Friday, October 6, 2017

Ecuadorian Villagers Ordered to Post Security for Chevron's Legal Costs


This is yet another chapter in the long-running saga in the case of Yaiguaje v. Chevron Corporation (2017 ONCA 741).  It is also the seventh time that this case has been a subject of a blog post by me. 

 

In this instalment, Justice Gloria J. Epstein, of the Ontario Court of Appeal, ordered that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs post security for costs of over $940,000  –  approximately $591,000 for Chevron Canada and $352,000 for Chevron Corporation – in order to continue with an appeal from a summary judgment order dismissing the plaintiffs’ action against Chevron Canada. 

 

Background in Ecuador

 

From 1964 to 1992, Texaco Inc., its subsidiaries and various partners engaged in oil extraction activities in the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador’s Amazon basin.  Litigation followed against Texaco alleging a variety of environmental, health and other tort claims related to Texaco’s extraction activity.  Texaco and the Ecuadorian plaintiffs finalized a settlement in 1998.  Chevron Corporation acquired Texaco in 2001.  Litigation continued to take place concerning the validity and the effect of the settlement. 

 

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs in this case represent approximately 30,000 indigenous villagers from Ecuador’s Oriente Region.  After seven years of litigation, in February of 2011, an Ecuadorian trial court found Chevron liable for US$17.2 billion.  The amount of the judgment was subsequently reduced to US$9.5 billion.

 

Chevron, which has no assets in Ecuador, refused to acknowledge the Ecuadorian judgment.  The plaintiffs have sought to enforce the judgment in various jurisdictions around the world.    

 

North American Litigation

 

Chevron sought and obtained a global anti-enforcement injunction against the plaintiffs in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.  The District Court judge found that the Ecuadorian judgment had been obtained by fraud and prohibited the judgment from being enforced in the United States.  On appeal, the United States Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, held that the plaintiffs could seek to enforce the judgment in any country in the world where Chevron had assets. 

 

In 2012, the plaintiffs commenced an action in Ontario against Chevron and Chevron Canada, seeking to enforce the judgment.  Chevron and Chevron Canada initially disputed whether Ontario courts had jurisdiction simpliciter to recognize and enforce the judgment.   Ultimately, the Supreme Court of Canada, in a decision released in September 2015, held that Ontario courts had jurisdiction over the enforcement action.  However, the Supreme Court also held that Chevron and Chevron Canada were free to argue against enforcement based on their separate corporate personalities and any other applicable defences. 

 

After the Supreme Court ruled, the enforcement proceedings came back before Justice Hainey of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on two motions for summary judgment.  Chevron Canada moved for summary judgment against the plaintiffs and the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment against Chevron Canada.  In addition, the plaintiffs moved to strike the defences pleaded by Chevron in its statement of defence. 



Summary Judgment Ruling


Chevron is a Delaware company with its head office in California.  Chevron Canada is a seventh level indirect subsidiary of Chevron with its head office in Calgary, Alberta.  The plaintiffs, in addition to seeking payment of the US$9.5 billion, also sought a declaration that the shares of Chevron Canada are exigible to satisfy the Ecuadorian judgment. 

 

Justice Hainey found in favour of Chevron Canada on both issues and granted summary judgment in its favour.  He held that the shares and assets of Chevron Canada were not exigible and available for execution and seizure pursuant to the Execution Act to satisfy the Ecuadorian judgment.  He also held that Chevron Canada’s corporate veil should not be pierced so that its shares and assets were available to satisfy the judgment.

 

Court of Appeal’s Security for Costs Ruling

 

The plaintiffs have appealed that decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal.   Chevron Canada and Chevron sought an order for security for costs in excess of over US$1 million, US$160,000 for the appeal and the rest for the previous proceedings. 

 

Justice Epstein held that the general principles for posting security for costs applied to such a motion in the Court of Appeal.  Under Ontario's rules of civil procedure, an order for security for costs could be made where plaintiffs are ordinarily resident outside of Ontario.  Justice Epstein found that in this case there was no dispute that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs reside outside of Ontario.  The issue and relevant considerations were:  could they demonstrate on a balance of probability that they were impecunious and, if not, could they demonstrate that there was a good chance of success on the appeal.

 

Novel Submission by Plaintiffs

 

In addition, the Ecuadorian plaintiffs also advanced what the judge referred to as “a novel submission”, one that their counsel submitted should become part of the law pertaining to security for costs, i.e. that in an action for recognition and enforcement of a foreign judgment which was tantamount to a class action, security for costs should never be ordered. 

 

Justice Epstein found that the plaintiffs could not demonstrate impecuniosity.  They had filed no evidence as to their finances beyond three settlement agreements which she held were not “evidence” in any event. 

