Thursday, April 27, 2017

Environmental Obligations and Bankruptcy - Alberta Court of Appeal says bankruptcy trustee can disclaim orphaned wells

The Alberta Court of Appeal has released a split decision on the following question:  can the trustee administering the estate of a bankrupt oil and gas company renounce or disclaim the company's interest in orphan oil wells (i.e. wells for which the cost of remediation required for abandonment exceeds the value of the well), but keep and sell off other valuable wells in order to maximize the recovery of secured creditors?  Justices Slatter and Schutz ruled that the trustee is permitted to disclaim the orphan assets.  Justice Martin, writing in dissent, sided with the Alberta Energy Regulator ("AER") and would have ruled that a portion of the sale proceeds from valuable wells must be set aside to meet the expected costs of remediating orphan wells.

The case involved Redwater Energy Corporation, a publicly traded oil and gas company. In 2015, Redwater's principal secured creditor, the Alberta Treasury Branches ("ATB"), commenced enforcement proceedings after Redwater couldn't meet its financial obligations.  On May 12, 2015, Grant Thornton was appointed Receiver for Redwater under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act ("BIA").

In July, 2015, Grant Thornton told the AER that it would be taking control of only 20 of the 127 Redwater oil and gas licences.  The AER responded by issuing orders, "for environmental and public safety reasons", requiring the abandonment and remediation of the 107 wells that the Receiver was looking to disclaim.  In October, 2015, a bankruptcy order was issued for Redwater.  In November, 2015, Grant Thornton, now trustee in bankruptcy for Redwater, disclaimed the assets it had previously renounced in its capacity as Receiver, and indicated to the AER that it did not intend to comply with the environmental remediation orders.

The AER and the Orphan Well Association ("OWA") brought court applications for declarations that the disclaimer was void.  They also sought an order compelling Grant Thornton, as trustee, to comply with the abandonment and remediation orders issued by the AER.  Grant Thornton brought a cross-application for approval of the sale of certain assets, and ruling on the constitutionality of the AER's position.

The Chambers Judge hearing the matter ruled that the claim of Redwater's secured creditor, ATB, has priority over Redwater's obligation to reclaim its wells.  The Court of Appeal heard appeals of that ruling focusing on "whether a receiver or trustee in bankruptcy must satisfy the contingent liability inherent in the remediation of the worthless wells in priority to the claims of secured creditors."  The appeal involved questions of law for which the standard of review is correctness (i.e. it's not enough for the lower court decision to have been reasonable - it has to have been correct on the law).

As noted above, the majority of the panel hearing the appeals upheld the decision of the Chambers Judge, ruling that the bankruptcy trustee is not bound to comply with the abandonment and remediation orders and does not have to divert the value from valuable assets to cover the environmental costs related to other assets.  The reasons are extensive, and include discussion of the interplay between the provincial environmental legislation (the oil and gas regime) and the federal BIA regime.  The majority concluded that, "Under the proper interpretation of the BIA, the Regulator cannot insist that the bankruptcy trustee devote substantial parts of the bankrupt estate in satisfaction of the environmental claims in priority to the claims of the secured debtor.  To the extent that the interpretation of the provincial legislation leads to a different result, the [federal] paramountcy doctrine is engaged."

The majority also pointed out that the provisions in Alberta's Oil and Gas Conservation Act and Pipeline Act that purport to make receivers and trustees personally liable for the duty to abandon oil wells and pipelines, the costs of remediation performed by other persons, and the duty to obey orders of the Regulator, are in operational conflict with the BIA.  For example, the BIA contains provisions that exempt a trustee and a receiver from personal liability and that allow them to disclaim assets.  As such, the majority concluded, the personal liability provisions in the Alberta legislation are unenforceable against BIA receivers and trustees.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Martin disagreed with the majority that the provisions of the Alberta oil and gas legislation actually conflict with the BIA.  She found that the BIA does not permit the trustee to renounce the end of life obligations imposed by the provincial regulatory regime. Therefore, the BIA does not release the trustee from its ongoing regulatory obligations with respect to the Redwater wells.  If there is no entitlement to renounce those obligations under the BIA, then there is no conflict between the BIA and the enforcement of the regulatory obligations (to abandon and remediate wells).

Justice Martin was also of the opinion that the abandonment and remediation regime in Alberta does not frustrate the purposes of the bankruptcy legislation (which include providing for the orderly liquidation and winding up of the insolvent debtor, distributing realizable assets fairly among the creditors, having regard to the legal priority of various types of debt, and providing the bankrupt with a "fresh start"):
The cost of abandoning licensed wells and reclaiming well sites is an ongoing regulatory obligation and an inherent part of the licensed asset, well known and understood by the debtor licensee and the licensee’s lenders. The record makes clear that it was well understood by the respondent ATB, the primary lender here. The end of life obligations associated with licensed assets, being compliance costs to generally applicable laws, are factored in to the lender’s risk assessment and its decision to lend on the strength of the debtor’s collateral. 
The continued application of the regulatory regime following bankruptcy does not determine or reorder priorities among creditors, but rather values accurately the assets available for distribution. The value of the debtor’s estate must take into account the end of life obligations associated with the licences that form a part of that estate. If this means that, in the end, there is less value available for distribution to the creditors, that is part of the bankruptcy scheme and the risk that the creditor takes when lending on the basis of the debtor’s assets, with their associated obligations. [emphasis added]
We'll have to see whether this case goes to the Supreme Court for a further review.

