Tag Archive for: Ontario

New Canadian Framework for Assumption of Jurisdiction

After 13 months the Supreme Court of Canada has finally released its decisions in four appeals on the issue of the taking and exercising of jurisdiction.  The main decision is in Club Resorts Ltd v Van Breda (available here) which deals with two of the appeals.  The other two decisions are Breeden v Black (here) and Editions Ecosociete Inc v Banro Corp (here).

The result is perhaps reasonably straightforward: in all four cases the court upholds the decisions of both the motions judges and the Court of Appeal for Ontario.  All courts throughout held that Ontario had jurisdiction in these cases and that Ontario was not a forum non conveniens.

The reasoning is more challenging, and it will take some time for academics, lawyers and lower courts to work out the full impact of these decisions.  The court’s reasoning differs in several respects from that of the courts below.

The court notes that a clear distinction needs to be drawn between the constitutional and private international law dimensions of the real and substantial connection test.  This is an interesting observation, particularly in light of the fact that the court’s own decision is not as clear on this distinction as it could be.  I expect that going forward there will be different interpretations of what the court is truly saying on this issue.

The court is reasonably clear that the real and substantial connection test should not be used as a conflicts rule in itself.  It is not a rule of direct application.  Rather, it is a principle that informs more specific private international law rules governing the taking of jurisdiction.  This is a change from the approach used by provincial appellate courts, especially the Court of Appeal for Ontario, which arguably had been using the real and substantial connection test as its rule, at least in part, for establishing jurisdiction in service ex juris cases.

The court states that it is establishing the framework for the analysis of jurisdiction.  Going forward, a real and substantial connection must be found through a “presumptive connecting factor” which is a factor that triggers a presumption of such a connection.  The presumption can be rebutted.  If the plaintiff cannot establish such a presumption, the court cannot take jurisdiction.  This last point is perhaps the largest change made to the law.  On the law as it stood, the plaintiff could establish jurisdiction through a variety of non-presumptive factual connections that collectively amounted to a real and substantial connection to the forum.  That approach is rejected by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court does not purport to set out a complete list of presumptive connections.  It confines itself to identifying some such connections that could apply in tort cases, namely that (a) the defendant is domiciled or resident in the forum, (b) the defendant carries on business in the forum, (c) the tort was committed in the forum, and (d) a contract connected with the dispute was made in the forum.  It is quite open, on the language in the decisions, as to what other presumptive connections lower courts will need to be finding in other cases.  One possible solution is that lower courts will largely continue to follow the recent approach of the Court of Appeal for Ontario that the enumerated bases for service ex juris, subject to some exceptions, amount to such presumptive connections.

The decisions also address the test for the doctrine of forum non conveniens.   Three points can be made about that analysis.  First, the language suggests the burden is always on the defendant/moving party.  Second, emphasis is placed on “clearly” in “clearly more appropriate”, suggesting that it will be harder to displace the plaintiff’s choice of forum.  Third, the court cautions against giving too much weight to juridical advantage factors.  Judges should avoid invidious comparisons across forums and refrain from “leaning too instinctively” in favour of the judge’s own forum.

The decisions are not a radical break with the earlier cases but they do change the law on taking jurisdiction in several respects.  In addition, the court makes several points along the way, as asides, that will impact other aspects of the conflict of laws.  For example, the court confirms the propriety of taking jurisdiction based on the defendant’s presence in the forum.

Supreme Court of Canada Affirms Importance of Jurisdiction Agreements

In Momentous.ca Corp v Canadian American Assn of Professional Baseball Ltd, 2012 SCC 9 (available here) the court has affirmed its willingness to give effect to exclusive jurisdiction agreements in favour of a foreign forum. 

The decision is brief (12 paragraphs) and was released only just over a month after the case was argued.  It is a unanimous decision by the seven judges. 

Academic commentary about the decision has been quite mixed.  I am not aware that anyone thinks the decision is wrong.  There is much consensus that the court reached the correct result: the defendant should have been able to rely on the jurisdiction agreement in favour of North Carolina to resist proceedings in Ontario.  But there is much disagreement about the quality of the brief reasons.

