Wheat off

Wheat off

Friday, August 21, 2015

Timelines to appeal Ontario environmental orders are strict - miss the deadlines at your peril

Another decision of the Environmental Review Tribunal ("ERT") has confirmed that the process and deadlines for appealing orders made by Provincial Officers are strict; failure to comply with the process and deadlines means that the ERT has no jurisdiction to hear an appeal.

In a July, 2015 decision, the ERT dismissed a proposed appeal on the basis that the proceeding related to matters outside the jurisdiction of the ERT (Rule 119).  A Provincial Officer with the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change ("MOECC") had issued an Environmental Protection Act ("EPA") order on May 13, 2015 against the appellant.  On June 3, 2015, the appellant wrote to the ERT to appeal the order.

Under the EPA, a person may seek the review of a Provincial Officer's order to be conducted by the MOECC Director (one step above the Provincial Officer); the request must be made within seven days of the order.  It is only the decision of the Director on the review that can then be appealed if necessary to the ERT.  In the case commenced before the ERT in June, no written request directly to the Director for a Director's review had been made.  There was evidence that the appellant had made an oral request for the review to the Provincial Officer and that the appellant's lawyer had then written to the Provincial Officer to request an "indulgence with respect to the timelines in the Provincial Officer's Order."

Before the ERT, the appellant argued that it had effectively requested a Director's review of the Provincial Officer's Order (through the oral request followed by the written request for an indulgence, although both requests were made to the Provincial Officer).  Alternatively, the appellant argued that the information sheet on the review process provided by the Provincial Officer was vague and misleading and led to an assumption that, if a review was not requested within seven days, the Provincial Officer's Order would be deemed to be confirmed by the Director.  Under the EPA, if a request for a review is made and no decision is issued by the Director within seven days, the Director is deemed to have confirmed the Provincial Officer's Order (and that deemed decision can be appealed to the ERT). 

An appeal to the ERT from the Director's order or decision (deemed or otherwise) must be commenced within 15 days of the date on which the appellant was served with the Director's Order (or the date on which it was deemed to have been made).  There is provision for the ERT to extend the time for appealing, but only where, "in the Tribunal's opinion, it is just to do so because service of the order or decision on the person did not give the person notice of the order or decision."  

Where there was no Director's decision at all, there is no jurisdiction for the ERT to hear an appeal whether it was filed on time or not.  In the recent case, the ERT ruled that the written request for an indulgence cannot be considered a written confirmation of the oral request for a review that was made by the appellant to the Provincial Officer.  The EPA allows for an oral request followed-up by a written confirmation, but the written confirmation must be sent to the Director.  Further, the written follow-up in this case did not include other information required by the EPA (e.g. details of the order to be reviewed).  The ERT concluded that there was no deemed confirmation of the Provincial Officer's Order by the Director and, therefore, there was no Director's order or decision that could be appealed to the ERT.

This decision, like many before it, confirms that the environmental legislation in Ontario (the EPA and the Ontario Water Resources Act) provides very narrow windows of opportunity to appeal orders made by Provincial Officers.  If an order is issued to you and you wish to dispute it, do not delay in seeking legal advice and requesting a review in the manner required by the legislation.  Miss the deadlines and you lose your right to appeal.

Read the decision at: COX FARMS LTD. V. ONTARIO (MOECC).

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Farm Tax Update for Professionals - October 22, 2015, Guelph, ON


Please join CAFA for an exclusive one-day seminar:

Farm Tax Update for Professionals

Thursday, October 22, 2015 

Hanlon Convention Centre, Guelph.

Learn from industry leading farm professionals on the latest developments in farm tax and farm law.

Space is limited so be sure to send in your registration as soon as possible.

Register Now!

If you have any questions about the event or wish to learn more about CAFA, please contact Liz Robertson, CAFA's Executive Director.


Monday, August 10, 2015

BC Landowner's nuisance claim dismissed - insufficient interference by water from municipal lands

A BC landowner sued his municipality over drainage runoff, seeking both damages and an injunction requiring the municipality to take "immediate and effective action to stop the flow of water onto his property."  In 2002, the municipality approved the development of 68 townhomes by a developer adjacent to and north of the landowner's property.  As a condition of the development, a greenway was granted to the municipality running between the properties (including a gas pipeline right of way and an asphalt walkway).