Read the decision at: Orphan Well Association v Grant Thornton Limited.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Court grants injunction to Enbridge over interference with maintenance digs

Back in March, 2017, Enbridge Pipelines Inc. ("Enbridge") was in court seeking injunctions against two individuals to prohibit them from interfering with maintenance work being conducted on Lines 10 and 11, two adjacent oil pipelines near Hamilton, Ontario.  Enbridge asserted that the individuals had been regularly interfering with its work crews since January, 2017, including the tearing down of snow fences and gates and verbally demanding that work be shut down.  Enbridge also alleged that, after two weeks of obstruction, the individuals placed rabbit traps to obstruct access to the dig sites and then asserted treaty hunting rights.

In their defence, the individuals involved in the case alleged that they are Haudenosaunee citizens with the ability to exercise rights upon Haudenosaunee traditional treaty territory.  They served Notices of Constitutional Question stating their intention to question the constitutional validity of the following: 1) the Trespass to Property Act as it may apply to a Haudenosaunee person undertaking harvesting activity pursuant to treaty rights; 2) any interim or interlocutory injunction which would directly or indirectly impair, infringe and/or interfere with the exercise of treaty rights where the Crown has not discharged its obligations to uphold the Honour of the Crown (duty to consult and accommodate); and, 3) the granting of any easement (i.e. Enbridge's pipeline easements) where treaty rights would be impaired, infringed and/or interfered with where the Crown has not discharged its obligation to uphold the Honour of the Crown (duty to consult and accommodate).

Justice Broad of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reviewed the constitutional arguments and concluded that, "the question of whether the Crown has made efforts to comply with its duty to consult and accommodate is not relevant to the exercise of the court's decision to deny an injunction sought by a private party such as Enbridge with an interest in land on discretionary grounds."  Also, Justice Broad noted, "The defendants have been unable to point to any cases where a precondition involving the exhaustion of efforts to consult and find negotiated or legislated resolutions has been recognized or applied where an injunction is sought at the instance of a private property owner where aboriginal treaty rights are claimed or exercised."

Having disposed of the constitutional issues, Justice Broad reviewed Enbridge's request for injunctive relief on the basis of the standard three-part test for injunctions:

1)      the plaintiff must establish a serious question to be tried;
2)      the plaintiff must show that it will suffer irreparable harm if the injunction is not granted; and
3)      the balance of convenience favours the granting of an injunction. This involves a consideration of which party will suffer greater harm if the injunction is granted or refused.
Justice Broad ruled in favour of Enbridge on all three parts of the test.  With respect to the defendants' treaty right claims, he concluded: "The defendants' claim to relevant interests or rights may be advanced by appropriate parties or groups having the requisite standing through lawful avenues.  The defendants' resort to unlawful self-help should not, however, be countenanced ...".

Read the decision at: Enbridge Pipelines Inc. v. Williams et al.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Bachelor farmer dies in accident in 2009 - Court tasked with interpreting holographic will from 1992

Farmer P was 60 years old when he died in an accident on his Saskatchewan farm in March, 2009.  He had no spouse and no children, and was survived by his 95-year old mother, a brother and sister-in-law, and a sister.  After P's death, his family discovered that he had made a holographic will in 1992 that provided as follows:

Last Will and Testament of [P]
I leave all my farming assets to [my brother and sister-in-law].
I leave 50% of my personal assets to [my brother and sister-in-law].
I leave 50% of my personal assets to my sister [K].
All household personal assets (those that Mom can use) I leave to [my mother].

A holographic will is one that is made entirely by the testator's own handwriting, without formality, and without the presence, attestation or signature of a witness (e.g. the mythic will written on a napkin).

For almost 8 years after P's death, his siblings were engaged in acrimonious disputes about the administration of P's estate and their entitlement to his assets.  The assets included farmland, farm equipment, grain and inputs inventories, etc.  The debts owing by P's estate included substantial income tax owing, a tractor loan, a mortgage, etc.  The questions left by the holographic will included which assets were farm assets and which assets were personal assets, and which debts were to be paid by the Estate and which debts were to be paid by individual beneficiaries.  In January, 2017, Justice Ball of the Court of Queen's Bench in Saskatchewan issued a decision in which he wrote: "Hopefully, this decision will do something to bring an end to the litigation."

Justice Ball noted that, "The court's only objective in interpreting a will is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the testator, as expressed by the language of the will, at the time the will was executed."  After reviewing the law applicable to the interpretation of wills, Justice Ball then reviewed the evidence about the information known by P at the time he made his will in 1992 that provides the context for the will.  Having reviewed the context, Justice Ball concluded, among other things, that "farming assets" included all farmland, farm implements and inventory, and unsold grain on hand; "Personal assets" included all household effects in P's home, personal motor vehicles, and personal bank account balances.

At the end of the decision, there were still some assets that could not be assigned to a specific category based on the evidence before the Court.  These assets included surface lease annual payments and farm subsidies or other government payments.  Further evidence would need to be filed with the Court before any decision could be made on those assets.

As with most estate law cases involving farms, the lesson to be drawn from this case is that it pays to have a clear and fully-documented succession plan in place as soon as possible.  Farmer P did have a will at the time of his fatal accident, but that will was not sufficiently instructive to his family to avoid nearly a decade of litigation.

