Health Centre recently contextualized this Doctrine and, in so doing, suggests that the principle of discoverability will not always be dispensed with.
In May 2008, the Deceased in Graham Estate underwent a botched surgical procedure that ultimately gave rise to a claim in medical negligence. The Deceased subsequently died in February 2009, and a claim was commenced by the Deceased’s Estate in May 2010, well within the two-year limitation period under section 38(3).
As part of this initial claim, the Estate obtained disclosure of relevant medical records relating to the operation. In or about 2015, more than four years after the limitation period had expired, counsel for the Estate subsequently received an additional unprompted cache of records that had not been previously disclosed. This new set of records gave rise to a claim against a party who was not a party to the existing litigation.
In February 2017, the Estate subsequently brought a motion seeking to add the Proposed Defendant as a party to the litigation. At issue in this decision was whether the Estate was out of time as a result of the strict operation of section 38(3) of the Trustee Act. The Court ultimately held that the Estate ought to succeed on the basis of the Doctrine of Special Circumstances.
As the claim against the Proposed Defendant was, on its face, out of time, the Estate argued that the Doctrine of Special Circumstances ought to apply. This Doctrine is comprised of a two-step test to be satisfied by the Plaintiff:
- The Plaintiff must rebut the presumption of prejudice that would result to the party to be added; and
- The Plaintiff must satisfy the Court that special circumstances justify the addition of that party.
At the outset, the Court held that the loss of a limitation defence immediately gave rise to a presumption of prejudice in favour of the Proposed Defendant. However, the Estate identified a number of factors that operated to rebut the presumption of prejudice, notably:
- The claims to be made against the Proposed Defendant were identical to those already commenced against the existing Defendants;
- The action against the Proposed Defendant was tenable in law; and
- There would be no procedural unfairness to the Proposed Defendant if he were added as a party, as no trial date had been set and he would have sufficient time to prepare a defence.
The Court then considered whether there were any equitable special circumstances that merited the addition of the Proposed Defendant as a party. As above, the Court held that there were, but in so doing, in effect considered factors not unlike the discoverability principle.
Chiefly, the Court noted that the Proposed Defendant’s role in the circumstances giving rise to the initial negligence claim had not become apparent until the limitation period had already expired. The Court found that the Estate had made efforts to obtained the relevant records well within the limitation period, and that the records implicating the Proposed Defendant had erroneously been omitted. The Court held that this was not a case in which the Estate was “handicapped by its own inaction.”
While section 38(3) of the Trustee Act on its face imports a strict limitation period, the Graham Estate decision nonetheless suggests that the courts will consider discoverability, among other factors. That said, this analysis is only engaged if the presumption of prejudice is rebutted.
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A recent decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal considered whether s. 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 applies to extend the time within which an estate trustee can bring a claim that arose prior to a deceased person’s death.
Section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 provides as follows:
7 (1) The limitation period established by section 4 does not run during any time in which the person with the claim,
(a) is incapable of commencing a proceeding in respect of the claim because of his or her physical, mental or psychological condition; and
(b) is not represented by a litigation guardian in relation to the claim.
(2) A person shall be presumed to have been capable of commencing a proceeding in respect of a claim at all times unless the contrary is proved. 2002, c. 24, Sched. B, s. 7 (2).
(3) If the running of a limitation period is postponed or suspended under this section and the period has less than six months to run when the postponement or suspension ends, the period is extended to include the day that is six months after the day on which the postponement or suspension ends.
In Lee v Ponte, 2018 ONCA 1021, the estate trustee of the deceased person commenced a claim more than 2 years after the date on which the limitation period began to run, as determined by the trial judge. As a result, the action was statute barred.
The estate trustee appealed, taking the position that section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 should be “liberally construed”. The estate trustee argued that a deceased person is incapable of commencing a proceeding because of “his or her physical, mental or psychological condition”. He also argued that policy reasons support allowing additional time for an estate trustee or litigation guardian to be appointed and take over the management of the affairs of the incapable/deceased person.
The Court of Appeal disagreed and did not allow the appeal. In its view, the “grammatical and ordinary sense of the words of s. 7 are simply not elastic enough to apply to a deceased person and to construe an estate trustee to be a litigation guardian.”
Although the outcome is not surprising, it does serve as a reminder that limitation periods can be unforgiving. Estate trustees would be well-advised to act swiftly in reviewing the affairs of a deceased person in order to determine whether any claims may have arisen prior to death, and whether the expiry of any limitation periods are looming.
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“No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim. That said, there are good reasons for limitation periods. This case is an example of why they exist.”
So says Justice Nakatsuru in the opening line of his decision of Sinclair v. Harris, 2018 ONSC 5718 (CanLII).
There, the estate trustees of the estate of Virginia Rock (“Rock”) sued Merilyn and Frederick Harris (“the Harris’s”), claiming an equitable interest in lands purchased by the Harris’s, as part of the funds for the purchase of the lands were provided by Rock.
There, the relevant time line was as follows:
July 12, 2000: Rock provides money to the Harris’s to buy a property
August 5, 2003: The Harris’s sell the property. Rock was apparently aware of this.