The landowner alleged that prior to the development, there was a watercourse between one and three feet deep running in the location of the greenway.  The developer was permitted to fill in this watercourse resulting in the loss of the drainage route and periodic flooding on the landowner's property to the south (3.67 acres).

The municipality responded that the surface ponding of water on the landowner's property was a natural and pre-existing feature given the location of the property at the toe of a slope, its proximity to the water table, and the impermeable condition of its soils.  Also, the municipality argued that any additional water flowing onto the landowner's property was so minor in volume that it did not constitute a substantial interference with the landowner's use or enjoyment of his property.

On review of the evidence, the BC Supreme Court was unable to accept the landowner's contention that water was never a problem on his property prior to the development.  The Court found that the landowner exaggerated the extent of the water problems suffered since the development.  Also, the water table underlying his property was high and the soil was "fairly impermeable".

The Court concluded that any water coming onto the landowner's property did not meet the test of a claim in nuisance - that it resulted in a substantial and unreasonable interference with his use or enjoyment of the property or that there was sufficient physical damage to the land.  The landowner's property was a "holding property, awaiting development", and the consequences from increased water were minor.  The landowner did not demonstrate that "the pooling water along the northern boundary of his property has either substantially altered the nature of his property or interfered to a non-trivial or significant extent with the actual use being made of the property."  There was also no basis to find that any substantial adverse alteration of the land had been caused.

The landowner's nuisance claim was dismissed.

Read the decision at: Wood v. Langley (Township).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Nursery trees ruled to be chattels - claim for spray damage barred by limitation period

The Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench has dismissed a claim for spray damage caused to nursery trees (Roundup from a neighbouring wheat field) on the basis that the applicable limitation period had expired.  The key issue was the characterization of the trees - were they fixtures to the real property (the land) or were they chattels (movable property not affixed to the land)?  If they were fixtures, then a six-year limitation period would apply.  If they were chattels, a two-year limitation period would apply.  The action was commenced nearly four years after damage to the trees was first observed.

What is annexed or attached to the land becomes part of the land (a fixture), but there must be an intention to annex or attach evidenced by the degree of annexation and the object of the annexation.  In this case, the claimant argued that the trees were growing crops and, therefore, part of the real property (the land).  The defendants argued that the trees were planted only for the purpose of storage until they would be sold or used by the claimant, remaining as chattels (not fixed to the land).

The Court sided with the defendants and found that the nursery trees were chattels.  They were treated as the claimant's "stock in trade - as inventory".  The trees were never intended to be permanently attached to the land or to constitute an improvement to the land.  As a result, the two-year limitation period applied and barred the claim for damages.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Rogers Communications loses cell tower lease over move to sub-lease space to a third party

A Nova Scotia forestry company leased land to Rogers Communications for a cell tower.  The original 1988 lease was renewed several times and provided that renewals would be "upon the same terms and conditions" as the original lease.  In 2012, Rogers asked for the lessor's consent to a "co-location" agreement where Rogers would sub-lease space on the tower to a third party.

Although no agreement was reached and no consent was given, Rogers went ahead with the co-location arrangement.  The lessor sought a declaration from the Court that the lease was terminated as a result of Rogers' failure to obtain consent.  The lessor also sought damages.

In court, there was a dispute between the parties over whether the lease had been renewed in 2012 for a further five-year term.  Rogers argued that it had given notice as required by the lease to renew under the same terms and conditions and, therefore, it was entitled to the renewal of the lease (which would be more or less automatic as long as Rogers exercised its option to renew).  The lessor, on the other hand, contended that Rogers' proposed renewal amounted to a counter-offer (which it rejected).  The proposed renewal lease included the co-location arrangement and additional rent as compensation for the addition of a sub-tenant to the tower.  Rogers took the position that it was its right to include the additional provisions in the renewal.

The Court determined that the lease had not been renewed and ordered Rogers to vacate the lands within 8 months of an order to be issued setting out the terms of the decision.  Also, the lessor was awarded any rent not paid during the period after the lease had terminated.