Read the decision at: Ellingson v Ellingson Estate.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Court of Appeal confirms inconsistent use requirement for adverse possession in Ontario

In a recent post, I wrote about a B.C. adverse possession case that made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada - Nelson v. Mowatt.  The Ontario Court of Appeal has now released a decision in which it comments on the Mowatt decision and the question of whether an Ontario adverse possession claimant must satisfy the "inconsistent use requirement" (by demonstrating that his or her use of disputed lands was inconsistent with the intended use of the "true owner").  Here is what the Court says:
A note on Mowatt
[29]      After this appeal was heard, the Supreme Court released Mowatt, a decision concerning the law of adverse possession in British Columbia. We refer to Mowatt in para. 20, above. In Mowatt, the Supreme Court also noted, citing Masidon and other cases, that the inconsistent use requirement appears in the jurisprudence of Ontario.  It held that the law of British Columbia governing adverse possession does not require a claimant to demonstrate that his or her use of disputed lands was inconsistent with the intended use of the “true owner”. At para. 27, Brown J., for the court, wrote: “Whether the requirement is properly applicable in other provinces remains an open question subject to examination of their respective legislative histories, the wording of their particular limitation statutes, and the treatment of these matters by the courts of those provinces.”  
[30]      In supplemental submissions following the release of Mowatt, the appellants effectively urge this panel to overrule Masidon and eliminate the inconsistent use requirement in Ontario, without regard to whether there is mutual or unilateral mistake.  However, this panel is not in a position to overrule Masidon.
So, it seems that the question left open by the Supreme Court has (relatively) quickly been answered by the Ontario Court of Appeal: inconsistent use remains a requirement of the law of adverse possession in Ontario (see Masidon Investments Ltd. v. Ham).

Read the Ontario Court of Appeal's decision at: Sipsas v. 1299781 Ontario Inc.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Road Access Act saves landlocked neighbour from conviction on trespassing charge

Landowner W was charged with trespass, a provincial offence under the Trespass to Property Act, after he used a road he had constructed through a neighbour's property to reach his own landlocked property.  In her decision acquitting W of the charge, Justice of the Peace MacKinnon described the properties involved as follows:
This case involves three parcels of land, two of which front on Highway 609. Highway 609 is a two lane secondary highway in a rural area of Northwestern Ontario and runs in an east-west configuration.
On the south side of Highway 609 there is a parcel of land belonging to [M]. The west side of the [M] property fronts on the Wabigoon River. To the east of the [M] property is property belonging to [B] which is the North part of Lot 5, Concession 5. Its north boundary is Hwy 609, and its south boundary is on the north side of the defendant’s ([W]’s) property.
The defendant’s property is to the south of both the [M] and [B] properties. Its western boundary includes grasslands and the shore of the Wabigoon River. North is the [B] property and east is another property.
It is not disputed that the defendant purchased his lot as a landlocked property. He arranged for an easement over the [M] property from Highway 609, and received authority from the province for an entrance from the highway. He built a road south from Highway 609 through the [M] property but eventually turned southeast onto the [B] property and crossed it to his lot. [emphasis added]
A dispute arose surrounding the portion of this road on the [B] property.
At trial, W admitted that he had purchased his landlocked property as having water access only; it was his intention to purchase access from his neighbours (which he did from neighbour M, but not neighbour B).

The fact that W had constructed a road in part on lands owned by B and the fact that W had used that road were not in dispute.  What was at issue in the trial was whether W had a right or authority conferred by law which allowed W to go on the road through B's property.

Justice of the Peace MacKinnon examined whether W had a right or authority based upon the Road Access Act.  She noted:
The Act sets out strict prohibitions against landowners taking matters into their own hands and blocking or obstructing access roads, and requires an application to a Superior Court judge for an order closing the road. Landowners may only block a road when there is an alternate route for the landlocked owner to access their land. Such alternate routes must be in existence contemporaneously. A charge against a landowner who violates the Act, is a provincial offences matter with fines of up to $5,000 (s.61 POA).
MacKinnon, J.P. then found that W's road through B's property was a "road" for the purposes of the Road Access Act, meaning that W had a legal authority to use the road at the time for which he was accused of having trespassed.  The road was not owned by a municipality or dedicated as a public highway.  The road served as an access to landlocked property.  W had a "limited and temporary statutory right to use the road".  In fact, MacKinnon J.P.'s decision says that until such time as a closing order is obtained by B from the Superior Court as required by the Road Access Act, W would not be a trespasser on the road.

On top of the prosecution for trespass, W also faced (or faces) a civil claim from B related to the road through B's property.  It would be interesting to know how the decision to dismiss the trespass charge will affect the civil proceeding.  Was it correct to find that W could establish a right to trespass on B's property by building his own road, even after he had asked for and was denied permission to do so? The Road Access Act may protect use of existing roads, but does it effectively empower a landlocked landowner to use a new road as long as that landowner can manage to get the road built on the neighbour's lands?  And will the court hearing the civil claim be bound by the ruling made by the Justice of the Peace in the trespass case, even if it is incorrect?

Read the decision at: R. v. Weber.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Normal Farm Practices Protection Board examines tree clearing as a normal farm practice

Pursuant to Section 6 of the Farming and Food Protection Act (the "Act") in Ontario, municipal by-laws do not to apply to restrict a normal farm practice carried on as part of an agricultural operation.  Farmers or other persons wanting to engage in a normal farm practice (that is part of an agricultural operation) can apply to the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board (the "Board") for a determination as to whether a specific practice is a "normal farm practice" for the purposes of Section 6.  If the Board makes a determination that a specific practice is a "normal farm practice", then the municipal by-law in question, by operation of the Act, would not restrict the practice.

Recently the Board heard an application by landowners in the County of Norfolk who contended that the removal of trees from an irregularly shaped bush to "straighten up a field" was a normal farm practice.  On that basis, the landowners argued that the County of Norfolk's Forest Conservation By-Law did not apply to restrict the removal of trees for that purpose.

The County disagreed.  The County had already issued a stop work order to the landowners previously when a portion of the bush on their property was removed in 2013.  It advised the landowners at that time that, in the future, an application for a permit would be required for any future removal.  Late in 2015, a complaint was received about further removal of trees and a second stop work order was issued to the landowners.  The landowners appealed that stop work order to the By-law Appeals Committee for the County, but were unsuccessful.