One problem I have with the reasons is that I think the court confuses a dismissal of proceedings based on a lack of jurisdiction with a stay of proceedings.  Despite the words used, my sense is that what the defendants were seeking was a stay, not a dismissal.  The court’s repeated references to discretion (paras 9 and 10) are because what the court is really considering is a stay.  There is no discretion in the assessment of jurisdiction: the court either has it or does not have it as a matter of law.  Yet the court repeatedly refers to the remedy as a dismissal rather than a stay.  This is a mixing of two fundamentally different concepts.  If we take the court at its word, there is now the discretion to hold a court lacks jurisdiction.

The court relies on Rule 21.01(3)(a) which deals with challenges based on the court’s lack of subject matter jurisdiction.  In my view, that is not the basis for motions seeking to enforce jurisdiction clauses.  Such clauses do not deprive a court of jurisdiction over subject matter.  Absent the clause the court clearly had jurisdiction over the subject matter of the dispute.  If no one had invoked the clause the litigation would have carried on in Ontario.  And is there any doubt that a jurisdiction clause in favour of Ontario, rather than a foreign forum, is a matter of territorial jurisdiction and not subject matter jurisdiction?  Parties cannot confer subject matter jurisdiction on a court by contract.  Yet in the wake of this decision, we now have to grapple with the notion that jurisdiction clauses are about subject matter jurisdiction, not territorial jurisdiction.

There are many other interesting issues left unresolved by the court, so the brevity of the decision is a disappointment.

Jurisdiction in Cross-Border Libel Cases

The Court of Appeal for Ontario has released Paulsson v. Cooper, 2011 ONCA 150 (available here).  The plaintiff, an academic and author resident in Ontario, sued the defendants for publishing an allegedly libellous review of his book.  The defendant publisher was incorporated in New York and had its national office in Massachusetts.  The reviewer was an Australian academic.

The motions judge had held that Ontario lacked jurisdiction, but the Court of Appeal held that Ontario had jurisdiction and that no other forum was more appropriate for the resolution of the dispute.  The court found that there was a “real and substantial connection” to Ontario.  The court applied the orthodox analysis that the tort of libel was committed where the statement was read, and so had happened in Ontario.  In addition, the place of the damage was Ontario since that was where the plaintiff’s reputation was located.

The case was perhaps easier than some other recent cases.  The plaintiff’s connection to Ontario was quite strong on the facts; he was not a “libel tourist” who had sought out an advantageous forum.  The publication was not over the internet, which raises greater complexity, but rather in printed form.  The publisher had circulated 3528 copies, of which 81 were circulated in Ontario.  Several of those 81 copies had ended up in academic or public-access libraries. 

The court agreed with a key quotation from Barrick Gold Corp. v. Blanchard and Co. (2003), 9 B.L.R. (4th) 316 (Ont. S.C.J.): “If a person issues a statement and places that statement in a normal distribution channel designed for media attention and publication, a person ought to assume the burden of defending those statements, wherever they may damage the reputation of the target of those statements and thereby cause the target harm, as long as that harm occurred in a place that the originator of the statements ought reasonably to have had in his, her or its contemplation when the statements were issued.”

As noted in an earlier post on this forum, many of these issues are being heard by the Supreme Court of Canada later this month in four other cases being appealed from the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

Court of Appeal for Ontario Rejects “Fourth Defence” to Enforcement of Foreign Judgments

The long-running litigation between the United States and a group of defendants who operated a cross-border telemarketing business selling Canadian and foreign lottery tickets to Americans has reached another mile-post with the decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in United States of America v. Yemec, 2010 ONCA 414 (available here).  The defendants were likely riding high before this decision, having done quite well in resisting the enforcement of the judgment of an Illinois court finding them liable for $19 million and permanently enjoining them from telemarketing any product or service to anyone in the United States.  But the tables are now turned, with the Court of Appeal for Ontario ordering enforcement of the Illinois judgment.

