Early summer storms

Early summer storms

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NS Supreme Court throws out spray drift case after Farm Practices Board rules farm practice was normal

The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has dismissed a spray drift claim brought by landowners against a neighbouring farmer and his farm business.  The plaintiffs are organic farmers and alleged that, in 2007, the defendant farmer sprayed his lands with a herbicide that drifted onto their property causing various damage: significant health issues, crop damage, and miscarriages by four horses as a result of exposure to "overspray". 

In response to the claim, which was founded in negligence, the defendants relied on the provisions of the Farm Practices Act.  They stated that their farming activities were carried out in accordance with "normal farm practice" so that, under the legislation, they were protected from any civil action in "nuisance, negligence or otherwise, for any odour, noise, dust, vibration, light, smoke or other disturbance resulting from an agricultural operation."  Following a motion by the defendants, the civil action was stayed pending a determination by the Farm Practices Board of whether the activities in question constituted "normal farm practice".

The plaintiffs then made an application to the Board and a hearing took place in June, 2012.  In January, 2013, the Board ruled that the defendants had not acted in a manner inconsistent with "normal farm practice", and dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint.  That Board decision was appealed unsuccessfully by the plaintiffs.

With all of that completed, the plaintiffs returned to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to have the stay lifted so that they could proceed with their action for damages.  The defendants also asked for the stay to be lifted, but for the purpose of dismissing the claim.  The Court had to deal with the ruling by the Board that the activities in question, in particular the spraying, were "normal farm practice".  However, the Board decision was not automatically determinative of the civil action - the question for the Court was whether spray drift was "other disturbance" within the meaning of the Farm Practices Act.

If spray drift fell outside "other disturbance", then there would be no protection against a civil claim afforded by the Act.  Justice Murphy concluded on this point: "Absent contrary authority, I remain of the view that the activities the plaintiffs allege occurred, herbicidal overspray or drift and contaminated run-off from ditching, are "other disturbances" resulting from an agricultural operation as contemplated by section 10(1)(a) of the Act."  Therefore, the claims made by the plaintiffs were barred by the normal farm practices legislation and dismissed as such.

Read the decision at: Nauss v. Waalderbos.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Enbridge Gas Distribution ordered to pay back Metrolinx over $2.3 million in pipeline relocation costs

Enbridge Gas Distribution was recently ordered by the Superior Court of Justice to pay back to Metrolinx more than $2.3 million that Metrolinx had earlier paid Enbridge for pipeline relocation costs.  Metrolinx operates an urban rail transit service in the Greater Toronto Area and required the relocation and/or removal of certain parts of Enbridge's gas distribution system in the vicinity of the rail lines.  The question before the Court in this application was who should bear the costs of relocation and removal.  Metrolinx had paid the costs to Enbridge without prejudice to its right to go to Court to try to recoup them.

Metrolinx referred to crossing agreements that had been made between its predecessor, Canadian National Railway (CN), and Enbridge's predecessor, Consumers Gas, that provided that Enbridge would bear the cost of any relocation or removal.  For instance, a 1958 Agreement and a 1963 Agreement both provided:
Should it become necessary or expedient for the purposes of repair or improvement on the said railway that the said pipe crossing be temporarily removed or relocated the applicant [now Enbridge] shall upon request of the railway and at the sole cost and expense of the applicant forthwith remove or relocate the works.
Enbridge argued that the agreements were not assigned or transferred to Metrolinx and that the agreements related to federally-regulated activities.  Therefore, because Metrolinx was a provincial agency, it could not rely upon the agreements.

The Court disagreed.  It accepted the Metrolinx position that the rights that it claimed and the payment obligations of Enbridge were granted to CN by Consumers Gas as a matter of contract.  Justice Morgan explained:

... like all market transactions, they occurred within a particular regulatory environment, but that fact does not undermine the contractual nature of the rights and obligations in question.  Metrolinx' position accurately reflects the governing documentation and legal state of affairs between the parties.  It may well be the case that the Crossing Agreements were an outgrowth of federal regulations that prevailed at the time of their signing.  Nevertheless they are valid contracts, and remain so whether or not the relevant federal regulations continue to govern either of the parties. 
Read the decision at: Metrolinx v Enbridge Gas Distribution Inc.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Court grants injunction to Enbridge, but is concerned about the right of protesters to be heard

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently granted a temporary injunction prohibiting unauthorized persons from entering or occupying an Enbridge Pipelines Inc. valve installation site in Innerkip, Ontario, near Woodstock.  On August 5, 2014, 25 or so individuals had entered the Enbridge work site, occupied it and then refused to leave.  Enbridge brought an ex parte motion for orders requiring the protesters to leave.