The Board determined that, in this case, the tree clearing activities proposed by the landowners did not constitute a "normal farm practice".  The landowners did not call expert evidence on the question of whether tree removal to straighten a field is a normal farm practice.  They did not call evidence from any other agricultural operators to demonstrate that similar tree removal had been done under similar circumstances.  Absent evidence to support the notion that the tree removal was a "normal farm practice", the Board found that the landowners failed to prove on a balance of probabilities that it was a "normal farm practice".

Also, the Board went on to find that, in any event, the landowners' tree removal would not have been a "normal farm practice" because they had cleared more trees than "would be reasonably expected to be necessary to straighten a field line and, in fact, it amounts to an attempt to clear cut a portion of the bush."  And further, the Board noted as an aside (obiter dicta) that the County's tree by-law does not actually restrict a "normal farm practice" to the extent that straightening a field is a normal farm practice.  The Board referred to the fact that the by-law provides for a permit process and that the requirement of a permit, the application fee and any condition of reforestation or payment in lieu "are reasonable and would not be restrictive."

On that point, it is worth noting the following evidence given by the County's By-Law officer at the Board hearing:

Mr. [B]’s evidence was that Mr. and Mrs. [M] would have required a permit under Section 4 of the by-law in order to authorize the tree removal that they had done and wished to continue, that approximately 80% of exemption permits are supplied with respect to agricultural operations and that he has not seen any denied when they went to Council.

The present application fee for a permit for a Council Exemption is $255.00.  The permit may come with conditions requiring reforestation or a fee payable to the Municipality in lieu of reforestation in the approximate amount of $1,900.00 per acre.  These monies are placed in a separate fund and are used for reforestation elsewhere in the County. [emphasis added]

Landowners who intend to remove trees from woodlot and woodland areas need to be aware of any applicable municipal tree by-laws or other regulations.  While compliance with by-law or regulatory requirements may seem a nuisance to farmers and landowners who have no intention of clear-cutting bush and only want to "straighten up a field", the price of obtaining necessary permits is often much less expensive than the consequences of non-compliance.  Although the Board's decision does not indicate that any prosecution was launched against the landowners, failure to comply with tree by-laws may result in the laying of charges and, in the case of a conviction, in greater restrictions on future tree removal than would have been applicable in the first place.

Read the decision at: Meijaard v Corporation of Norfolk County.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Neighbour loses claim for damages from biosolid application on field next door

The Plaintiff in this case sued her neighbour over concerns that her well water had been contaminated by the agricultural field application of municipal sewage waste or biosolids.  The neighbour actually leased the land to a farm operation, so he commenced third party claims against both his tenant (the farm operation) and the company that applied the biosolids.  The Plaintiff's claims were based on nuisance and negligence.

Justice Heeney of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismissed the Plaintiff's claim on the basis that the application of biosolids did not cause the Plaintiff's well to become contaminated.  Put another way, the Plaintiff failed to prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the application of the biosolids caused contamination of the well.  In his decision, it was not necessary for Justice Heeney to address the question of who might be liable for what.

Evidence in this case was heard over 6 days of trial, and included testimony concerning the application of the biosolids.  The application project had been approved by the Ministry of the Environment ("MOECC") following extensive soil testing and other measures.  The biosolids were to be applied to 90 acres of wheat stubble.  The Plaintiff had a 14-foot dug well just a few feet north of the southerly boundary of her property, in close proximity to the neighbouring field.  On the day that the biosolid application commenced, the Plaintiff said water from her shower was "brown and stinky", and smelled like "vomit material".

The Plaintiff's water was tested following the application of the biosolids.  There was some detection of coliform, but there had been positive readings of coliform in the well water prior to the biosolid application project.  No e.coli was detected.  The absence of e.coli in the water was, in Justice Heeney's opinion, the single most significant fact in the case.  There was opinion evidence that, if biosolids had entered the well, there would have been a very high level of e.coli in the water that would have been detectable when the water was tested.  E.coli is specifically used in water testing as "being the most accurate indicator of fecal contamination - sewage or fecal contamination".  Justice Heeney concluded that the biosolid application did not contaminate the Plaintiff's well.

Read the decision at: Marshall v. Shaw.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Supreme Court of Canada discusses the law of adverse possession in recent case

Property law cases do not often reach the Supreme Court of Canada, but a recent adverse possession case out of British Columbia did make it to Canada's highest court.   While certain aspects of the decision are limited in application to British Columbia, the Supreme Court does review the law of adverse possession generally in its reasons.

The Claimants in the case in question claimed title to a parcel of land in Nelson, BC that is adjacent to a separate parcel they purchased in 1992.  The registered owner of the disputed parcel was the provincial Crown.  The Claimants alleged that they and their predecessors in title had continuously possessed the disputed parcel since the early 20th century and, therefore, that ownership had transferred to them by the passage of time.  The Claimants commenced an action for a declaration that the provincial Crown was not the owner of the parcel (and could not transfer it to the City of Nelson), and also brought a petition for judicial investigation of their title under the BC Land Title Inquiry Act.

The headnote from the Supreme Court's decision describes the law of adverse possession as follows: 
"Adverse possession is a longstanding common law device by which the right of the prior possessor of land, typically the holder of registered title, may be displaced by a trespasser whose possession of the land goes unchallenged for a prescribed period of time. To meet the test of establishing adverse possession, the act of possession must be open and notorious, adverse, exclusive, peaceful, actual and continuous. The adverse possessor who successfully obtains title need not always be the same person whose adverse possession triggered the running of the limitation period."

