Ontario – Determining appeal rights in arbitration agreement in effect since 1960 Arbitration Act – #614

In D Lands Inc. v KS Victoria and King, 2022 ONSC 1029, Justice Dietrich granted the Landlord leave to appeal the tribunal Majority’s award in a rent reset arbitration, but ultimately dismissed the appeal and the Landlord’s application to set aside the Majority’s award on jurisdictional grounds. Her reasons summarize the legal principles to be applied to determine whether the parties agreed to a right of appeal and, in particular: (1) the effect of an arbitration agreement when it spans a period of time in which more than one piece of arbitration legislation governed that provided for different rights of appeal; and (2) as a matter of contract interpretation, the language necessary for the parties to contract out of rights of appeal. Here, the parties’ agreement was entered into in 1968 and the arbitration legislation in Ontario changed since then from an “opt in” regime to an “opt out” regime. However, the parties provided in their arbitration clause that any arbitration was to be conducted under the ICDR Rules, which were silent on appeal rights. Therefore, it was necessary for Justice Dietrich to interpret the contract as a whole to determine the parties’ intentions. The words in the arbitration agreement that the tribunal’s award “is conclusive on the parties” and that judgment may be entered in any court having jurisdiction were not sufficiently clear to express an intention to contract out of a right to appeal.

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B.C. – Appeal of award granted; arbitrator re-wrote parties’ contract – #611

In Grewal v Mann, 2022 BCSC 555, Justice Iyer allowed the plaintiff’s appeal of an arbitral award dated May 15, 2020, made pursuant to s. 31 of the former British Columbia Arbitration Act, RSBC 1996, c. 55. That provision permitted an appeal from an arbitral award to be brought before the Supreme Court if leave to appeal was granted. Justice Iyer held that the “reasonableness” standard of review applies to appeals of arbitral awards, while acknowledging that the appropriate standard of review is still undecided at the appellate level.  She allowed the appeal and amended the award to provide that disputed funds held in trust were to be released to the plaintiff. She found that the arbitrator had not interpreted the parties Agreement, but rather had written an entirely new one.

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Ontario – Best practices: pre-appointment communications and application to appoint arbitrator – #607

In Magna International Inc. v Granite Real Estate Inc., 2022 ONSC 2200, Justice Myers granted the application of Magna, the tenant in a lease agreement, for an order appointing an arbitrator to fix the rent for a renewal term of the lease. The parties agreed that the tenant had validly renewed the lease, but could not agree on the rent for the renewal period. Respondent Granite, the landlord, opposed the appointment of the arbitrator for two reasons: (1) the evidence in support of the application was insufficient; and (2) the arbitration clause in the lease was invalid because it contained permissive, rather than mandatory, language and was too vague because it did not specify either the seat or the applicable rules of the arbitration. Justice Myers set out the preferred approach for both communicating with the proposed arbitrator in circumstances in which the parties are not cooperating and the kind of evidence that should be adduced on an application for a court order appointing the proposed arbitrator, using the analogy of the process for the court appointment of a receiver/trustee in bankruptcy. Also, he found that the issues relating to the validity of the arbitration clause were to be referred to the arbitrator under the competence-competence principle.

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Ontario – Continuing confusion over nature of court review of arbitration – #606

In PCL Constructors Canada Inc. v Johnson Controls, 2022 ONSC 1642, Justice Conway heard and dismissed four applications, two by PCL and two by Johnson, relating to two arbitrations arising out of disputes over the construction by PCL of the Humber River Regional Hospital (“the Humber Arbitration) and the Milton District Hospital (“the Milton Arbitration”). PCL  brought applications to the court, pursuant to s. 17(8) of Ontario Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17 (“the Act”), to “decide the matter” of the tribunal’s ruling on jurisdiction as a preliminary matter.  Justice Conway applied the “correctness” standard of review; the arbitrators both ruled correctly that they had jurisdiction and that the prerequisites to arbitration in the arbitration clause did not constitute conditions precedent to arbitration.  Johnson brought applications under s. 8(2) of the Act, which provides that the court may determine any question of law that arises during an arbitration on an application if the parties or the tribunal consent. The issue concerned a party’s right under the contract to apply to the court for a reconsideration of the arbitrator’s determination.  That right had not crystallized because the arbitration continued and no determination had been made.

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Ontario – Order denying leave to appeal award interlocutory, leave to appeal required – #602

In Mills v Thompson, 2022 ONSC 1525, Justice Charney,  sitting as an Ontario Divisional Court judge, quashed an appeal of the decision of a Superior Court judge denying leave to appeal an arbitral award. The question before him was, “whether a party requires leave to appeal from a decision denying leave to appeal [an arbitral award on a question of law] or may appeal a denial of leave to appeal as of right”. Justice Charney confirmed recent Ontario Court of Appeal jurisprudence holding that a decision of the Superior Court of Justice granting or denying leave to appeal an arbitral award is an interlocutory order in respect of which leave to appeal is required under s. 19(1) of the Ontario Courts of Justice Act, R.S.O., 1990, c. 43, as amended. Any other conclusion would defeat the purpose of the appeal provision in the Ontario Arbitration Act, 1991, S.O. 1991, c. 17, s. 45, which is intended to minimize judicial interference in arbitration. It would be incongruous to allow an appeal of a denial of leave decision as of right, when no such right is provided with respect to an appeal of the correctness of the award itself. The Appellant had not sought leave of the Divisional Court to appeal. Justice Charney quashed the appeal.

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B.C. – Arbitration clause covered contract not tort claims – #600

In Harris v Isagenix International, 2022 BCSC 268, Justice Branch dismissed the defendants’ motion to stay a personal injury action in favour of arbitration, despite an arbitration clause in the parties’ contract. The plaintiff sought damages for personal injuries arising from her use of the defendants’ wellness products. She asserted that the defendants were negligent in the design, manufacture, distribution, marketing and supply of these products (“the Products”). She also relied upon the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, S.B.C. 2004, c. 2 (“BPCPA”). The plaintiff was not only a consumer but also sold the products as part of the defendant’s marketing program. She signed two contracts as a result of which she became a “Preferred Customer” of the Products and, later, an “Associate” entitled to sell the products. She placed orders for the Products for herself while she was a “Preferred Customer” and for herself and others as an “Associate”. Therefore, she “wore two hats”. Justice Branch found that the arbitration clause in the applicable contract covered only potential contract claims, not tort claims. The plaintiff’s action was allowed to proceed.

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