The valve installation work is being required by the National Energy Board (NEB) as part of the Line 9 oil pipeline reversal project, and Enbridge alleged that the work is time-sensitive - there is no time to waste in getting the protesters off the site.  Enbridge's evidence provided: "A project of this magnitude involves the organization and deployment of extensive resources and expertise.  The timing and execution of the project cannot be dictated by persons who do not understand or respect Enbridge's safety and operational protocols.  Enbridge cannot proceed with the required and time-sensitive Valve Installation with Trespassers on the site."

In reviewing the motion (in which the only party present was Enbridge), Justice E.M. Morgan commented:

While property rights and economic interests are important in the Canadian legal system, so are rights of expression. I agree that the time, place, and manner of expression can be tempered by competing rights, see Committee for the Commonwealth of Canada v Canada, 1991 CanLII 119 (SCC), [1991] 1 SCR 139, and that generally “[p]ersons are free to engage in political protest of that public nature, but the law does not permit them to do so by engaging in civil disobedience through trespassing on the private property of others…” Canadian National Railway v Chippewa of Sarnia First Nation, 2012 ONSC 7348 (CanLII), 2012 ONSC 7348, at para 23. Nevertheless, there must be some reason other than the unilateral claim to property rights to deprive otherwise non-violent protesters the right to be heard.
 
Here there is an economic imperative to the timing of the motion, but there is no safety imperative that created the short timeline and that made notice of the Application impossible. The valve installation has a safety motivation as evidenced in the National Energy Board report, but that is a long term concern due to the upcoming changes in the oil flow, not an immediate one.

Justice Morgan questioned Enbridge about why it had not given notice of its motion to the protesters, given that there was not safety imperative involved.  Enbridge explained that it is faced with adversaries that are difficult to identify - a "shifting group of individuals".  In the end, Enbridge was granted its injunction to permit the expulsion of the protesters, but for a duration of only 10 days.  After 10 days, Enbridge would have to return to the Court either in London or in Woodstock (not in Toronto, where the original motion was heard) to extend the injuction on at least 3 days' notice to the protesters.

With respect to the right to be heard, Justice Morgan stated: "It is important that the protesters’ right to be heard be a realistic one, and that notice of a new hearing date either be disseminated before the protesters disband or be announced in a way that is likely to come to their attention. It is not the purpose of an ex parte injunction to stall the proceedings so that the Applicant’s opponents fade away without being heard in court."

Read the decision at: Enbridge Pipelines Inc. v. Jane Doe.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Is entering your property only once in 10 years enough to prevent a successful claim for adverse possession?

Justice E.M. Morgan's decision begins with this question: "Can a claimant have possessory title if the registered owner entered the property only once during the claimant's ten years of otherwise undisturbed adverse possession?".  Under Ontario law, the interest of the registered owner of land may be extinguished by a person who has been in adverse possession of the land for ten years.  The registered owner is then open to losing title to the property to the adverse possession claimant.

In this case, the land in dispute was a small triangle at the top end of a driveway between two properties.  The adverse possession claimant had a right of way over the driveway, but not over the small triangle.  The triangular area was used to facilitate the claimant's turning his car into his garage at the rear of his property.  The registered property owners asked the Court to make a declaration confirming their ownership of the triangle.  They also sought orders requiring their neighbour to remove fencing, interlocking brick and a gate that he had installed on the driveway (which they owned).  The claimant responded by asking the Court to declare him the owner of triangle by adverse possession.

Justice Morgan reviewed the evidence of adverse possession, which must constitute "strict proof".  In the past, a chain link fence had been erected to separate the triangle from the rest of the registered owners' property.  It was established that the fence was installed no later than March 31, 1988.  Owing to the conversion of the property to the Land Titles system in 2001, the claim for adverse possession would depend on establishing exclusive possession by the claimant (or his predecessors in title) of the triangle for an interrupted period of ten years between 1988 and 2001. 