At first instance, the judge hearing the matter granted a summary dismissal application by the City of Nelson, having found that there was an evidentiary gap with respect to the question of continuous possession.  A claim for adverse possession of someone else's property must rest on possession of land by a claimant for a specified period of time that open and notorious, adverse (vis-a-vis the registered owner), exclusive, peaceful, actual and continuous.  The judge at first instance found that there was an interruption in continuity of adverse possession from 1916-1920, resulting in the dismissal of the claim.  The Court of Appeal for BC reversed the decision to dismiss the claim, finding that there was evidence of continuous adverse possession from 1909-1923.  On that basis, the Court of Appeal remitted the matter back to the BC Supreme Court for final determination of the proceedings.

On further appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the Court of Appeal decision and restored the dismissal of the adverse possession claim made by the judge at first instance.  The Supreme Court found that the original finding of an evidentiary gap could not be set aside by the Court of Appeal based on the evidence.  While the Court of Appeal's finding that there was continuous adverse possession from 1909-1923 was reasonable, the Supreme Court found that the original judge's finding of the gap from 1916-1920 was not open to second-guessing by the Court of Appeal.  Absent a palpable and overriding error, the factual findings of the original judge hearing the matter could not be disturbed.

In this particular case, the time period in the between 1909 and 1923 was important because the claimants had to prove continuous adverse possession of the land either for a period of 20 years leading up to 1930-31 (the date at which the disputed parcel was escheated to the Crown because the company that was at the time the registered owner was dissolved) or for a period of 60 years leading up to the 1970s (when the law in BC was changed to prevent adverse possession going forward).  The onus was on the Claimants to prove continuous adverse possession during the relevant periods, and any gap in the evidence would be fatal to the claim.  A gap was found and the claim failed.

In its reasons, the Supreme Court of Canada also addressed the issue of inconsistent use.  At Common Law, there has been a requirement that a possessor's use of the disputed land must have been inconsistent with the "true owner's" present or future enjoyment of the land.  To be truly adverse, the possession must "entail a use of the property that is inconsistent with the true owner's intended use of the land."  However, while that inconsistent use requirement has appeared in the jurisprudence in Ontario, it has formed no part of the law in British Columbia.

The Supreme Court also commented on the distinction between "continuous possession" and "continuous occupation".  The Claimants suggested that the judge at first instance had erred in finding the evidentiary gap by confusing possession and occupation.  They argued that proof of continuous occupation of land is not required to prove continuous possession of land.  The Supreme Court acknowledged that "possession" does not require continuous occupation - a person may possess land in a manner sufficient to support a claim to title of the land while choosing to use the land intermittently or sporadically.  However, the Supreme Court found that the apparently interchangeable use of the terms "possession" and "occupation" by the judge at first instance did not change the outcome of the case.  The only evidence of "possession" before the judge was "occupation" (no form of possession less than that was posited to the judge).

Read the decision at: Nelson (City) v. Mowatt.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Court of Appeal overturns summary judgment, allows historical contamination claim to proceed

D Corp. owned a property that was used as a gas station until 2004.  C Ltd. purchased a nearby property on April 10, 2012 and, on April 28, 2014, commenced an action against D Corp. and the former owners of D Corp.'s property for damages resulting from hydrocarbon contamination.  The contamination was alleged to have migrated from D Corp.'s property to C Ltd.'s property.

After the exchange of pleadings (the Statement of Claim and Statements of Defence by the parties), the Defendants moved for summary judgment to dismiss C Ltd.'s claim on the basis that the applicable limitation period had expired.  They asserted that C Ltd.'s claim had been discovered more than 2 years prior to the commencement of its action.  The judge hearing the motion granted the dismissal, finding that C Ltd. had become aware of sufficient material facts by March 9, 2012.  Alternatively, the motion judge held that C Ltd. had a sufficient basis for an action by March 30, 2012 when soil and groundwater sampling results were made available to C Ltd.  In the further alternative, the motion judge found that, even if C Ltd. did not know about drilling results showing contamination until May, 2012 (i.e. within 2 years of the commencement of the action), C Ltd. should have known of its claim but did not exercise due diligence.

Also, the motion judge rejected C Ltd.'s suggestion that there was a continuing tort that suspended the operation of the limitation period.  The judge saw no evidence that there was ongoing damage or nuisance.  Where there is such ongoing damage or nuisance, the limitation period will not act to bar a claim entirely since the tort (the wrong being done by the party causing the contamination) is ongoing.  The limitation period might still act, though, to limit how far back the claimant's damages claim can extend (i.e. the damages might still be limited to those sustained no more than 2 years before the commencement of the action).

The Court of Appeal reversed the dismissal of the action.  It found that the motion judge was wrong to find that C Ltd. knew or ought to have known of its claim for contamination damages more than 2 years prior to commencing the action.  First, C Ltd.'s knowledge of potential contamination or its suspicion (based on a Phase I ESA) should not have been equated with actual knowledge that its property was contaminated.  Second, the Court of Appeal found that the motion judge improperly ignored relevant circumstances surrounding C Ltd.'s purchase of its property (which was part of a multi-property purchase involving 22 properties).  The Court found that once C Ltd. had waived its conditions on the purchase, it was not reasonable to expect C Ltd. to have sought out information about potential contamination (the test results it obtained in May, 2012); by that point, C Ltd. was bound to complete the purchase of the property.

In making its decision, the Court of Appeal did not rule on C Ltd.'s continuing tort argument.

Read the decision at: Crombie Property Holdings Limited v. McColl-Frontenac Inc. (Texaco Canada Limited).

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

BC Court of Appeal rules surveyor hired by one neighbour didn't owe duty of care to other neighbour

If a surveyor hired by one property owner in a boundary dispute gets it wrong, does the neighbouring owner have a claim in negligence against that surveyor?

