Tag: remedial constructive trust
The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Moore v Sweet provided meaningful clarification on the Canadian law of unjust enrichment and, in particular, the juristic reason analysis.
As it made a finding of unjust enrichment, it was not necessary for the Court to consider the second issue before it, being whether, in the absence of unjust enrichment, a constructive trust could nevertheless be imposed in the circumstances on the basis of “good conscience”.
In 1997, the Supreme Court released its decision in Soulos v Korkontzilas. That case considered situations that may give rise to a constructive trust remedy. In referring to the categories in which a constructive trust may be appropriate, which were noted to historically include where it was otherwise required by good conscience, Justice McLachlin (as she then was) stated as follows:
I conclude that in Canada, under the broad umbrella of good conscience, constructive trusts are recognized both for wrongful acts like fraud and breach of duty of loyalty, as well as to remedy unjust enrichment and corresponding deprivation…Within these two broad categories, there is room for the law of constructive trust to develop and for greater precision to be attained, as time and experience may dictate.
Since 1997, Soulos and the above excerpt have been interpreted inconsistently by scholars and courts of appeal throughout Canada. Some consider Soulos to restrict the availability of constructive trust remedies to only situations where there has been a finding of unjust enrichment or wrongful conduct, while others favour a more liberal interpretation.
The appellant in Moore v Sweet sought, in the alternative to a remedy on the basis of unjust enrichment, a remedial constructive trust with respect to the proceeds of the life insurance policy on the basis of good conscience. In choosing not to address this issue, Justice Côté (writing for the Majority) stated as follows:
This disposition of the appeal renders it unnecessary to determine whether this Court’s decision in Soulos should be interpreted as precluding the availability of a remedial constructive trust beyond cases involving unjust enrichment or wrongful acts like breach of fiduciary duty. Similarly, the extent to which this Court’s decision in Soulos may have incorporated the “traditional English institutional trusts” into the remedial constructive trust framework is beyond the scope of this appeal. While recognizing that these remain open questions, I am of the view that they are best left for another day.
It will be interesting to see if and when the Supreme Court ultimately chooses to determine “the open questions” regarding the availability of the remedial constructive trust. Until then, it appears that some debate regarding the circumstances in which it may be imposed will remain.
Thank you for reading.
As has been my mantra all week, Justice Cromwell, who delivered the reasons for the Court in Kerr v. Baranow & Vanasse v. Seguin, commented that for unmarried persons in domestic relationships in most common law provinces, judge made law is the only option for addressing the property consequences of the breakdown of those relationships.
A property interest by resulting trust arises where 1) there is a gratuitous transfer of property from one partner to the other, or 2) there is joint contribution by two partners to the acquisition of property, title to which is in the name of only one of them.
Added to this has been the “purely Canadian invention” of the “common intention” resulting trust, whereby a resulting trust could arise based solely on both partners having a common intention that one holds property for the beneficial interest of both. However, the Court declared that this concept was doctrinally unsound and should have no continuing role in the resolution of domestic property disputes.
A far better approach was to apply the law of unjust enrichment and the remedial constructive trust, which provide a much less artificial, more comprehensive and more principled basis to address property claims on the breakdown of domestic relationships. To be successful, a plaintiff had to establish 1) an enrichment of the defendant by the plaintiff 2) a corresponding deprivation of the plaintiff, and 3) the absence of a juristic reason for the enrichment.
The appropriate remedy for unjust enrichment will most often be monetary though there may be some circumstances in which a monetary remedy will be inadequate and a proprietary remedy is required.
When quantifying a monetary remedy, a quantum meruit approach should be applied and value assessed on a “value survived” basis, which is preferable to imposing a remedial constructive trust. To be entitled to a monetary remedy on a value survived basis, the claimant must show both that there was a joint family venture and that there was a link between his or her contributions and the accumulation of wealth.
This decision provides much guidance to courts in determining the property rights of unmarried partners and will no doubt prove instructive in cases where individuals die without having provided properly with respect to the property accumulated during their lifetime with a common law spouse.
Sharon Davis – Click here for more information on Sharon Davis.