The Court then proceeded to consider the lessor's request for damages for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and trespass.  The Court ruled that Rogers did not have the right under the lease contract to allow a third party to sub-let or co-locate - the lease provided rights to Rogers to erect, maintain and operate its tower, but it did not allow it to host a third party's services.  Also, the Court noted that Rogers had sought consent from the lessor to allow the co-location.  The lessor was awarded the sum of $3,000 in rent for each year in which the third party co-located on the tower.

Read the decision at: Atlantic Star Forestry Ltd. v. Rogers Communications Inc.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Alberta Court upholds denial of crop insurance on basis of false or misleading reporting

The Alberta Court of Queen's Bench recently dismissed an application for judicial review of a decision by the appeal committee related to Alberta's crop insurance program.  The regulations that govern crop insurance provide that the decision of the appeal committee is final and binding on the parties; only a challenge to the decision by way of judicial review is possible.

In this case, crop insurance denied claims by a farmer for its 2009 canola crop, its 2009 Canadian Prairie Spring wheat crop and its 2010 Canadian Prairie Spring wheat crop.  Crop insurance declined to pay the benefit to the farmer on the basis that the farmer's post harvest assessments were incomplete and inconsistent with actual crop production.  On the appeal of this denial of coverage, the appeal committee decided that credibility was an issue.  The committee found that where there was a conflict in the evidence between the farmer and the crop insurance witnesses, the evidence of the crop insurance witnesses was to be preferred.  The committee cited examples where the farmer under-reported grain sales or was not forthright about grain sales until confronted with third-party documentation obtained during the crop insurance investigation.  The committee, which consisted of five farmer members, was left with the impression that the farmer "had not been honest and forthcoming in his dealings with AFSC during the claims process and subsequent contact with Program Cross Compliance and Investigation, despite several opportunities to make full and honest disclosure of the production and sales of crops."

The Court ruled that the standard of review applicable to this judicial review was a standard of reasonableness: if the Court found that the appeal committee's decision was "reasonable", then the decision would stand.  On review of the record from the appeal process, the Court concluded that the appeal committee's decision was, in fact, reasonable, and denied the judicial review application on that basis.  In particular, the Court found that it was abundantly clear that the committee had found evidence of false or misleading reporting from the farmer.  The Court could find nothing unreasonable about that conclusion and the denial of the crop insurance claims.

Read the decision at: F Prins Potatoes Ltd v Agriculture Financial Services Corporation.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Drainage Tribunal orders landowners to pay municipality nearly $50K in costs

The following summary of a recent decision of the Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs Appeal Tribunal says it all:

"This Drainage Act appeal was unusual. Firstly, the quality of construction of the drainage works was challenged in circumstances where the drain was performing exactly as designed. Secondly, the Appellants’ case lacked any reliable evidence to support their challenge. Thirdly, the Appellants pursued issues that were outside the Tribunal’s jurisdiction, and did so contrary to the Tribunal’s directions.  Fourthly, the appeal was devoid of merit, and in effect frivolous.  Fifthly, shortcomings and the mounting costs were called to the Appellants’ attention before and during the hearing on more than one occasion. Sixthly, these same Appellants had previously pursued a quality of construction appeal on the same drain that another Tribunal Panel determined was unwarranted and, subsequently ordered these same Appellants to pay costs. Despite all that the Appellants pursued a costly and unsuccessful appeal hearing and want their neighbours or the taxpayers of the Municipality to pay for it.

In the circumstances of this case and for the reasons explained, the Tribunal awards the Municipality the costs of the appeal fixed at $49,536.80."

It's pretty rare that the Tribunal awards any costs, especially in Drainage Act proceedings. This decision demonstrates that there is a line that can be crossed, following which parties to Drainage Act appeals may be liable to pay costs to the successful party.

Read the decision at: Coleman Municipal Drain 2013 (RE).

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lawsuits challenge railroad's authority to OK oil pipeline

Here is an interesting article from AP business writer, Josh Funk, about growing conflicts between railways and neighbouring landowners in the US over pipelines and pipelines royalties: Click here to read the article at PennEnergy.com.  Not all railways hold full ownership over the land beneath their tracks; so who has the authority to grant permission for a pipeline, and to whom is compensation payable?