In 2002, Owner B purchased a property and was aware that a fence at the back of the property might not align with the actual boundary line.  In 2007, Owners K bought the property directly behind B's property.  The Ks disputed the location of the fence, arguing that it was 12 feet inside their property line.  The Ks had hired a surveyor.  He'd already surveyed the property in 1990 and surveyed it again in 2007.  In both surveys, he found that the fence was 12 feet inside the property line.

In 2008, under cover of darkness, Mr. K tore down the fence.  B immediately commenced an action in trespass against the Ks.  Following a summary trial, the B.C. Supreme Court found that the Ks' surveyor was correct (that the fence was within the Ks property) and dismissed the trespass claim.  However, that decision was overturned on appeal.  A second trial took place and the Supreme Court this time ruled in favour of B.  The Court concluded that the Ks' surveyor was not correct and that the boundary was actually in the location of the fence.  That decision was upheld on appeal.

As is usually the case, B was awarded part of her costs payable by the Ks, leaving her out of pocket the difference between the costs awarded and her actual legal costs.  So B commenced an action against the Ks' surveyor, arguing that his errors resulted in her financial loss.  In response to B's action, the surveyor made an application to strike the claim on the basis that B had no cause of action against the surveyor.  That application was dismissed by the Supreme Court and the case ended up again before the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal reversed the lower court decision and allowed the surveyor's application to strike B's claim on the basis that it failed to disclose a reasonable cause of action.  In summary, the Court wrote: "[B]'s pleading is fundamentally flawed. It fails to advance facts that reveal the necessary relational proximity to establish a duty of care. It does not allege that she had direct dealings with [the surveyor] or relied on his representations. Nor does it set out facts that would reasonably support a conclusion that [the surveyor] inferentially assumed responsibility for her beneficial interests. [B]’s claim must therefore be struck."

To recover damages in a negligence claim, it's not only necessary for the claimant to prove that the defendant (in this case, the surveyor) fell below the required standard of care and was negligent, but the claimant must also show that there was a relationship between the claimant and the defendant that created a "duty of care".  Making a mistake doesn't mean that someone will be liable to everyone in the world for any sort of loss that might somehow result from the mistake.  In this case, B had not hired the surveyor.  The Ks hired the surveyor in the context of an adversarial dispute with B, and the Court found that the surveyor did not assume responsibility for B's interests and did not owe her a duty of care.  

Read the decision at: Burke v. Watson & Barnard (A Firm).

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Divisional Court comments on positive covenants

Property owners may covenant with one another in connection with their lands.  They may agree to negative covenants, which prevent certain things from being done on or with the land. For example, a negative covenant may prohibit certain uses that can be made of land or require that only certain types of building materials or colours can be used in buildings, etc.  Owners may also agree to positive covenants, which are promises to do something.  For example, a positive covenant may require one neighbour owner to pay something toward the costs of maintaining shared facilities or actually to carry out the maintenance activities, etc. 

The distinction between negative and positive covenants is important because, in Ontario and traditionally at Common Law, positive covenants do not generally run with the land.  That is, although a covenant may somehow be registered on title to a property (in a deed or easement, etc.), it does not necessarily follow the land when ownership changes.  Negative covenants will bind future owners, but positive covenants will not normally bind future owners.  Positive covenants are treated as agreements between the individual owners that attach to the owners, rather than to the land.

However, there are exceptions to the general rule.  In a 2016 appeal from a Small Claims Court decision, the Ontario Divisional Court reviewed the law on positive covenants and the exceptions to the general rule that positive covenants do not run with the land.  Statutory exceptions to the rule include: positive covenants granted by public authorities (Planning Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. P.13); positive covenants concerning condominiums (Condominium Act, 1998, S.O. 1998, c. 19); and positive covenants between the Crown and private landowners concerning the installation of survey monuments (Surveys Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.30, s. 61(1)).

There are also Common Law (non-statutory) exceptions to the general rule, including chain of covenants, the doctrine of benefit and burden, and conditional grants.  

The chain of covenants exception applies when successors-in-title (the future owners) agree to the same positive covenants.  That is, each time a property subject to the original positive covenant is transferred, the new owner(s) would agree to be bound by the covenant.  In reality, this is arguably the creation of a new covenant at the time of each transfer rather than a true exception to the rule.

In the 2016 appeal case, the Divisional Court described the other two Common Law exceptions as follows:

  •  Conditional Grant Exemption. When being asked to enforce a positive obligation, the courts will first look at the transaction between the parties to see if a benefit was clearly made on the conditional acceptance of a positive obligation. If such an intention can be made out on the face of the transaction, the conditional grants exception is engaged
  •  Benefit and Burden Exemption: If a conditional connection between the obligation and the benefit is not clear, the courts will then consider whether the benefit and burden exception applies. By looking at the circumstances of the transaction, the intentions and relationship of the parties, and the nature of the benefits and burdens at issue, the courts will determine if there is an implicit and necessary connection between formally separate obligations and advantages. Or, to repeat the words of Professor Ziff, this second exception looks to whether the courts should “tether previously separate promises”.

Both of those exceptions happen in circumstances where the Court determines that a future property owner should not escape the obligations of a previously-made positive covenant (on account of the positive covenant not running with the land) where that property owner is receiving a benefit connected with the covenant.  The Divisional Court summarized: "In a fulsome, pragmatic approach, as confirmed in Wilkinson, the courts must look to the substance of the relationship between the benefit and the burden to determine if the positive covenant continues to apply. As noted by Vice-Chancellor Megarry in Tito, when there is a sufficient degree of correlation between the obligation to pay and the grant of benefits, the burden and benefits exception applies."