 

As for the merits of the appeal, Justice Epstein agreed with Justice Hainey’s analysis and concluded that the plaintiffs did not have a good chance of success on the appeal. 

 

Justice Epstein considered in detail the plaintiffs argument that the court should adopt “a new approach” to recognition and enforcement actions.  However, she did not accept the plaintiffs submission that the action was analogous to a class proceeding.  She held that even if she were to accept that argument, this would not prevent security for costs being ordered where justice of the case warrants it.

 

Justice Epstein held that litigants seeking to enforce a foreign judgment should not be put in a more advantageous position than domestic litigants.  The Supreme Court of Canada’s earlier decision in the case did not change that principle.  It stood for the proposition that Canadian courts should take a "generous approach" in finding jurisdiction to allow litigants holding foreign judgments to bring enforcement actions.  Justice Epstein held that she did not read the SCC's decision as saying that when such enforcement actions are brought before Canadian courts they should be treated differently than cases involving domestic litigants.  In fact, she held that the Supreme Court’s Chevron decision actually undercut the plaintiffs argument.   In that decision, Justice Gascon had held, “enforcement is limited to measures – like seizures, garnishments or executions – that can be taken only within the confines of the jurisdiction, and in accordance with its rules” and that “whether recognition and enforcement should proceed depends entirely on the enforcing forum’s laws”.   


As a result, the Court of Appeal was unable to accept as a general rule, that courts should approach security for costs differently in an appeal involving enforcements of foreign judgments and ordered that the Ecuadorian plaintiff's post security for costs.


Regards,


Blair

   

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Two Year Limitation Period Applies to Foreign Judgments

In the recent case of Independence Plaza One Associates, LLC v. Figliolini 2017 ONCA44, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that:

 

  1. a two-year limitation period applies to a proceeding on a foreign judgment; and
  2. the limitation period begins to run, at the earliest, when the time to appeal the foreign judgment has expired or, if an appeal is taken, the date of the appeal decision.

The court held that the time may be longer if the claim was not “discovered” within the meaning of section 5 of the Limitations Act, 2002 (“Limitations Act”) until a date later than the appeal decision.
     
In this case, the plaintiff had obtained a judgment against the defendant on January 24, 2013 in the New Jersey Superior Court in the amount of US$115,248.  The defendant’s appeal to the Appellant Division of the court was dismissed on July 17, 2014. 
 
The plaintiff brought an application in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice based on the New Jersey judgment.  The application was commenced more than two years after the New Jersey judgment was rendered but less than two years after the dismissal of the appeal.  The appellant, in the Court of Appeal, pleaded that the application was time-barred because it was commenced more than two years after the New Jersey judgment.  The application judge rejected this position and granted judgment in favour of the respondent. 
 
The Ontario Court of Appeal (Chief Justice Strathy and Justices Pardu and D. M. Brown) dismissed the appeal but considered two issues:
 

  1. whether no limitation period applies to a proceeding on a foreign judgment because it falls under section 16(1)(b) of the Limitations Act; or
  2. whether, if there is a two year limitation period, the time does not begin to run until appeal rights in the foreign jurisdiction have been exhausted. 

 

The decision of the court was delivered by the Chief Justice.  The court began its analysis by stating that the correct approach to resolving the two questions raised on the appeal begins and ends with provisions of the Limitations Act, which is a comprehensive and exhaustive scheme for dealing with limitation periods.

 

Justice Strathy explained the purposes of statutes of limitation.  He held that such statutes reflect public policy about efficiency and fairness in the justice system.  They promote finality and certainty in legal affairs so that potential defendants are not exposed indefinitely for past acts.  They ensure the reliability of evidence because evidence becomes unreliable with the passage of time and limitation periods promote diligence because they encourage litigants to pursue claims with reasonable dispatch.  This latter justification was related to this case. 

 

The Chief Justice explored former Limitations Act in Ontario, the history of Limitations Act and the “new” Limitations Act.

 

He reviewed section 16(1)(b) of the Limitations Act that provides that “there is no limitation period in respect of a proceeding to enforce an order of a court, or any other order that may be enforced in the same way as an order of the court”.     

 

The issue is whether that section applied to a proceeding on a foreign judgment.  The court held that it did not.  After a lengthy discussion about what section 16(1)(b) applied to, Justice Strathy held that the common feature was the concept of enforceability.  Section 16(1)(b) of the Limitations Act applies to court orders and to other orders that are enforceable in the same way as a court order.   That common thread did not extend to foreign judgments.  Domestic judgments are directly enforceable in Ontario by means of the execution procedures in rule 60 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, including writs of seizure and sale, garnishment or the appointment of a receiver.  In contract, a foreign judgment creates a debt obligation in which a proceeding in Ontario must be brought first.  In other words, a foreign judgment is one step removed from being an order of an Ontario court for the purposes of section 16(1)(b) of the Limitations Act. 