The most notable jurisprudential issue in the case concerns the scope of the defences at common law to an action to recognize and enforce a foreign judgment.  At common law there are three central defences: fraud, denial of natural justice, and public policy.  However, the Supreme Court of Canada indicated in Beals v. Saldanha, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 416 that this was not a closed list and in the appropriate circumstances a new defence might be created.  In Yemec the motions judge of the Superior Court of Justice hearing the case was persuaded that there was a genuine issue requiring a trial on the question of a “fourth defence”, namely “denial of a meaningful opportunity to be heard”.  The Court of Appeal has now held that there is no such defence: that concerns of this nature fall comfortably within the scope of the denial of natural justice defence.  Further, on the facts, the appellate court found that the defendants were not denied an opportunity to be heard in the courts of Illinois (paras. 26-29). 

The case is one of several in the wake of Pro Swing Inc. v. Elta Golf Inc., [2006]  2 S.C.R. 612 to enforce a foreign non-monetary order, namely the permanent injunction.  The Court of Appeal found the criteria for enforcement set out by the Supreme Court of Canada in Pro Swing were met in this case (paras. 45-53).

The case raises one other interesting issue.  The United States had, at the outset of the litigation in Illinois and Ontario, obtained a freezing order (Mareva) and a civil seizure order (Anton Piller).  These interlocutory orders were subsequently dissolved, in part for failure of the United States to make full disclosure when moving ex parte to obtain the orders.  The defendants then insisted on a damages inquiry under the undertaking in damages the United States had provided as a condition of obtaining the orders.  The plaintiff argued that such an inquiry should not proceed, given that in effect the defendants were seeking to recover lost profits from a business the Illinois court had concluded was illegal.  The Court of Appeal for Ontario held that the damages inquiry should proceed, stressing the importance of enforcing the general undertaking in damages (paras. 69-72).  It did note, though, that there was evidence that the defendants had violated both Canadian and American law (paras. 78-83) and that accordingly it would be difficult for them to establish compensable damages.  But they were entitled to try (paras 85-86).

Reformulating a Real and Substantial Connection

In Canada, the test for taking jurisdiction over an out-of-province defendant requires that there be “a real and substantial connection” between the dispute and the forum.  In 2002 the Court of Appeal for Ontario created a framework for analyzing a real and substantial connection, setting out, in Muscutt v. Courcelles, eight factors to consider.  This framework became the standard in Ontario and was adopted by appellate courts in some other Canadian provinces.  However, in 2009, in preparing to hear two appeals of decisions on motions challenging the court’s jurisdiction, the Court of Appeal for Ontario indicated that it was willing to consider whether any changes were required to the Muscutt framework.  The two cases, consolidated on appeal as Van Breda v. Village Resorts Limited, 2010 ONCA 84 (available here), each concerned serious injuries that were suffered outside of Ontario.

Rule 17.02 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a plaintiff may serve a defendant outside Ontario with an originating process in certain defined categories of cases.  Prior to Morguard Investments Ltd. v. De Savoye, the analysis of jurisdiction centered on whether the plaintiff’s claim fell within one or more of the enumerated categories.  However, Morguard established, and Muscutt confirmed, that rule 17.02 did not in itself create jurisdiction.  Separate and apart from whether the claim fell inside the categories, the plaintiff had to establish that there was a real and substantial connection between the dispute and the forum.

In Van Breda the court made a significant change to the relationship between the categories in rule 17.02 and the real and substantial connection requirement.  It has now held that if a case falls within the categories in rule 17.02, other than rules 17.02(h) and (o), a real and substantial connection with Ontario shall be presumed to exist.  The central catalyst for this change is section 10 of the model Civil Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act.  Section 3 of that statute provides in quite general terms that a court has jurisdiction when there is a real and substantial connection between the dispute and the forum.  However, section 10 contains a list of specific situations in which a real and substantial connection is presumed to exist.  Ontario has not adopted the CJPTA, but in Van Breda the court has adopted the CJPTA’s basic approach. 

Even with this presumption, a framework for analyzing whether there is a real and substantial connection is still required in any case where a defendant seeks to refute the presumption, any case in which a plaintiff is relying on rule 17.02(h) or (o) so that no presumption arises, and any case in which a plaintiff does not rely on 17.02 at all and instead seeks leave of the court to serve a defendant outside Ontario under rule 17.03.  Prior to Van Breda the courts used the Muscutt framework, which considered the following eight factors to determine whether there was a real and substantial connection to Ontario: (1) the connection between the forum and the plaintiff’s claim, (2) the connection between the forum and the defendant, (3) unfairness to the defendant in taking jurisdiction, (4) unfairness to the plaintiff in not taking jurisdiction, (5) the involvement of other parties, (6) the court’s willingness to enforce a foreign judgment rendered on the same jurisdictional basis, (7) whether the dispute is international or interprovincial, and (8) comity and the standards of jurisdiction used by other courts.