November 17, 2015: Rock dies
February 24, 2017: Rock’s estate trustees commence the action
Justice Nakatsuru found that the 10 year limitation period under the Real Property Limitations Act applied. He disagreed with the estate trustees’ position that no limitation period applies to a claim for resulting trust. As the claim was a claim for the recovery of land (or “money to be laid out in the purchase of land”), the limitation period in the Real Property Limitations Act applied.
The court held that the limitation period would have commenced on the date the funds were advanced. Alternatively, it would have run from the time when the Harris’s sold the property. Under either interpretation, the limitation period had passed.
The action was dismissed.
Justice Nakatsuru said that “No one likes to see a limitation period applied to dismiss a claim.” No one other than a defendant.
Footnote: Justice Nakatsuru has been called the “poetic” judge and lauded in Macleans Magazine for his “heartfelt, easy-to-read rulings”. For an excellent example of this, see his decision on a bail application in R. v. Sledz, 2017 ONCJ 151 (CanLII).
Have a great weekend.
The applicability of limitation periods to estates, trusts, and capacity matters is crucial for litigators to consider. In a recent decision of the Superior Court of Justice, the Court was asked to consider the application of the limitation period in Part V of the Succession Law Reform Act (“SLRA”) to a claim that was advanced by the Public Guardian and Trustee (the “PGT”) as the litigation guardian of an incapable support claimant.
Shaw v. Barber, 2017 ONSC 2155, is an important precedent for the proposition that limitation periods do not run against the incapable person from the day that the PGT becomes his/her statutory guardian of property. By operation of section 16(5) of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992, the PGT automatically becomes an incapable person’s statutory guardian of property the moment they receive a certificate of incapacity from the assessor. In Shaw v. Barber, the dependant support claimant, Lois Shaw, was assessed and found to be incapable of managing property on February 16, 2015 and a copy of the certificate was sent to the PGT on or about February 25, 2015.
Prior to the assessment, Ms. Shaw lived with Frank Cyril Barber on the date of his death, although they were not married. Mr. Barber died in August, 2014, leaving a Will which named his son as the sole Estate Trustee and beneficiary of his Estate. A Certificate of Appointment of Estate Trustee with a Will was issued to Mr. Barber’s son on February 5, 2015. Pursuant to section 61(1) of the SLRA, an application for dependant support may not be made six months after the grant of probate, subject to the Court’s discretion in section 61(2) to allow claims against the undistributed portion of an estate. Without considering the Court’s discretion in section 61(2) of the Act, Justice McNamara found that Ms. Shaw’s claim for dependant support was not statute barred despite the fact that it was issued, one year after six months from probate, on August 5, 2016.
In his reasoning, Justice McNamara considered the tolling provision applicable to incapable persons while he/she is not represented by a litigation guardian in section 7 of the Limitations Act, 2002 (which applies to the section 61 of the SLRA). The turning point then becomes whether a guardian of property is automatically a litigation guardian in relation to the claim at issue since a guardian has the power to do anything the incapable person may do except make a will. In this case, there was an affidavit from PGT counsel which explained the time consuming investigations involved when the PGT becomes a statutory guardian of property because of the lack of first-hand information from the incapable individual. Justice McNamara determined that a guardian of property shall act as litigation guardian when he/she has determined that there is a basis for exercising their authority in that role, and that imposing a limitation period from the date in which the PGT becomes statutory guardian is contrary to the Limitations Act and it would create impossible timelines and potential injustice for this vulnerable group. Furthermore, Justice McNamara was also persuaded by the fact that the Estate Trustee in this case will not be prejudiced by the delay, given that he is also the sole beneficiary, and that he was aware all along that the PGT was considering a claim against the Estate.
This case is also an example of the latitude that Courts may accord to large-scale claimants as seen in 407 ETR Concession Company Limited v. Day, 2016 ONCA 709.
Please do not hesitate to contact our firm for a copy of Justice McNamara’s reasons in Shaw v. Barber and click here for comments from Russel Molot, counsel for the PGT in this matter, as reported in the Law Times.
The Ontario Court of Appeal recently considered the issue of the applicable limitation period for claims for compensation on a passing of accounts. In Armitage v The Salvation Army, the Court held the Limitations Act, 2002 does not apply to claims for compensation on a passing of accounts.
The Respondent in this case was the deceased’s power of attorney for property and personal care, as well as estate trustee. The Appellant was the sole beneficiary of the deceased’s estate. The principal issue in this case was whether the Respondent’s claim for compensation was statute barred.
The estate trustee was appointed the deceased’s attorney for property and personal care in 1990, 2001, and 2007. In 2006, the deceased was admitted to hospital and then to a nursing home, where he remained until his death on February 5, 2013. The attorney submitted her claim for attorney compensation on September 5, 2013. She issued a Notice of Application on January 30, 2015 and a further application to pass estate accounts on January 30, 2015 at the request of the sole beneficiary of the estate.