Justice Strathy held that there were good reasons for giving different treatment for limitations purposes to Ontario judgments and foreign judgments, including the principle of territorial sovereignty.  In addition, a foreign judgment debtor has some limited defences to the recognition and enforcement of the foreign judgment.  Accordingly, he concluded that section 16(1)(b) of the Limitations Act did not apply to proceedings of foreign judgments.

 

The Court of Appeal did agree with the application’s judge with respect to the two year limitation period. 

 

It held that the question of a judgment’s finality in the foreign jurisdiction is not relevant to statutory limitation periods to commence a proceeding on a foreign judgment but to the conditions that a foreign judgment creditor must satisfy to succeed on the proceeding.  The test under the Limitations Act is not whether the judgment is final it is when the claim is discovered, a fact that is ascertained through the application of section 5(1) of the Limitations Act aided by the presumption in section 5(2).

 

Section 5(1) provides that a claim is discovered on the earlier of the day on which the claimant first knew that having regard to the nature of the injury or damage a proceeding would be an appropriate means to seek to remedy it.  Cases have held that the legislature added the words “appropriate means” as an element of discoverability.  Appropriate means legally appropriate.  Appropriateness must be assessed on the facts of each case.

 

In the usual case, it would not be legally appropriate to commence a legal proceeding on a foreign judgment in Ontario until the time to appeal the judgment in the foreign jurisdiction has expired or all appeal remedies have been exhausted. 

 

Such an approach is consistent with other cases, it avoids the risk of multiplicity of proceedings by not requiring the judgment creditor to commence a proceeding on a foreign judgment in Ontario before all proceedings in the foreign jurisdiction had run their course.  It furthers the purpose of the Limitations Act by deterring the unnecessary litigation that may result from commencing an Ontario proceeding on a foreign judgment that is subsequently overturned.

 

The Court of Appeal held that the foregoing approach to discoverability does not preclude a foreign judgment creditor seeking such relief as an interim Mareva injunction or a stay of execution pending the appeal.     

Regards,

Blair

Friday, September 15, 2017

Supreme Court Okays Extradition of Alleged Honour Killers to India


India v. Badesha, 2017 SCC 44

 

On June 9, 2000, the body of Jaswinder Kaur Sidhu was discovered in a village in the Indian State of Punjab.  It is the theory of the Indian government that she was the victim of an honour killing arranged by her uncle, Surgit Singh Badesha (“Badesha”) and her mother, Malkit Kaur Sidhu (“Sidhu”).  Both Badesha and Sidhu are Canadian citizens and live in Canada.  India sought the extradition of Badesha and Sidhu for the offence of conspiracy to commit murder.  The Minister of Justice (“Minister”) ordered their surrenders after receiving assurances from India regarding their treatment if incarcerated, including health, safety and consular access, and after determining in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Extradition Act, that their surrenders would not be unjust or oppressive.  A majority of the British Columbia Court of Appeal concluded that the Minister’s orders were unreasonable and set them aside.

 

On appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, in a 9 – 0 decision, the court restored the Minister’s surrender orders and allowed the appeal.   

 

The judgment of the court was delivered by Justice Moldaver. 

 

Justice Moldaver wrote: 

 

The Minister’s surrender orders are subject to review on a standard of reasonableness.  In this case, it was reasonable for the Minister to conclude that, on the basis of the assurances he had received from India, there was no substantial risk of torture or mistreatment of Badesha and Sidhu that would offend the principles of fundamental justice protected by s. 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and that their surrenders were not otherwise unjust or oppressive. 

 

Where a person sought for extradition faces a substantial risk of torture or mistreatment in the receiving state, their surrender will violate the principles of fundamental justice and the Minister must refuse surrender under s. 44(1)(a) of the Extradition Act.  Where there is no substantial risk of torture or mistreatment and the surrender is Charter compliant, the Minister must nonetheless refuse the surrender if he is satisfied that, in all of the circumstances, it would be otherwise unjust or oppressive.  In this regard, the Minister may take into account the circumstances alleged to make the surrender inconsistent with the Charter, the seriousness of the alleged offence and the importance of Canada meeting its international obligations. 

 

In assessing whether there is a substantial risk of torture or mistreatment, diplomatic assurances regarding the treatment of the person may be taken into account by the Minister.  Where the Minister has determined that such a risk exists and that assurances are therefore needed, the reviewing court must consider whether the Minister has reasonably concluded that, based on the assurances provided, there is no substantial risk.  However, diplomatic assurances need not eliminate any possibility of torture or mistreatment; they must simply form a reasonable basis for the Minister’s finding that there is no substantial risk of torture or mistreatment.  The reliability of diplomatic assurances depends on the circumstances of the particular case and involves the consider of multiple factors.