What does it take to interrupt the exclusive possession?  In this case, a previous owner of the triangle deposed that on at least one occassion, in 1996, he entered the triangle to cut down some "swamp maple trees" located there.  That meant that the 10-year clock stopped and restarted in 1996, which did not leave enough time before 2001 to establish continuous adverse possession.  Therefore, Justice Morgan ruled that the registered owners retained their title to the triangular area on their property.

As for the encroaching fence, gate and interlocking brick, Justice Morgan again ruled in favour of the registered owners of the property: "The Applicants are showing their frustration, and are being somewhat difficult by insisting that the interlock be removed from their portion of the driveway.  Nevertheless, they are within their rights to so insist.  The Respondent is not permitted to alter the Applicant's property without consent even if the alteration is, objectively speaking, an improvement."

Read the decision at: Maras v. Milianis.

Friday, August 8, 2014

BC Court of Appeal says club can continue to fly model aircraft on farmland runway

A radio control club used an agricultural property to fly model aircraft.  The local municipality challenged this use as being outside the scope of permitted agricultural uses.  The club argued that its activites fell within a permissible secondary use - "unpaved airstrip and heli pad".  The municipality argued that all uses in the agricultural zone must be agricultural or complimentary to agriculture; the RC flying satisfied neither category.  A motions judge agreed with the municipality.

The case went to the BC Court of Appeal and the motions judge's decision was reversed.  The restriction of "farm" classification in the zoning by-law to activities directly associated with agriculture was unjustifiable.  The Court ruled that the "farm" classification allows complementary uses that are suitable in an agricultural setting, including activities not directly associated with farming but conducive to the setting.  These activities do not disrupt or change the essential agricultural character of the land.  Because the RC club's activities were of this class, they were permissible secondary uses of the farm land.

Read the decision at: Lake Country (District) v. Kelowna Ogopogo Radio Controllers Association.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Small Claims Court dismisses farmer's claim for triticale crop lost after lease expires

The Plaintiff in this case planted soybeans in 2010 on the 30 acres he rented from the Defendant.  After harvesting the soybeans that fall, the Plaintiff planted and fertilized a crop of triticale - a hybrid grain planted in the fall for harvest early the next summer.  However, by 2011 the Defendant had decided to lease his land to a new tenant who was willing to pay higher rent to grow Napa cabbage.  The Defendant authorized the new tenant to plough under the triticale crop.

Having lost the lease and his triticale crop, the Plaintiff sued the Defendant for $25,000 in damages, representing the loss of grain, straw, lost labour, seed and fertilizer.  The Plaintiff based his claim on two arguments: 1) he had a lease for the property for 2011; and, 2) in the alternative, the doctrine of emblements entitled him to harvest his triticale crop after the 2010 lease expired.  The Plaintiff also claimed that the Defendant was unjustly enriched by the ploughed under triticale.

The trial judge found that there was not a single instance in 2010 or 2011 in which the Defendant agreed to lease his land to the Plaintiff in 2011.  There was, therefore, no lease for 2011.  The judge then addressed the doctrine of emblements - "a right given by law to a person who has an estate of uncertain duration that unexpectedly comes to an end through no act or fault, to take growing crops which were sowed or planted".  In the case of a farm lease, a tenant may have a right to harvest or to care for crops where they were planted prior the unexpected termination of the lease. 

The right to emblements depends on "what is known or expected by the tenant at the time he sows his crops".  In this case, the trial judge added that the expectation of the tenant must also be reasonable.  He found that the Plaintiff, at the time he sowed the triticale in the fall of 2010, had only an expired or soon-to-be expired lease for 2010 and a hope that he would be able to outbid the competition for the land in 2011.  The trial judge determined that this was not a reasonable expectation and dismissed the action.

Read the decision at: Vieraitis v Fitzgerald.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Court orders berm removed, says landowner "appears to like to act first and seek required permission later"

The Regional Municipality of York (the "Region") went to court for an injunction requiring the removal of a berm that was installed by a local landowner.  The Region alleged that the berm, which was constructed in August, 2012 and measured approximately 3.5 metres high by 157 metres long, caused pooling in the ditches along neighbouring roads.  The berm cut off the flow of an intermittent watercourse that ran over the subject property from a culvert running beneath one of the roads into a wetland.

