Ontario – Arbitration or expert determination?  Stay granted, referral to “Independent Accountant” – #620

In 2832402 Ontario Inc. v 2853462 Ontario Inc., QBD Modular Systems Inc., and QBD Cooling Systems Inc., 2022 ONSC 2694, Justice Conway was asked to decide whether the parties had agreed to arbitration or expert determination. The parties had entered into a Share Purchase Agreement (“SPA”), which contained a dispute resolution clause to deal with disagreements as to post-closing purchase price adjustments, which disputes were to be determined by an “Independent Accountant”. A dispute arose and the Vendor brought a court application against the Purchaser for production of documents to allow it to calculate the post-closing adjustments. The Vendor argued that even if the parties had agreed to arbitration, the document production issue was outside the jurisdiction of the Independent Accountant. Justice Conway considered the various indicia of arbitration and concluded that the clause in the SPA was an arbitration clause. Therefore, she stayed the application and referred the production issue to the Independent Accountant. That issue was relevant to the Independent Accountant’s ability to decide the parties’ dispute as to the amount of the post-closing purchase price adjustment.

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Ontario – Appeal permitted on issue not first submitted to arbitrator for correction – #617

In Farmer v Farmer, 2022 ONSC 2410, Justice Alex Finlayson found that he had discretion to consider an issue on appeal that had not been raised before the arbitrator as an error to be corrected or amended pursuant to s. 44(1) of the Ontario Arbitration Act, 1991, SO 1991, c. 17. Justice Finlayson found that there was a “dearth” of authority on this issue and set out principles to be considered when deciding whether a court should exercise its discretion. Here, the issue raised was one that was intertwined with an issue that was properly before the court on the appeal, there was no prejudice to the parties, and the error was discovered by the court after the expiry of the 30-day period under s. 44(1) for seeking correction or amendment of the award from the arbitrator.

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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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