 

In this case, the Minister was satisfied that, based on the assurances he received from India regarding their treatment, Badesha and Sidhu would not face a substantial risk of torture or mistreatment.  The Minister took into account relevant factors in assessing the reliability of the assurances, which formed a reasonable basis for the Minister’s conclusion that their surrenders would not violate the principles of fundamental justice.  The inquiry for the reviewing court is not whether there is no possibility of torture or mistreatment, but whether it was reasonable for the Minister to conclude that there was no substantial risk of torture or mistreatment. Given the circumstances, the Minister’s decision to order the surrenders of Badesha  and Sidhu fell within a range of reasonable outcomes.

Regards,

Blair

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Alberta Court of Appeal Closely Examines Employer's Privilege Claims


The Alberta Court of Appeal recently released its decision in Alberta v. Suncor Energy Inc., 2017 ABCA 221.  The court upheld the importance of lawyer-client and litigation privileges, holding that they play a "central role" in the Canadian justice system,.  However, where an employee had been fatally injured, the court took a closer look at the factual basis for the employer's claims of privilege over documents that formed part of its investigation into the death. 
 
On April 20, 2014, an employee of Suncor Energy Inc. (“Suncor”) was fatally injured at a worksite near Fort McMurray, Alberta.  The Alberta Occupational Health and Safety (“OHS”) officers issued a stop-work order that day.  Immediately after the accident, anticipating litigation, Suncor began an internal investigation and threw a privilege blanket over all information relating to the investigation.  Legal counsel for Suncor directed the investigation team to segregate all documents and to endorse all material as “privileged and confidential”. 
 
The Suncor investigation team interviewed witnesses, recorded statements and collected photographs.  On May 5, 2014, OHS issued a demand under relevant section of the Alberta Occupational Health and Safety Act (the “Act”) for Suncor to provide copies of the witness statements, as well as employees’ names and contact information.  Suncor replied and provided the names and contact information of employees but asserted privilege over the witness statements collected by its investigation team.   Later, nearly a year after Suncor had provided OHS with a copy of its report on the accident, OHS issued another demand for information and copies of witness statements, notes, records, photos and other documents collected by Suncor.   Suncor claimed privilege over certain documents and information.  OHS issued an administrative penalty against Suncor.
 
The province of Albert filed an originating application seeking an order that Suncor provide the refused materials and allow OHS to interview Suncor’s internal investigators or at least provide further particulars about the claims of privilege.  At the return of the application, the judge held that the dominant purpose of Suncor’s internal investigation was in contemplation of litigation and upheld its claim for privilege on that basis.  The judge ordered Suncor to meet with a referee who would assess the claims of privilege and provide recommendations to the court. 
 
Alberta appealed that decision to the Alberta Court of Appeal. 
 
The Alberta Court of Appeal concluded that the application judge had erred in finding that the dominant purpose of Suncor’s investigation was in contemplation of litigation so as to clothe all material “created and/or collected” during the investigation with legal privilege.  However, it also held that the judge had not erred in invoking the referee process under the Alberta Rules of Court. 

The Court of Appeal held that the relevant sections of the Act did not preclude claims of privilege.  After the application judge's decision was issued, the Supreme Court of Canada clarified the law pertaining to lawyer-client privilege and litigation privilege in Lizotte v. Aviva Insurance Company of Canada and in Albert (Information and Privacy Commission) v. University of Calgary.   Those decisions confirmed the central role of legal privilege in the justice system as well as the legal and policy reasons behind why privilege must be protected.  The Supreme Court held that both litigation privilege and lawyer-client privilege “cannot be abrogated by inference and that clear, explicit and unequivocal language is required in order to lift it”.
 
Lawyer-client privilege attaches to confidential communications between a client and a legal advisor that are connected to giving or seeking legal advice.  The communication does not have to be in contemplation of litigation and the privilege is of permanent duration. 
 
Litigation privilege attaches to documents created for the dominant purpose of litigation.  This includes any document created for the dominant purpose of preparing for related litigation that “remains pending or may reasonably be apprehended”.  The object of this inquiry is the purpose for which the document was created or came into existence as distinct from the purpose for which it may have been collected or put to use.   
 
Accordingly, the Court of Appeal held that if legal privilege does not cover particular records or information, and the requirements of the Act apply to those records or information, the question of whether the Act operates to override any aspect of privilege disappears.  Once the procedure for assessing the contested materials is complete, records or information sifted out of the scope of privilege will be subject to consideration under the correct legal interpretation of the Act.
 
