Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Seller's Family's remorse not grounds to set aside farm transaction, says Alberta Court

Several years ago, a young couple purchased farm land from an 86 year old man, a bachelor most of his life (the "Vendor").  The couple had leased the land for a number of years, and paid about $600,000 for two quarter sections (160 acres x 2).  The Vendor's youngest brother more recently commenced an action in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench on behalf of the Vendor to set aside the land transaction based either on the exercise of undue influence by the purchasers or on the notion that the transaction was unconscionable.  At the time the case was heard, the Vendor was 93 years old and living in a care facility.  He died between the time of the hearing and the release of the Court's decision.

The Vendor's family was upset that the land purchased for $600,000 in 2010 was later appraised at a value of between $1.67 million and $3.9 million.  And, moreover, within two years of purchasing the two quarter sections, the young couple subdivided out a 43-acre parcel and a 79-acre parcel that they then listed for sale at $835,000 and $1.38 million, respectively.

On the issue of undue influence, the Court cited the test set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of Geffen v. Goodman Estate:

What then must a plaintiff establish in order to trigger a presumption of undue influence? In my view, the inquiry should begin with an examination of the relationship between the parties. The first question to be addressed in all cases is whether the potential for domination inheres in the nature of the relationship itself. This test embraces those relationships which equity has already recognized as giving rise to the presumption, such as solicitor and client, parent and child, and guardian and ward, as well as other relationships of dependency which defy easy categorization.
Having established the requisite type of relationship to support the presumption, the next phase of the inquiry involves an examination of the nature of the transaction. When dealing with commercial transactions, I believe that the plaintiff should be obliged to show, in addition to the required relationship between the parties, that the contract worked unfairness either in the sense that he or she was unduly disadvantaged by it or that the defendant was unduly benefited by it. ...
Once the plaintiff has established that the circumstances are such as to trigger the application of the presumption, i.e., that apart from the details of the particular impugned transaction the nature of the relationship between the plaintiff and defendant was such that the potential for influence existed, the onus moves to the defendant to rebut it. As Lord Evershed M.R. stated in Zamet v. Hyman, supra, at p. 938, the plaintiff must be shown to have entered into the transaction as a result of his own "full, free and informed thought". Substantively, this may entail a showing that no actual influence was deployed in the particular transaction, that the plaintiff had independent advice, and so on. Additionally, I agree with those authors who suggest that the magnitude of the disadvantage or benefit is cogent evidence going to the issue of whether influence was exercised[Emphasis added]
[Emphasis added]
The Court found that the relationship between the Vendor and the young couple was not one in which there was potential for domination of the Vendor by the young couple.  Their relationship was one of lessor and lessees, and of friends and neighbours.  The Vendor was not dependent on the young couple, they were not family, there was no position of trust, and the Vendor was not in a position where he had to sell his land for financial reasons.

And even if the Court had found the relationship to be one in which undue influence could be presumed, the Court would not have found that actual undue influence was exerted in this case.  Instead, the Court found that the Vendor was someone who was not coerced into selling his land.  He had no children of his own and had no family who wanted to purchase or farm his land.  He wanted to sell the land and for the land to remain in agricultural use.  He sold the land at what amounted to a discounted price in relation to the actual market value, but the Vendor had expressed his willingness to sell at a discount knowing that the land would remain agricultural.

Of course, very shortly after the young couple purchased the land, they proceeded to apply for consent from the municipality to subdivide the land.  It appears that the young couple had discussed the possibility of subdivision with the Vendor for the purpose of family planning.  The Vendor provided a letter in support of the application and mentioned that the purpose was for "future ranch planning" for the young couple and their three children.  The decision by the young couple to put two parcels up for sale outside their family at a price that far exceeded the original purchase price of the entire two quarters came as a disappointing surprise to the Vendor's family.

However, the Court did not find that this made the transaction between the Vendor and the young couple unconscionable and subject to being set aside.  The Court found that none of the following elements of the test for an unconscionable transaction were satisfied:
1. a grossly unfair and improvident transaction;
2. that the victim lacked independent legal advice or other suitable advice;
3. that there was an overwhelming imbalance in bargaining power caused by the victim's ignorance of business, illiteracy, ignorance of the language of the bargain, blindness, deafness, illness, senility, or similar disability; and
4. that the other party knowingly took advantage of this vulnerability.
Cain v Clarica Life Insurance Company2005 ABCA 437 (CanLII)384 AR 11, at para 32.

