Unloading in the evening

Unloading in the evening

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Interest on expropriation damages awarded for time before land actually expropriated

The Ontario Divisional Court has dismissed an appeal from an Ontario Municipal Board ("OMB") decision that awarded interest to a landowner under the Expropriations Act for a period prior to the actual expropriation.  In this case, a local school board expropriated land for a school site.  The landowner had registered a subdivision plan on the lands in question and, in February, 2005, wrote to the school board to advise that, failing an agreement to sell the property to the school board, the landowner would be proceeding with the development of residential lots on the land.

Rather than attempting to negotiate an agreement (reportedly because of a change of control over the landowner company and uncertainty as to the identity of the controlling interest), the school board registered an expropriation plan on June 1, 2006.

The market value of the land taken was determined by the OMB to be a little over $2 million.  On the issue of interest payable on that amount under the Act, the OMB ruled that interest could accrue from a date preceding the date of expropriation.  The OMB determined that the productive use of the land actually ceased in December, 1999 when a "district plan" that governed land use in the area received draft approval.  That plan stated that the land in question was to be used as a school site.  The interest payable by the school board for the period between 1999 and 2006 amounted to between $600,000 and $700,000.

The Divisional Court upheld the OMB's ruling that interest was payable from the date of loss of the use of the expropriated asset and that, in this case, that date was December, 1999.  As the Divisional Court notes:

In my view, the board member applied the correct test by seeking to determine the earliest date at which the potential for expropriation prevented the use of the lands, either because the Municipality would not permit further development or because it would not have been prudent for Erbsville to spend money for that purpose.  In the present case, the distinction between these two potential triggering events is inconsequential.  The board member found that both events occurred on the date that Plan 30T-97017 received draft approval.  As I will explain, I believe that finding was reasonable.

Read the decision at: Erbsville Road Development Inc. v. Waterloo Region District School Board.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ontario Court of Appeal rules on contaminated lands case and Section 99(2) EPA liability

The Ontario Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal from a decision that dismissed a contamination claim by one landowner against a neighbour.  Thorco Contracting stored a large volume of petroleum hydrocarbons ("PHCs") on its property in an industrial area of Toronto for several decades.  PHCs contaminated the soil and groundwater on that property, and the contaminated groundwater flowed into a neighbouring property owned by Midwest Properties.  Midwest acquired its property in 2007 and then discovered the contamination.  It sued Thorco and its owner for damages based on nuisance, negligence and the statutory cause of action in Section 99(2) of Ontario's Environmental Protection Act.

The trial judge ruled that Midwest failed to prove that it had suffered damages because, in particular, it had not proven that the PHC contamination lowered the value of its property; it was not enough to prove the cost required to remediate the property.  The trial judge also ruled that the Section 99(2) claim was not available because the Ministry of the Environment ("MOE") had already ordered Thorco to remediate the property; an award of compensation might permit double-recovery.

The Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge's decision and granted judgment against Thorco and its owner jointly and severally in the amount of $1,328,000 based on all three causes of action.  Midwest was also awarded $50,000 in punitive damages from each defendant.

With respect to the Section 99(2) statutory cause of action, Justice Hourigan of the Court of Appeal wrote:

In my view, the trial judge erred in her interpretation and application of the private right of action contained in s. 99(2) of the EPA. This private right of action was enacted over 35 years ago and is designed to overcome the inherent limitations in the common law in order to provide an effective process for restitution to parties whose property has been contaminated. The trial judge’s interpretation of the section is inconsistent with the plain language and context of this provision; it undermines the legislative objective of establishing a distinct ground of liability for polluters. This is remedial legislation that should be construed purposively. It is important that courts not thwart the will of the Legislature by imposing additional requirements for compensation that are not contained in the statute.

With respect to the claim for damages, Justice Hourigan wrote:

Neither Tridan nor Canadian Tire involved a claim under s. 99(2) of the EPA. There is no reported case where a court has awarded damages for the cost of future remediation under this section. Nonetheless, in my view, awarding damages under s. 99(2) based on restoration cost rather than diminution in property value is more consistent with the objectives of environmental protection and remediation that underlie this provision.
This approach to damages reflects the “polluter pays” principle, which provides that whenever possible, the party that causes pollution should pay for remediation, compensation, and prevention: see Pardy, at p. 187. As the Supreme Court has noted, the polluter pays principle “has become firmly entrenched in environmental law in Canada”: Imperial Oil Ltd. v. Quebec (Minister of the Environment), 2003 SCC 58 (CanLII)[2003] 2 S.C.R. 624, at para. 23. In imposing strict liability on polluters by focusing on only the issues of who owns and controls the pollutant, Part X of the EPA, which includes s. 99(2), is effectively a statutory codification of this principle.
Further, a plain reading of s. 99(2) of the EPA suggests that parties are entitled to recover the full cost of remediation from polluters. Pursuant to s. 99(2)(a), a party is entitled to recover all “loss or damage” resulting from the spill. Section 99(1) provides that “loss or damage” includes personal injury, loss of life, loss of use or enjoyment of property and pecuniary loss, including loss of income. Section 99(2)(b) provides that a party has a “right to compensation for all reasonable cost and expense incurred in respect of carrying out or attempting to carry out an order or direction under this Part, from the owner of the pollutant and the person having control of the pollutant.” In my view, under either part of s. 99(2), polluters must reimburse other parties for costs they incur in remediating contamination.
In summary, restricting damages to the diminution in the value of property is contrary to the wording of the EPA, the trend in the common law to award restorative damages, the polluter pays principle, and the whole purpose of the enactment of Part X of the EPA. It would indeed be a remarkable result if legislation enacted to provide a new statutory cause of action to innocent parties who have suffered contamination of their property did not permit the party to recover the costs of remediating their property, given the EPA’s broad and important goals of protecting and restoring the natural environment.
Read the decision at: Midwest Properties Ltd. v. Thordarson.

Monday, February 8, 2016

OMB awards costs to Municipality where landowner's claim for expropriation compensation denied

The Ontario Municipal Board ("OMB") has awarded costs to the County of Simcoe in a case where a landowner unsuccessfully claimed compensation for injurious affection.  The OMB's decision is recounted in my blog post from June, 2015 - OMB dismisses claim for injurious affection where no taking - on merits and on basis of limitation period.

The OMB has discretion under Section 32(2) of the Expropriations Act to award costs in favour of the expropriating authority.  In this case, the County of Simcoe had incurred a discounted amount of $165,176.55 consisting of legal and appraisal costs.  The County's claim for costs was made on the grounds that, "if the Claimant had conducted itself in a reasonable and prudent manner, it would never have brought this claim and that the way in which the Claimant governed itself throughout this claim unjustifiably increased costs which otherwise could have been avoided."  The OMB's reasons also disclose that the County had actually made an offer to the landowner of $15,000 to settle after the landowner retained counsel for the matter.

The County claimed "party and party" or "partial indemnity" costs in the amount of $113,922.48.  The OMB decided that the landowner's conduct in refusing the settlement offer was unreasonable and, therefore, that it should be responsible for some of the costs of the County incurred in defending the claim.  The OMB awarded $86,943.20 to the County.

Read the decision at: Willies Car & Van Wash Limited v. Simcoe (County).