In this case, the appeal judges found that the application judge had erred in finding that the dominant purpose of the investigation was in contemplation of litigation and that Suncor created and/or collected documents and material with the dominant purpose that they would assist in any litigation.   It held that a referee appointed under the Alberta Rules of Court must focus on the dominant purpose for creating each document as opposed to the purpose for its collection. 
 
Suncor could not simply by having legal counsel declare that an investigation had been commenced, throw a blanket over all materials “created and/or collected during the internal investigation” so as to clothe them with lawyer-client or litigation privilege.  The Court of Appeal held that where a workplace accident has occurred and the employer has statutory duties under the Act and simultaneously undertakes an internal investigation claiming legal privilege over all materials derived as part of that investigation, an inquiry is properly directed to a referee under the Alberta Rules of Court to determine the dominant purpose for the creation of each document.

Regards,

Blair
 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Supreme Court finds no Discrimination in Company's Drug Use Policy


 
In a decision that was made remarkable by the dissent of a single judge, the Supreme Court of Canada dismissed an appeal from an employee of a mining company whose employment was terminated on the basis that he had violated his employer’s drug use policy.  See Stewart v. Elk Valley Coal Corp. 2017 SCC 30.
 
The employee, Ian Stewart, worked driving a loader in a mine operated by the company.  The mine operations were dangerous and maintaining a safe work site was a matter of great importance to the employer and its employees.  To ensure safety the employer implemented a policy requiring that employees disclose any dependency or addiction issues before any drug-related incident occurred.  If they did, they would be offered treatment.  However, if they failed to disclose and were involved in an incident and tested positive for drugs, their employment would be terminated.
 
Stewart used cocaine on his days off.  He did not tell his employer that he was using drugs.  When he was involved in an accident with his loader at work, he tested positive for drugs and later said that he thought he was addicted to cocaine.  The company terminated his employment.  Stewart, through his union representative, argued that he was terminated for addiction and that constituted discrimination under section 7 of the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act.
 
The Albert Human Rights Tribunal (“Tribunal”) held that Stewart was terminated for breaching the company policy, not because of his addiction.  Its decision was affirmed by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench and by the Alberta Court of Appeal.
 
There were three sets of reasons written by the judges of the Supreme Court.  Six judges for the majority, two in separate but concurring in the result, and one dissent.
 
The majority (reasons written by Chief Justice McLachlin) held that the Tribunal decision was reasonable.  There was evidence that was capable of supporting the Tribunal’s conclusion that the reason for Stewart’s termination was not addiction but breach of a policy.  The separate concurring reasons were written jointly by Justices Moldaver and Wagner.  They held that the Tribunal’s conclusion that Stewart’s direct dependence was not a factor in his termination was unreasonable but that the Tribunal reasonably held that the employer had met its obligation to accommodate Stewart to the point of undue hardship.  Justice Gascon, the only dissenting judge, held that the Tribunal had improperly considered the issues in the case and effectively excluded Stewart from the scope of human rights protections.  While the Tribunal had cited the proper legal test for prima facie discrimination, the matter in which it applied the test and the lack of an evidentiary foundation for its findings demonstrated that its holding on “contribution” was unreasonable and thus unworthy of deference. 
 
Six Justices for the Majority
 
The majority decision was supported by  Justices McLachlin, Abella, Karakatsanis, Cote, Brown and Rowe.  The Tribunal had found that Stewart had not established prime facie discrimination.  The majority held that the issues before the Tribunal were within its purview and attracted deference.  The only questions was whether the Tribunal’s decision was reasonable.  They found that there was evidence capable of supporting the Tribunal’s conclusion that the reason for the termination was not addiction but breach of the policy.  On the facts of this case, the Tribunal concluded that Stewart had the capacity to comply with the terms of the policy and that he would have been fired whether he was an addict or a casual user.  It was therefore not unreasonable for the Tribunal to conclude that there was no prima facie discrimination.  The Tribunal had unequivocally and repeatedly stated that addiction was not a factor in the company’s decision to terminate Stewart’s employment.  It also rejected the argument that denial prevented Stewart from disclosing his addiction prior to the accident.  While Stewart may have been in denial about his addiction, he knew he should not take drugs before working, had the ability to decide not to take them as well as the capacity to disclose his drug use to his employer.  Accordingly, the majority found that denial about Stewart’s addiction was irrelevant in this case.
 
The Two Concurring Justices
 
Justices Moldaver and Wagner held that the Tribunal’s conclusion that Stewart’s direct dependency was not a factor in his termination was unreasonable.  To show prima facie discrimination, Stewart was not required to show that his termination was not caused by his drug dependency, rather he had only to show that there was a connection between the protected ground – his direct dependency – and the adverse effect.  His exercise of some control over his drug use merely reduced the extent to which his dependency contributed to his termination.  It did not eliminate it as a factor in his termination. 
 
