Unloading in the evening

Unloading in the evening

Monday, December 18, 2017

Court decides ownership interest in land had been transferred to Railway; ownership did not revert to surrounding owners when railway discontinued

What happens when a railway is abandoned or discontinued?  More specifically, what happens to the rail line property itself?  In a recent decision, the Superior Court in Ontario had to decide whether a Railway had acquired the land for its now discontinued rail line as a full fee simple parcel (ownership of the land) or simply as an easement or right-of-way.  The line had been acquired in 1871 and discontinued in 2002.  In 2004, the Railway agreed to sell the rail line land to the County in which the line was located.  The neighbouring landowners, the successors in title to the original landowners from whom the rail line land had been acquired, challenged the sale.  They took the position that the Railway had acquired nothing more than a right to use the land for a railway; once the railway was discontinued, the land reverted to the neighbouring owners and could not be sold to the County.

The case came to court because the County alleged that the neighbouring landowners had interfered with the County's attempted use of the land (to be incorporated into a recreational trail).  The neighbouring owners intended to use the land for agricultural purposes, and made a counterclaim for a declaration that they were the rightful owners of the land.  The question was whether the original grant in 1871 was a grant of a fee simple interest in the land or of something less, such as a limited grant of rights to use the land.

Registered in 1871 in the Land Registry was a "Conveyance of Line of Way".  As stated in the conveyance, in consideration of the payment of $345.80, the original owners did "hereby ... grant and confirm to the [Railway Company], its successors and assigns for ever" an 8.67 acre portion of the owners' property.  Was that registration sufficient to transfer ownership of the land, such that no interest in the land would revert to the original owners or their successors?  The Court decided the issue on a motion for partial summary judgment brought by the neighbouring landowners.

Justice Grace reviewed the applicable railway legislation in place at the time of the conveyance and determined that the conveyance was a transfer of the fee simple ownership of the land:
The statutory provisions applicable in this case are, in my view, similar to those considered in Lowe.  As long as the acquisition of real property was for a purpose related to the establishment, maintenance and/or operation of a railroad, Canada Southern was statutorily empowered to acquire a fee simple interest in land.  The company could do so by negotiating an agreement with a land owner or in the event of an unwillingness to sell, through a process akin to expropriation. 
Although the conveyance document itself did not specify that fee simple ownership had been "sold" to the Railway, that was the effect of the language in the document in the context of the applicable legislative regime.  

And Justice Grace did not accept the alternative argument of the neighbouring landowners that, even if a fee simple ownership interest in the land had been transferred, that interest would be subject to reversion in the event that use of the rail line was discontinued.  There was no language to that effect in the conveyance document.

Read the decision at: Corporation of the County of Oxford v. Vieraitis.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Private Prosecution by Neighbour over Boundary Tree - Tree By-law Conviction Upheld on Appeal

Disputes between neighbours about boundary trees are not uncommon; private prosecutions by neighbours against neighbours, especially concerning boundary trees, are uncommon.  In a recent decision, Justice Libman of the Ontario Court of Justice upheld a lower court conviction obtained on a private prosecution with respect to a violation of the Forestry Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. F-26.  One neighbour contended that the other neighbour cut down a shared Norway maple tree without consent, which is generally a requirement of Section 10(3) of the Forestry Act.  He brought forward a charge against his neighbour in the Provincial Offences Court.

Although there was a permit or Certificate of Exemption issued by the City of Toronto for the removal of the tree (granted on the basis of concerns that the tree posed a hazard), the permit made it clear that the determination of the ownership of the tree was the responsibility of the party applying for permit.  In other words, the permit itself did not relieve the applicant (the neighbour who wished to cut down the tree) of any responsibilities he might have at Common Law or through legislation like the Forestry Act.

And although there are cases in which a neighbour might remove a tree without the other neighbour's consent. such as a case where the tree is causing a nuisance or where the removal is needed urgently and consent cannot be obtained in a timely manner, Justice Libman found that this was not such a case.  Where it was already well known that the neighbours opposed the removal of the tree, the other neighbour, permit or not, could not simply go ahead and have the tree removed.  For these reasons, the appeal from the conviction was dismissed.

The penalty that had been imposed by the trial justice was a fine of $5,000. 

Read the appeal decision at:  Gross v. Scheuermann.

Read the trial decision at: R. (ex rel. Scheuermann) v. Gross.

Read the sentencing decision at: R. (ex rel. Scheuermann) v. Gross.