Read the Divisional Court's decision at: Black v Owen.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Title Insurance and the costs of defending title to your property

Most real estate transactions in Ontario today involve title insurance.  Purchasers obtain title insurance to protect against unknown defects in title that crop up after the closing of the transaction, and title insurance policies generally include coverage for legal costs associated with defending title to a property.  As an example, if you purchase a property and then a neighbour commences a claim for adverse possession of part of the property (i.e. a claim that the neighbour is the true owner of something you thought you purchased), the title insurance coverage may include payment of the costs of defending the claim.

The issue of what legal costs may be covered by a title insurance policy, or what other costs may be covered, is normally a matter of interpretation of the contract as between the insured property owner and the title insurer.  However, Ontario courts have recently looked at what effect cost recovery under a title insurance policy should have on the awarding of costs in litigation.  If a property owner receives a payment from his or her insurer pursuant to a title insurance policy, should the owner also be entitled to a costs award against the other party in a dispute?  Is there a risk of double recovery?  Should that matter?

In 2011, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in Krawchuk v. Scherbak that a private insurance exception can apply to permit double recovery: "where a plaintiff recovers under an insurance policy for which he has paid the premiums, the insurance monies are not deductible from damages payable by the tortfeasor".  In that case, Ms. Krawchuk had purchased a house with serious latent defects based on misrepresentations by the vendors.  She had made a claim for coverage under her title insurance policy and settled that claim with the title insurer in exchange for a payment.  The defendants in the action argued that Ms. Krawchuk's recovery in the court action (which did not involve the title insurer) should be reduced in relation to the payment received under the title insurance policy.  Otherwise, they argued, Ms. Krawchuk would receive a windfall - double recovery.  The Court of Appeal found that double recovery was permitted in that case because it would be inequitable to allow the vendors (the tortfeasors or wrongdoers) to gain an advantaged based on benefits earned by Ms. Krawchuk through the payment of insurance premiums.

But what about a case where there is no tort or wrongdoing?  In a case decided in 2016, a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that there was no wrongdoing and, on that basis, deducted title insurance proceeds from an award of costs to the successful parties.  The case involved use by one neighbour of a roadway that ran through another neighbour's property.  The road was not a public highway, and the owners of the road made an application to the Court for a ruling that the road was not an "access road" as defined by the Road Access Act and for an order closing the road.  The neighbours made a counter-application seeking the opposite orders.

The Court agreed with the road owners that the road was not an "access road" and issued an order preventing the neighbours from using it.  Not surprisingly, the road owners had looked to their title insurance policy for coverage in the matter, which affected title to their property.  They received a payment of roughly $25,000 from their title insurer.  The application judge found that the road owners used "those fund[s] to defend the application ... rather than accepting payment in compensation for the inconvenience of providing ... access."  That is, the road owners could have simply kept the $25,000 as disturbance compensation and allowed use of the road to continue (in which case they would not have incurred litigation costs).  Instead, the road owners used the funds received to fund the litigation and were successful in avoiding the disturbance that would have been caused by ongoing use of the road.

Based on that distinction, the application judge deducted the $25,000 title insurance payment from the overall costs awarded to the successful road owners in the case.  He distinguished the case from the Krawchuk v. Scherbak case heard by the Court of Appeal on the basis that there was no tort or wrongdoing involved.  This was simply a case about whether an "access road" under the Road Access Act did or did not exist.  In the absence of a tort or wrongdoing, the application judge was not prepared to allow a double recovery by the road owners through an award of costs.

Read the decision at: Gouett v Mullins.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Compensation for Injurious Affection: Impact on remaining land or impact on financial position of owners?

AltaLink expropriated a right-of-way over a strip of land from an Alberta couple for an electrical transmission line.  In a compensation hearing before the Alberta Surface Rights Board (the "Board"), the owners were denied compensation for injurious affection.  The injurious affection they claimed was a loss in value of the remainder of their property that was not taken by AltaLink.  The owners appealed the Board's decision to the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench and, on appeal, the Court reversed the decision of the Board and awarded the owners $125,780 in lost value plus interest.

The land in question consisted of two adjacent parcels containing approximately 230 acres, of which approximately 121 acres were cultivated.  The owners had purchased the land in February, 2013 for $511,500, and they were aware at that time that AltaLink had received approval from the Alberta Utilities Commission to construct and operate the transmission line across the property.  Prior to the purchase of the property, the new owners had rented the property for approximately 27 years, and it appears from the decision that they were able top purchase the property at below market value.  The Board found that the market value at the time of the expropriation in 2014 (the date of valuation for the purpose of calculating compensation) was somewhere between $902,000 and $930,000.

The owners argued that the taking of the right-of-way resulted in a loss of value to the balance of the property that was not taken as right-of-way related to the presence of the right-of-way and the transmission line.  They argued that their loss was not limited to the loss of value to the land as they were currently using it, but should be calculated based on their loss of ability to subdivide the property for new residential lots.  But for the AltaLink right-of-way, the owners could subdivide and sell the individual lots.  They put the value of their loss at 30% of the market value of the property.

The Court disagreed with the owners that the right-of-way would prevent the development of multiple residential lots, but accepted that the right-of-way would result in a loss in the value of the lots that could be created.  On that basis, the Court would have calculated the compensation to be paid to the owners based on  a market value loss of 15% (half of the 30% proposed by the owners), or approximately $131,000.  The Court then ended by making a finding that the $125,780 that would have been awarded by the minority dissenting member of the Board (in the original hearing) was therefore reasonable and set compensation at that amount.

Taken on its own, the Court's ruling on loss of value to the remainder of the property based on loss of value of prospective subdivision lots is not remarkable.  However, what is noteworthy is the Court's rejection of AltaLink's argument that no injurious affection compensation was payable at all because the market value of the property never fell below the amount the owners paid for the property.  AltaLink argued, and the majority of the Board had agreed, that an award of injurious affection would result in a windfall for the owners because they had paid substantially less than market value for the property.

