Timothy’s 2022 Hot Topic – At the crossroads of class actions and arbitration – #702

For this year’s “hot topics” post, I have chosen to spotlight an enduring subject: the policy conflict that can arise between arbitration and consumer class actions. The heat comes from developments in 2022 which suggest a fresh look (or two!) at how to reconcile pro-arbitration international legal commitments and policy objectives with consumer protection and class action laws.

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John’s 2022 Hot Topic: Summary judgment in arbitration – #699

My “hot topic” for 2022 is the Court of Appeal for Ontario’s confirmation that an arbitration can be determined by summary judgment. In Optiva Inc. v. Tbaytel, 2022 ONCA 646, the Court approved proceeding by summary judgment motion where such a motion is consistent with the parties’ arbitration agreement. While the case addressed four grounds of appeal, including whether the arbitrator’s ruling to proceed by summary judgment was a procedural order or a jurisdictional award, the central issue, and my “hot topic,” is whether the arbitrator’s partial award, which decided a summary judgment motion should be set aside. For a summary of the decision, see Case Note – No oral hearing required even if one party requests it #667.

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Lisa’s 2022 Hot Topic #1: Arbitrator resignation – the when, how, and what next? – #696

Although there is provision in most provincial domestic arbitration legislation and the Model Law for the resignation of the arbitrator, there is little guidance on when the arbitrator may do so and the potential consequences once that occurs. However, two cases released in 2022 are helpful in that they suggest: (1) potential limitations on the discretion of an arbitrator to resign, regardless of the rights contained in the legislation; and (2) how the parties many anticipate this issue and provide for it in their arbitration agreement if it is important, so as to minimize the inevitable disruption that arises when an arbitrator resigns.

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Ontario – Shareholders dispute stayed where 2 of 3 agreements had arbitration clauses – #690

In 12823543 Canada Ltd. v Mizrahi Commercial (The One) GP Inc., 2022 ONSC 6206, Justice Penny granted an application to stay the proceeding commenced before the Superior Court of Justice and referred the matter to the appropriate arbitral tribunal to decide its jurisdiction. He found that the moving parties had raised an arguable case as to the application of the relevant arbitration agreements to the dispute and that the principle of compétence-compétence therefore favoured directing the parties to address their arguments to the arbitral tribunal regarding its jurisdiction. Only two of the three agreements at issue contained an arbitration agreement and yet Justice Penny was swayed by the nature of the dispute, grounded in a broad oppression claim, and considered that the Applicant’s allegations raised issues that went straight to the ability of the shareholders to make decisions of fundamental significance to their joint project.

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Alberta – Court of Appeal to clarify its jurisdiction in arbitration matters – #689

In Schafer v Schafer, 2022 ABCA 358, Justice Pentelchuk ordered further briefing on the court’s jurisdiction to hear an appeal from an order of the Alberta Court of King’s Bench refusing permission to appeal under section 44(2) of the Arbitration Act, RSA 2000, c A-43 (the “Arbitration Act”). Although the amounts in dispute were relatively small, the case engaged several foundational questions. The first involved the overlapping, and sometimes dissonant, statutory jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal in matters ancillary to arbitration. Second, Justice Pentelchuk saw merit in providing interpretive guidance to parties and counsel on the appeal rights which flow from the arbitration agreement signed by the parties, which was said to be “standard” in family law arbitration in Alberta. She accordingly granted permission to brief the issue of jurisdiction to a panel of the Court of Appeal, in order to provide clarity in situations where the Judicature Act, Rules of Court, and Arbitration Act intersect. Justice Pentelchuk also asked the parties to address whether the arbitration agreement was a standard form agreement (which could make its interpretation an issue of law rather than mixed law and fact), and apply to adduce fresh evidence on that question, if necessary.

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Supreme Court – Peace River v Petrowest Part 2: no conflict between arbitration, bankruptcy law – #687

In Peace River Hydro Partners v Petrowest, 2022 SCC 41, the central issue was whether a receiver/trustee in bankruptcy may disclaim the arbitration clause in a contract and sue in the courts when it seeks to enforce the debtor’s contractual rights against third parties. The case concerned the tension between the court’s supervisory power over all proceedings brought by a receiver/trustee under the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (BIA) RSC 1985, c. B-3, and party autonomy to contract out of the courts. Section 15 of the British Columbia (former) Arbitration Act, RSBC 1996 c. 55 required a stay of proceedings where a party to an arbitration agreement has commenced a court proceeding in respect of a matter to be submitted to arbitration, unless the arbitration agreement is “void, inoperative, or incapable of being performed”. The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed the stay application of the defendant sued by the receiver/trustee, but split 5-4 on the reasons. The majority found that the arbitration clauses at issue were “inoperative” because enforcing them would compromise the orderly and efficient resolution of the receivership. This authority arises from the statutory jurisdiction conferred on provincial superior courts under ss. 243(1) and 183(1) of the BIA. It found that this interpretation of the stay provision ensures that provincial arbitration legislation and federal bankruptcy legislation are not in conflict. The minority found that the specific language of the “template” Receivership Order authorized the Receiver/Trustee to disclaim the arbitration agreements, rendering them inoperative.

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