In Van Breda the court determined that it was necessary to “simplify the test and to provide for more clarity and ease in its application”.  It held that “the core of the real and substantial connection test” is factors (1) and (2), and held that factors (3) to (8) will now “serve as analytic tools to assist the court in assessing the significance of the connections between the forum, the claim and the defendant”.  The court affirms that factors (3) to (8) remain relevant to the issue of jurisdiction, but the court nevertheless reworks the framework, ostensibly so that no one factor from factors (3) to (8) could be analyzed separately from the other factors and could be independently determinative of the outcome.  It is not clear that this change was necessary or that it makes the framework clearer and easier to apply.

For many, Van Breda violates the idiom “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.  The Muscutt framework was well-known and was working effectively.  It was relatively easy to explain and to apply.  In time we will know if as much can be said for the use of presumptions and the Van Breda framework, but for the moment there are questions about how the presumption will operate when challenged by a defendant and about the ongoing role of the factors the court now calls analytic tools.

Approach to Jurisdiction under the CJPTA

The British Columbia Court of Appeal’s decision in Stanway v. Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., 2009 BCCA 592 (available here) is an important contribution to the developing Canadian jurisprudence on the Civil Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act, a statute governing the taking of jurisdiction that has been adopted in several provinces.

A leading common law approach to the question of whether there is a real and substantial connection between a dispute and the forum (the test for jurisdiction) is that outlined in the Court of Appeal for Ontario’s decision in Muscutt v. Courcelles (available here).  There is an ongoing controversy about the extent to which that approach has any relevance after a province has adopted the CJPTA.  This is because the statute sets out an open-ended list of situations in which a real and substantial connection is presumed to exist (s. 10).  However, it remains open to a plaintiff (under s. 3) to otherwise establish such a connection, and on one view the approach in Muscutt is relevant to that analysis.  See in Nova Scotia the decision in Bouch v. Penny (available here).

In Stanway the court expresses considerable hostility towards the Muscutt approach.  It references academic and judicial criticism of the decision, while selectively omitting any reference to the competing academic and judicial support for it.  It makes clear that it has no application in cases that are caught by s. 10.  It does not indicate what should happen in cases outside that section, but the overall tone suggests that it would not welcome using Muscutt in such cases.

My own view is that the Muscutt analysis should remain relevant to cases that are not caught by the statutory presumptions – cases which the statute has deliberately chosen to leave governed by the open-ended language of the real and substantial connection test.

Some might find it interesting that despite the difference in analysis between the appellate court and the motions court judge in Stanway, this is one of many cases where the two competing analyses reach the same conclusion (here that the court of British Columbia has jurisdiction).

The approach in Muscutt is the dominant one in Ontario, which has not enacted the CJPTA.  However, last October the Court of Appeal for Ontario heard submissions about whether that approach should be modified.  The decision in those appeals is eagerly awaited.

Consultation Paper on Jurisdiction

The Law Commission of Ontario has released a consultation paper written by Professor Janet Walker (Osgoode Hall Law School, York University).  The paper (available here) proposes that Ontario’s current law on the taking and retaining of jurisdiction in civil matters is in need of reform.  It offers a proposed statute which would reform the law in this area.  The proposals have some common elements with the Uniform Law Conference of Canada’s model statute, the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (available here), but also some important differences.

The Law Commission welcomes comments on the paper, and the process for commenting is explained in the paper.  Beyond this, those generally interested in how countries resolve issues of jurisdiction in civil matters should find the points raised in the paper of interest.

To date three Canadian provinces have moved away from the traditional approach, which is based on a combination of common law and rules of civil procedure, and have brought into force the Court Jurisdiction and Proceedings Transfer Act (British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia).  Some other provinces have enacted the statute but not yet brought it into force, and some other provinces are considering adopting it.