But the Board had incorrectly "focused on the financial loss to the landowners and not the loss in value of the remaining land ... they were suspicious that the negative impact of the transmission line had already been factored into the sale price."  The Court ruled that "the fact that the Appellants purchased the land after the Respondent obtained a permit and license to build the line is of no consequence.  The payment for injurious affection is based on the impact on the value of the remaining land, not the impact on the financial position of the owners.  This does not result in a windfall or unjust enrichment to the Appellants because, until the line is removed, it will have a negative impact on the Land's value, which is an economic loss."

Read the decision at: Koch v Altalink Management Ltd.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Read CAFA's latest Cultivating Business magazine

The Canadian Association of Farm Advisors ("CAFA") has published its 2017 Cultivating Business magazine.  In addition to articles of interest to farmers and farm businesses, the magazine includes a directory of farm advisors from across Canada.  

Click HERE to read the full magazine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Enbridge Line 10 Replacement Pipeline: Landowner intervention persuades Enbridge to rethink pipeline route

The National Energy Board ("NEB") has approved the application by Enbridge Pipelines Inc. for the Line 10 Replacement Pipeline Project.  Line 10 is an oil pipeline that has operated in the Hamilton, Ontario area since the 1960's.  Enbridge also operates Line 11 adjacent to Line 10 within a shared easement.  Late in 2015, Enbridge applied to the NEB for permission to replace Line 10 in large part to avoid increasing integrity issues with the pipe.  Enbridge's proposed replacement pipeline would require less intervention and would also be larger in diameter than the existing pipeline.

For the majority of the replacement pipeline, Enbridge proposed to follow its existing Line 10 / Line 11 corridor; the existing Line 10 would be decommissioned in place and a new pipe would be installed next to it.  However, in certain locations, Enbridge asked for permission to move away from its existing pipeline corridor and to build the replacement pipeline within a new corridor to be established on previously unaffected properties.  Those locations that Enbridge wanted to avoid were golf courses.

In its application to the NEB, Enbridge suggested that it was necessary to route its replacement pipeline through previously undisturbed farm land because by doing so it would minimize the environmental and socio-economic impacts of its project.  In other words, Enbridge took the position that creating a new pipeline corridor through previously undisturbed agricultural lands would cause less impact than constructing and operating its pipeline through golf courses that already accommodated Enbridge's existing two-pipeline corridor.  

Landowners in the vicinity of two of the golf courses along Enbridge's existing Line 10 corridor challenged Enbridge on its theory.  They joined together and formed the Copetown Landowners Group ("CLG"), and intervened in the NEB hearing process.  CLG engaged an expert in pipeline routing and land use planning and submitted lay and expert evidence to the NEB that demonstrated the obvious - creating a new pipeline corridor through previously undisturbed farm land in order to avoid disturbing previously disturbed golf courses (which would still, in any event, house the operational Line 11 and the decommissioned Line 10) would not minimize the environmental and socio-economic impacts of the project.  

Ultimately, Enbridge revisited its proposed pipeline route in the area where it had intended to construct the replacement pipeline across lands owned by CLG members.  Enbridge still did not choose to install the replacement pipeline adjacent to its existing Line 10 and Line 11 pipelines, but it did adjust its route to follow another nearby utility corridor (one that actually was located between the existing Enbridge corridor and its proposed corridor through the CLG-owned lands).  The nearby utility corridor was already home to an electrical transmission line and multiple underground pipelines.

CLG's participation in the NEB Line 10 hearing demonstrates the importance of landowner involvement in the project approvals process.  But for the intervention of the CLG landowners, it is unlikely that Enbridge would have adjusted its proposed route to follow an existing previously-disturbed corridor.  Enbridge wanted, for its own reasons, to avoid installing its replacement pipeline through golf courses.  Enbridge was determined to create a new pipeline route through previously undisturbed farm land.  And in the absence of any opposition, it is unlikely that the NEB would have questioned the proposal, even though it would create a third utility corridor through prime farm land. 

Landowners have to be ready to participate in the regulatory process to protect their interests and the interests of their communities.  It seems that no one else, including local municipalities, will do it for them.

Read the NEB's decision at: NEB Line 10 Replacement Decision.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ontario Court of Appeal confirms test for grantor's easement of necessity remains "strict necessity", not "practical necessity"

In Ontario, an easement of necessity may arise where land that is sold is inaccessible except by passing over adjoining land retained by the seller (i.e. an implied grant by the seller of an easement that allows the purchaser to access the purchased lot).  The easement must "be necessary to use or access the property", and necessity is determined at the time of the grant (the situation at the time the property was sold).

It is also possible for the easement to arise in the opposite direction, where the grantor (the party selling the land) requires an access easement across the land being sold or transferred.  That was the situation reviewed recently by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto-Dominion Bank v. Wise.  In a case where the grantor or seller seeks an easement over the land that he or she transferred, the test is one of "strict necessity".  The test to be met by a grantor seeking an easement is supposed to be more difficult than where a grantee seeks an easement because "grantors are not permitted to derogate from the terms of their grant of land.  If they want to reserve an easement, they should do so explicitly at the time they make the grant.  An easement of necessity will be found only if it was necessary in order for the grantor to be able to use his or her property at the time of the grant."

In the Toronto-Dominion Bank v. Wise case, the application judge in the Superior Court had found that a landlocked waterfront property had an easement of necessity over a neighbouring property in spite of the availability of water access.  The judge found that the water access was "impractical".  On appeal, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision on the basis that the water access, whether inconvenient or impractical, was available, and that the property in question was not rendered unusable.  The test to be applied was not "practical necessity" (as the judge at first instance had proposed), but remained one of "strict necessity".

Read the decision at: Toronto-Dominion Bank v. Wise.