The two justices found that notwithstanding these factors, the Tribunal reasonably held that the employer had met its obligation to accommodate Stewart to the point of undue hardship.  Given the employer’s safety objectives and responsibilities at the coal mine, it was crucial to deter employees from using drugs in a manner that could negatively affect their work performance and potentially lead to devastating consequences.  Subjecting Stewart to an individual assessment or imposing an unpaid suspension for a limited period as a disciplinary measure instead of imposing the serious and immediate consequence of termination of his employment would have undermined the policies deterrent effect.   
 
The Lone Dissenter
 
Justice Gascon viewed the matter much differently than did the other 8 judges.  His dissent is logical and forceful.  .  He held that although drug dependence is a protected ground of discrimination in human rights law, stigma surrounding drug dependence – like the belief that individuals suffering from it are the authors of their own misfortune or that their concerns are less credible than those people suffering from other forms of disability – sometimes impair the ability of courts and society to objectively assess the merits of their discrimination claims.  He held that the improper considerations by the Tribunal effectively excluded Stewart from the scope of human rights protections. 
 
Justice Gascon held that a drug policy that automatically terminates employees who use drugs prima facie discriminates against individuals burdened by drug dependence.  The legal threshold for prima facie discrimination is whether the complainant’s protected ground is a factor in the harm they suffer (this is also called “contribution”).  In this case, drug dependence was a factor in Stewart’s drug use, so the policy under which Stewart’s employment was terminated for using drugs was  prima facie discriminatory.
 
Justice Gascon ruled that the analysis of prima facie discrimination and, in particular, contribution, is concerned with discriminatory effect, not discriminatory intent.  Contribution addresses the relationship between an employee’s protected ground and harm, not between the ground and the intent to harm that employee.  A ground need only be at least one of the factors linked to the employees harm.  The Tribunal unreasonably held that Stewart’s addiction did not contribute to his termination based on four conceptual errors:
 
  1. It required Stewart to make prudent choices to avoid discrimination.  Justice Gascon commented that requiring a complainant to be prudent in avoiding discrimination amounts to a sort of contributory fault defence in discrimination cases which places a burden on complainants to avoid discrimination, rather than on employers not to discriminate; it is irreconcilable with recently recognized statutory grounds that arguably implicate a complainant’s choices that are significant to their identity; generally contradicts the court’s rejection of drawing superficial distinctions between protected grounds and contact inextricably linked to those grounds; specifically contradicts the courts rejection of the view that choice makes drug users responsible for the harms of their drug use; re-enforces stigma by blaming marginalized communities for their choices; and substitutes the proper inquiry (i.e. whether drug-dependent individuals are adversely impacted by the policy) with an improper inquiry (whether drug dependent individuals are so overwhelmingly impacted by their addictions that any discrimination that they experience is caused exclusively by their addictions);
  2. The Tribunal limited Stewart’s protections to an assurance of formal equality.  While both dependant and recreational drug users will receive similar treatment for violating the policy, only drug-dependent persons will uniquely and disproportionately struggle in complying with the terms of the policy. 
  3. The Tribunal required Stewart to prove that he was treated arbitrarily or stereotypically, importing substantive consideration into the settled and low threshold for prima facie discrimination and shifting a justificatory burden from the employer onto the complainant; and
  4. The Tribunal at all times required Stewart to prove a causal relationship between his ground and harm, a higher bar than the mere “factor” threshold repeatedly adopted by the court.  Justice Gascon held that prima facie discrimination should not be narrowly construed to preserve the enforceability of drug and alcohol policies.  Doing so imports justificatory implications into the prima facie discrimination analysis and narrows the court’s recent jurisprudence that holds that terminating an employee for a reason related to addiction is precisely what it means for that addiction to be a factor in the employee’s harm.
 
Justice Gascon held that under the proper test, the evidence before the Tribunal could not support its conclusion that Stewart’s drug dependence did not contribute to his termination.  His residual control over his choices merely diminished the extent to which his dependence contributed to his harm, it did not eliminate it as a factor. 
 
A workplace policy that accommodates employees through mechanisms which are either inaccessible by the employee due to their disability or only applicable to the employee post-termination, cannot justify prima facie discrimination.  Reasonable accommodation requires that the employer arrange the employee’s work place or duties to enable the employee to do his or her work, if it can do so without undue hardship.  In the human rights context, it is not appropriate for the employer to forego individual assessment in the interest of deterrence even in the safety-sensitive atmosphere of this particular workplace and even though that environment motivates strict drug policies.
 
Finally, Justice Gascon found that none of the employer’s efforts at accommodating Stewart provided him with accessible accommodation during his employment and those efforts failed to consider his individual circumstances in a dignified manner.   Accordingly, the employer could not be said to have discharged its duty to accommodate Stewart as an employee up to the point of undue hardship.  As a result, the Tribunal’s findings to the contrary were unreasonable.    
 