Decision of the Application Judge
The parties disagreed about how to calculate the applicable limitation period for the claim for attorney compensation. The attorney took the position that any claim must be commenced within two years of the death of the person who granted the power of attorney. She explained that she was unsure about whether she would take compensation because it was uncertain how long the deceased would live and what his financial needs would be. The beneficiary took the position that section 40(2) of the Substitute Decisions Act, 1992 gives an attorney the option to claim compensation each year and that the end of each year triggers the beginning of the two year limitation period.
The application judge held that the date of the deceased’s death terminated the power of attorney and therefore triggered the limitation period. An attorney for property would then have two years from the date of death to claim compensation. The application judge approved the attorney and estate trustee claims for compensation.
Decision of the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal upheld the application judge’s approval of the claimed compensation, but for different reasons. The Limitations Act, 2002 was intended to deal with all civil claims, grounded in equity, common law, or statute. However, the Limitations Act, 2002 only applies a “claim,” which is defined as “a claim to remedy an injury, loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act or omission.” The court held: “in seeking court approval of the passing of accounts, an attorney for property is not seeking redress for any loss, injury, or damage. Rather, he or she is seeking approval from the court of his or her actions in managing the property, including approval for compensation previously taken or now sought. A passing of accounts application is the opposite of remedial; it is a process that seeks a court order that no remedy is necessary with respect to accounts.”
Therefore, a passing of accounts is not a “claim” within the definition of the Limitations Act, 2002 and not subject to the general 2-year limitation period. The only defences available on a passing of accounts are the equitable defences of laches and acquiescence. The court, however, does leave open the possibility that the filing of a notice of objection by a beneficiary after an attorney has sought a passing of accounts might fall under the definition of “claim” in the Limitations Act, 2002.
This decision allows an attorney for property to make his or her own claim for compensation subordinate to the needs of the person who granted the power of attorney by waiting until the death of the grantor, when the money is no longer needed for the grantor’s care.
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As lawyers well know, all lawsuits must be instituted within the applicable limitation period as a first hurdle to successful litigation. While the time periods within which one must start a claim are clear in the Limitations Act and in other legislation, the time from which those periods start to run is not always so clear and may be a matter for a judge to decide.
In Zurba v. Lakeridge Health Corp. (2010), 99 O.R. (3d) 596 (ON SCJ), the plaintiff fractured his ankle in a way that exposed his bone and internal tissues to grass and dirt in August of 2003. The doctor who initially treated the plaintiff cleaned and dressed the wound with a cast instead of proceeding with the necessary surgery. Significant ongoing infection at the fracture site later caused another doctor to suggest amputation. The plaintiff refused and after lengthy course of surgeries and therapy with no improvement, the plaintiff retained counsel and initiated the law suit. The plaintiff subsequently received an expert medical opinion from an orthopaedic expert that the treating doctor’s care was negligent.
The Ontario Superior Court considered the Limitations Act, 2002 and its applicability with respect to the discoverability of the cause of action. Lauwers, J. found that a plaintiff must not only know of the injury but must also know that someone erred before the cause of action crystallizes and the limitation period commences running.
The Court went on to establish two categories of cases: 1) Where an expert opinion is not necessary to know whether to institute an action because all the material facts are known; and 2) where an expert opinion is required to trigger the limitation period because all material facts cannot be known without one. In Zurba, notwithstanding that the statement of claim was issued before the expert medical report was obtained, the Court found that it could consider the report with respect to discoverability in order to determine when the limitation period began to run.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.
Hughes v. Kennedy Automation Limited: due diligence and discoverability under the Limitations Act, 2002
The Ontario Court of Appeals recently affirmed the decision of Mr. Justice Glithero to refuse a motion to add a solicitor and his law firm as a defendant party to a proceeding for breach of contract, because the claim was discoverable more than two years prior to the motion.
In Hughes v. Kennedy Automation Limited, 2008 ONCA 770, the plaintiffs were suing the defendant for non-payment under a purchase and sale agreement for shares. The purchase and sale agreement had been drafted by the defendant corporation’s solicitor; the plaintiffs had not retained their own lawyer to act for them in the share sale transaction. The plaintiffs became aware of the original non-payment on July 31, 2005. However, the plaintiffs waited until November 2006 to retain their own lawyer to sue the defendant.
In November 2007, the plaintiffs brought a motion to add the defendant’s solicitor and his law firm, for breach of fiduciary duty and negligence. The plaintiffs were alleging that the solicitor acted in a conflict of interest and failed to recommend they seek independent legal advice. The motions judge ruled that the claim against the solicitor and his law firm were barred by the two-year limitation in section 4 of the Limitations Act, 2002. On the evidence before him, Glithero J. was satisfied that the identity of the solicitor and his law firm, the facts surrounding his involvement and the fact of non-payment were all known to the plaintiffs by July 31, 2005. Therefore the presumption in section 5(2) of the Limitations Act, 2002 applied to make the claim discoverable by that time, more than two years before the November 2007 motion to add the solicitor and his law firm. The Ontario Court of Appeals affirmed this decision.
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