In 2012, the landowner applied retroactively to the local conservation authority for a permit to construct the berm.  The permit was not granted and the conservation authority issued a Notice of Violation with respect to the "unauthorized development, interference or alteration in or on a wetland setback".  The prosecution of that violation was the subject of a separate court proceeding.

The defendant landowner contended that there never was a watercourse on his property and denied that the berm was within a provincially significant wetland (PSW) or within the 120 metre PSW setback.  Also, the defendant claimed that the culvert from which the water was to flow was not operational before July, 2012 - he installed the berm only to deal with the new water flow created by work done on the culvert by the Region.  The Region denied this, saying that work done in July, 2012 was only to remove some sediment build up; the culvert had been in place for 35 years.

The Court rejected the evidence of the landowner and granted the injunction requested by the Region.  The Court found the landowner's evidence to be "unreliable": "I accept that his motives for building the berm may not be as altruistic as he wishes this court to see them.  As such, where [the landowner's] evidence and that of the Region conflict, I prefer the evidence of the Region."  The Court's decision also reads: "I find that [the landowner's] argument that the berm is not within the setback area to be disingenuous in the face of the evidence presented.  It appears that he does not like to be told what to do when it comes to his property.  He applied for permission to construct the berm only after he had already constructed it. ... [He] appears to like to act first and seek required permission later."

The injunction was granted based on the test applicable to the power to grant an injunction under the Municipal Act, 2001 where a by-law has been violated.  However, the Court would also have granted an injunction in this case on the basis of the berm constituting a public nuisance. 

Reading the Court's decision, one cannot help but conclude that this was the case of a rogue landowner cutting off an established watercourse to a wetland.  However, situations like these are not always so simple.  It is often the case that a wetland is created artificially through development of neighbouring properties - a road is installed or a residential subdivision is created with the result that drainage patterns are changed and a previously dry area becomes intermittently or permanently wet.  Local conservation authorities will take charge of the new wetland and prevent the affected landowner from remedying the drainage problem.

Landowners should be vigilant when it comes to drainage problems and the potential creation of wetlands on their properties.  It's one thing to want to create a new wetland - it is an entirely different thing to have the conservation authority tell you that you must have a wetland.  Drainage problems should be addressed sooner rather than later.

Read the decision at: Regional Municipality of York v. DiBlasi.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Court dismisses UST contamination claim where previous owners plead ignorance

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted summary judgment to the Defendants in a property contamination claim.  The Plaintiff in the case purchased a property and then discovered significant environmental contamination that it was forced to remediate.  The Defendants said they knew nothing of the contamination. 

The property deal was completed in June, 2001.  Over two years later, in September, 2003, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) received a drinking water complaint about wells located near the property.  It was determined that gasoline had leaked from underground storage tanks (USTs) on the property, and the Plaintiff was ordered by the MOE to remediate the property at significant cost.

The Defendants denied any knowledge that the property contained USTs, and denied the existence of any facts from which they ought reasonably to have understood there to be USTs.  They also denied the existence of any environmental contamination of the property during their period of ownership (1991 to 2001).

This was a motion for summary judgment in which the Plaintiffs had to demonstrate that there were genuine issues requiring a trial - otherwise the action would be dismissed on a summary basis without a trial.  The Plaintiff suggested that there were a number of issues requiring trial: 1) whether the property was in compliance with all laws at the time it was sold (as required by the terms of the Agreement of Purchase and Sale); 2) the state of the Defendants' knowledge about the USTs and any leaks; 3) the strict liability regime imposed by Section 99 of the Environmental Protection Act; and, 4) the effect of spoliation of evidence, given that the Defendants had destroyed business records.

The Court considered these issues and concluded: 1) there is no evidence that the property was not in compliance with environmental laws at the date of sale - there was no evidence to show that the contamination pre-dated the sale of the property (no expert report was provided); 2) there was virtually no evidence on which a finding could be made that the Defendants knew about the USTs when the property was sold; 3) Section 99 of the EPA could not be relied upon since there was evidence to show, even on a balance of probabilities, that the Defendants had ownership or control of the pollutant immediately before the first discharge (which is a prerequisite to liability under that section of the Act); and, 4) the Plaintiff failed to satisfy the Court that the business records destroyed would be of relevance to the claim.

Read the decision at: Gagnon & Associates Inc. v. Genier et. al.