Regards,
 
Blair
 

Friday, May 26, 2017

US Supreme Court Says Service By Mail in Canada is Okay


Water Splash Inc. v. Menon, 2017 No. 16-254, Supreme Court of the United States 581 U. S. ___ (2017)

 

The plaintiff, Water Splash Inc., is a corporation that produces aquatic playground systems.  The defendant, Tara Menon, is a former employee of Water Splash.  In 2013, Water Splash sued Menon in State Court in Texas, alleging that she had begun working for a competitor while still employed by Water Splash. 

 

Menon resided in Canada.   As a result, Water Splash sought and obtained permission from the Texas court to effect service of its complaint on Menon by mail.  After Menon declined to answer or otherwise enter an appearance, the Texas court issued a default judgment in favour of Water Splash.  Menon moved to set aside the judgment on the ground that she had not been properly served, but the trial court denied her motion. 

 

Menon appealed, arguing that service by mail does not “comport with the requirements of the Hague Service Convention”.   A majority of the Texas Court of Appeals sided with Menon and held that the Convention prohibited service of process by mail.  One Justice dissented.  The Court of Appeals declined further review and the matter made its way to the US Supreme Court.

 

In an 8 – 0 decision, the court found in favour of Water Splash and vacated the judgment of the Court of Appeals.  The Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Texas Trial Court for further consideration. 

 

The court’s reasoning is as follows.

 

The primary innovation of the Convention is that it requires each state to establish a central authority to receive requests for service of documents from other countries.  When a central authority receives an appropriate request it must serve the documents or arrange for their service and then provide a certificate of service.  However, submitting a request to a central authority is not the only method of service approved by the Convention.  At issue in this case was Article 10 of the convention which reads as follows:

 

10. Provided the State of destination does not object, the present Convention shall not interfere with

(a) the freedom to send judicial documents by postal channels directly to persons abroad,

(b) the freedom of judicial officers, officials or other competent persons of the State of origin to effect service of judicial documents directly through the judicial officers, officials or other competent persons of the State of destination,

(c) the freedom of any person interested in a judicial proceeding to effect service of judicial documents directly through the judicial officers, officials or other competent persons of the State of destination.

 

Articles 10(b) and 10(c) address additional methods of service that are permitted by the Convention (unless the receiving state objects).  By contrast, Article 10(a) does not expressly refer to “service”.  The question in this case was whether, despite this difference, Article 10(a) encompassed sending documents for the purposes of service. 

 

The US Supreme Court found that it did.  The key word in Article 10(a) “send” is a broad term and there is no apparent reason why it would exclude the transmission of documents for the purpose of service.  The Convention’s preamble and Article 1, limit the scope of the Convention to service of documents abroad and its full title includes the phrase “service abroad”.  The US Supreme Court had also previously held that the scope of the Convention is limited to service of documents.  It would therefore be strange if Article 10(a) concerned something other than service of documents.  Indeed such a reading would render Article 10(a) superfluous.  Since Article 1 already eliminated the possibility that the Convention would apply to any communications that do not culminate in service, in order for Article 10(a) to make sense it must pertain to sending documents for the purpose of service.  If the drafters of the Convention wished to limit Article 10(a) to something else, they could have said so as they did in other Articles.

 

Secondly, the structural considerations of the Convention strongly suggests that Article 10(a) pertains to service of documents.  Reading the word “send” as a broad concept that includes, but is not limited to, service is probably more plausible than interpreting the word to exclude service.  Indeed, the French version of the Convention which is equally authentic uses the word “adresser” which has consistently been understood to mean service or notice. 

 

Thirdly, extratextual sources are especially helpful in ascertaining Article 10(a)’s meaning.  The Convention’s drafting history strongly suggests that the drafters understood that service by postal channels was permissible.  In the half century since the Convention was adopted, the Executive Branch of the United States has consistently maintained that the Convention allows service by mail.  Also, other signatories to the Convention have adopted Water Splash’s view.

 

Fourthly, the fact that Article 10(a) encompasses service by mail does not mean that it affirmatively authorizes such service.  Rather, service by mail is permissible if the receiving state has not objected to service by mail and if such service is authorized under otherwise applicable law.  Because the Texas Court of Appeals concluded that the Convention prohibited service by mail, it did not consider whether Texas law authorized the method of service used by Water Splash.  The US Supreme Court remanded that issue and any other remaining issues back to the trial court in Texas for consideration.