The action to set aside the transaction was dismissed.  As the Court noted in conclusion: "seller's remorse, or seller's family's remorse, is not grounds to set aside the transaction".

Read the decision at: Burby v Ball.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Submit Comments on Proposed Changes to the Conservation Authorities Act

Conservation Authority Act changes are coming - Landowners beware

The Ontario Government has recently introduced Bill 139, the Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017.  While the proposed legislation has been in the news on account of the major changes to be made to land use planning, replacing the Ontario Municipal Board with the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal, the legislation would also make significant changes to the Conservation Authorities Act.  The summary notes for Bill 139 explain:
The provisions regulating activities that may be carried out in the areas over which authorities have jurisdiction are substantively amended (sections 28 and 29). Section 28 of the Act is repealed.  That section currently gives authorities certain regulation-making powers, including the power to regulate the straightening, changing and diverting of watercourses and development in their areas of jurisdiction and to prohibit or require the permission of the authority for such activities. The re-enacted section 28 prohibits such activities so that the previous regulation-making power is no longer required. Furthermore, new section 28.1 gives the authorities the power to issue permits allowing persons to engage in the prohibited activities and section 28.3 allows authorities to cancel the permits in specified circumstances. New regulation-making powers are set out in section 28.5 in respect of activities that impact the conservation, restoration, development or management of natural resources.
Sections 30 and 30.1 are repealed and sections 30 to 30.4 are enacted in relation to the enforcement of the Act and offences. Authorities are given the power to appoint officers who may enter lands to ensure compliance with the Act, the regulations and with permit conditions. The officers are also given the power to issue stop orders in specified circumstances. Offences for contraventions of the Act, the regulations, permit conditions and stop orders are set out in section 30.4 and the maximum fines under the Act are increased from $10,000 to $50,000 in the case of an individual and to $1,000,000 in the case of a corporation. An additional fine of $10,000 a day for individuals and $200,000 a day for corporations may be imposed for each day the offence continues after the conviction. Section 30.6 expands the existing powers of the court when ordering persons convicted of an offence to repair or rehabilitate any damage resulting from the commission of the offence.
As drafted, the new legislation would prohibit "development" (without a permit) in the same areas currently covered by the Conservation Authorities Act and the individual CA regulations made under it, as well as in "other areas in which development should be prohibited or regulated, as may be determined by the regulations."  Whether that amendment makes much practical difference is debatable, but another related change will most likely have a practical effect for landowners in Ontario.  Whereas in the current Act, terms like "development" and "wetland" are defined, the new legislation says that those essential terms will be defined by regulation to be made by the provincial cabinet (and, more particularly, the Ministry of Natural Resources).  It's not clear at this point how the terms will be defined.

If Bill 139 passes, then landowners should take great interest in the development of the regulations to be made pursuant to the Act.  Those regulations could effect significant change in the way that the use of land, including farm land, is restricted in Ontario.

Read the Bill at: Bill 139, Building Better Communities and Conserving Watersheds Act, 2017.

Friday, June 2, 2017

NEB making CSA Standard Z662 (Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems) available to public in pilot project

The National Energy Board has posted information on its website about how the public can access the CSA Standard Z662 (Oil and Gas Pipeline Systems) at no cost during a pilot project that will run until March, 2018.  Many important NEB regulations about safety and the protection of the environment in connection with pipelines adopt provisions in the CSA standard.  The problem, at least for the general public, is that the cost of obtaining a copy of the standard is several hundred dollars.  In other words, outside an initiative like the one being undertaken by the NEB, finding out exactly what standards are required of pipeline companies in Canada can be an expensive exercise.

The NEB says that its pilot project will run until March, 2018, and then will be reviewed.
Hopefully the open and free access to the CSA standard will continue beyond the current pilot project.  Canadians should not have to pay an organization like the CSA in order to know what the law is.

Here is the link to the NEB portal to the CSA Standard: How to access the CSA Standard Z662 Oil and Pipeline Systems.