Regards,

Blair

 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Law Society Ordered to Pay $1.3 Million in Costs


Law Society of Upper Canada v. DeMerchant, 2017 ONLSTA 5

 

In this case, the Appeal Division of Ontario's Law Society Tribunal, ordered the Law Society of Upper Canada (“LSUC”) to pay $650,000 each to Beth DeMerchant and Darren Sukonick, two lawyers at Torys LLP who were successful in defending themselves against professional misconduct allegations brought by the LSUC.  The LSUC had alleged that the lawyers had acted in a conflict of interest while working on the sale of Conrad Black’s Hollinger Group of Companies.  Both lawyers have since retired from the practice of law.

 

The legal saga lasted 11 years and ended with the Appeal Division of the Tribunal finding that the hearing should never have taken the nearly 140 days that it took.  The Tribunal found the Law Society bore the lion’s share of responsibility for its length.  The LSUC’s definition of the issues, its approach to examination and its lack of focus on the legal test for conflicts of interest were the largest factors in a hearing whose time and costs were grossly disproportionate to the issues at stake.   In the end the Appeal Division found that approximately 110 hearing days were wasted and were not necessary. 

 

The LSUC first learned of an issue between Torys and Hollinger International Inc. from a Globe and Mail article in 2005.  It instituted an investigation into the lawyers' professional conduct.  The allegations included that the lawyers may have acted in a conflict of interest. 

 

In November of 2008, the LSUC concluded that there had been a conflict of interest which impacted the lawyers' ability to represent the legal interests of their clients.  The LSUC’s Proceeding Authorization Committee (“PAC”) then authorized an application for professional misconduct against the lawyers.

 

A hearing panel of the LSUC tribunal held that the proceedings were not unwarranted and that there was a significant public interest in the issues and that it was appropriate for the LSUC to conduct an investigation. 

 

These findings were overturned by the Appeal Division in part.   It held that there were multiple issues that both individually and combined warranted PAC’s decision to commence the application.  There was no evidence of bad faith nor was the application doomed to fail. 

 

However, the Appeal Division criticized the LSUC harshly on the conduct of the hearing. 

 

It held that typically allegations of conflict of interest would, if proven, likely have led to no more of a short suspension.  The LSUC attempted to prove that the lawyers’ conflict had manifested itself in misjudgments in their work for the corporations that resulted from preferences for the interests of executives of the corporations.  The theory of the LSUC's case was that the lawyers should have taken steps when working on the transactions to protect the public companies from exploitation by the executives.  These were serious allegations but importantly did not form part of the legal test for conflict of interest.

 

The hearing started on April 26, 2010 and completed on December 13, 2012, after nearly 140 days of hearing.  The hearing panel found that after the lawyers had presented their expert evidence about general practice in the corporate bar, the proceedings became unwarranted and the LSUC should have re-evaluated its case. 

 

On appeal, the Appeal Division found that continuing after the lawyers’ expert evidence was not the fundamental problem.  A valid legal theory of conflict of interest continued to exist but the problems with the case and how the LSUC conducted the hearings started long before that.

 

The Appeal Division found that the time taken by the LSUC to present its case was unprecedented in the history of LSUC discipline proceedings.  It began with a four day opening statement, conducted cross-examinations of the lawyers for more than 40 hearing days.  It found that the LSUC had acted unreasonably and caused costs to be wasted throughout the hearing by disregarding the need for the proceedings to be proportionate to the issues at stake in their seriousness; failing to focus its evidence in cross-examination on the test for conflict of interest; conducting argumentative cross-examinations of unprecedented length and detail that added little to the analysis and were not justified by the issues at stake in the case; and taking issue with detailed aspects of the lawyers’ work in a complex and specialized area of practice with no expert or other evidentiary support.

 

The tribunal held that it was important to explicitly acknowledge in its reasons the stress the proceedings had put on the lawyers given the pall that hung over their careers for longer than it should have, the months they spent in the hearing room dealing with these allegations and the evident strain of so many days on the witness stand under cross-examination. 

 

In addition, it found that the LSUC had wasted costs without reasonable cause throughout the hearing.  Its conduct at the hearing was entirely disproportionate to what was at stake.  The LSUC did not focus on the key elements of the test for conflict of interest.  Cross-examinations focused on unimportant details, were repetitive and argumentative.

 

In calculating the costs, the Appeal Division found that the lawyers should be awarded costs of approximately 110 hearing days.  Counsel representing the lawyers had practiced for over 20 years and the hourly rate for lawyers with that level of experience under the LSUC’s current tariff was $350.  This resulted in an award of $650,000 each (as opposed to the $1.8 million that they were seeking).   The LSUC also awarded the lawyers costs of the appeal of $17,500.

 

In March of 2017, the lawyers commenced an action against the LSUC claiming over $2 million in damages for misfeasance in public office, negligent investigation, abuse of process, malicious prosecution and libel.  There will be much to follow on this case.  

Regards,

Blair