B.C. –Issue estoppel may bind tribunal to prior arbitration award – #741

In Kingsgate Property Ltd. v Vancouver School District No. 39, 2023 BCSC 560, Justice Stephens granted leave to appeal from an arbitral award in a rent renewal dispute, in which the Arbitral Tribunal elected not to follow the interpretation of a key contractual provision from an arbitral award rendered decades earlier.  In both rental renewal disputes, a key issue was a market value provision in a long-term lease of property.   Justice Stephens found that the proper interpretation of  a previous arbitral award and whether the Arbitral Tribunal properly applied the doctrine of issue estoppel raised questions of law. The leave grant decision will permit further court consideration of interesting and novel questions concerning the application of the doctrine of issue estoppel in an arbitration context.  

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B.C. – Inadequate reasons on central issue a breach of natural justice – #740

In Bromley v. Getzie, 2023 BCSC 446 (“Bromley”), Justice Brongers remitted an arbitral award to the Arbitrator for reconsideration as a remedy for the arbitrator’s failure to observe the rules of natural justice, pursuant to s. 30 of the (former) British Columbia Arbitration Act, RSBC 1996, c. 55 (the “Act”). Justice Brongers found that the Arbitrator had breached principles of natural justice because he provided inadequate reasons on a “central issue” in dispute between the parties. This is a rare finding, but one which appears to rely, in part, on principles of natural justice as they relate to applications for judicial review in administrative proceedings. Regrettably, scant reasons are provided regarding the decision of Justice Brongers to order remittance of the matter to the arbitrator, rather than to set aside the award, as a remedy for the breach of natural justice.

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Ontario – No appeal where parties agree dispute “finally settled” by arbitration – #737

In Baffinland Iron Mines LP v. Tower-EBC G.P./S.E.N.C., 2023 ONCA 245, Baffinland Iron Mines LP (“BIM”) appealed a decision of Justice Laurence A. Pattillo dismissing its application for leave to appeal an arbitral award. Justice Pattillo had dismissed the application on the basis that the relevant arbitration agreements precluded appeals. BIM then sought to appeal that decision. Tower-EBC G.P./S.E.N.C (“TEBC”) moved to quash the appeal on the basis that there is no right to appeal from a denial of leave to appeal. The Court of Appeal dismissed the application to quash, holding that BIM’s appeal fell within a “narrow category of cases” that are an exception to the rule that there is no right to appeal from a denial of leave to appeal. Those are ones where it is alleged, as here, that the application judge mistakenly declined jurisdiction to consider the leave issues. The appeal itself, however, was also dismissed. The Court of Appeal found that the application judge’s interpretation of the arbitration agreements was correct. The Court concluded, among other things, that in the dispute resolution clause the phrase “finally settled” (used in relation to an arbitration) meant the same as the phrase “final and binding” (used in relation to decisions of a Dispute Arbitration Board, the “DAB”). Both resulted in there being no further recourse from the arbitral award by way of appeal. 

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New Brunswick – When is an appeal not an appeal? – #736

In New Brunswick Highway Corporation v. MRDC Operations Corporation, 2023 NBCA 19, the Court of Appeal of New Brunswick (the “Court”) dismissed the appeal of a decision denying an appeal against an arbitral award. The Court found that the arbitration agreement did not grant the parties an automatic right of appeal, and denied leave to appeal pursuant to section 45 of the Arbitration Act, RSNB 2014, as no extricable questions of law were present.  The Court cautioned against finding extricable errors of law in a case such as this involving contractual interpretation of the arbitration agreement. The decision turned on the interpretation of the arbitration agreement, which provided both for an appeal and for no appeal.

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B.C. – No error of law where some evidence supports findings of fact – #735

In 1550 Alberni Limited Partnership v. Northwest Community Enterprises Ltd., 2023 BCCA 141, the British Columbia Court of Appeal confirmed the decision of Justice Groves, who refused to grant leave to appeal from an arbitral award that turned largely on the Arbitrator’s interpretation of the parties’ agreement, as modified during the course of its performance. The Court found that the petitioner failed to establish that the proposed appeal raised an extricable question of law – because there was some evidence that supported the findings of fact. In so doing, the Court left the issue of the standard of review of the Arbitrator’s decision following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Vavilov, [2019] 4 S.C.R. 653 for another day.

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Ontario –Arbitrator erred by allowing surrounding circumstances to overwhelm written agreement – #733

In Burwell v. Wozniak, 2023 ONSC 1685, Justice Jensen of found that the Arbitrator erred in law by allowing a promise in an email to overwhelm the words of a subsequent formal trust agreement. The Court varied the Arbitrator’s decision about the formation of a trust, holding that the Arbitrator’s reliance on surrounding circumstances while downplaying the words of the subsequently formalized agreement, gave rise to an extricable error of law.

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Alberta – Former arbitrator, now judge/facilitator in same matter not biased – #730

In Shannon v Shannon, 2023 ABCA 79, the Appellant appealed the final consent order of  a judge of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench (as it then was), which was made after a Binding Judicial Dispute Resolution (“BJDR”) process under the  Alberta Rules of Court, AR 124/2010 and AR 194/202. The parties signed a Resolution Agreement dated February 16, 2021, which disposed of all the issues in dispute and whose terms were incorporated into a consent order. Both parties had counsel during the BJDR process, but not on the appeal. The Appellant challenged the consent order on the bases that: (1) there was a reasonable apprehension of bias on the part of the judge who facilitated the BJDR process because she had previously acted as arbitrator in the same matter before she was appointed to the Bench; and (2) the Appellant was not competent to enter into the Resolution Agreement that led to the consent order, which should be set aside as null and void. The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal because it found that the Appellant had consented to having the judge who had previously sat as arbitrator facilitate the BJDR process, but also that a reasonable apprehension of bias allegation could not be established – there is a high burden to show that a superior court judge would not disabuse her mind of anything learned on a prior occasion and there is also a strong presumption that a judge will act judicially. 

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B.C. – Court of Appeal finds extricable error in contract interpretation (again) – #728

In Mann v. Grewal, 2023 BCCA 88, the BC Court of Appeal upheld the judgment below (1) finding an extricable error of law in the sole arbitrator’s interpretation of a settlement agreement, and (2) amending the award rather than remitting it to the arbitrator. The Arbitrator’s error of law was that he failed to interpret the agreement at the center of the dispute and – in effect – re-wrote the parties’ agreement.

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Québec – Interpretation of two shareholder agreements requires more than a superficial analysis – #725

In Gifran inc. c. 9225-2071 Québec inc., 2023 QCCA 311, the Québec Court of Appeal (the “Court”) recalled the principles governing an exception to the compétence-compétence principle and ordered a stay in favor of arbitration, overturning the Superior Court Judge’s decision. The Court commented on the scope of the exception relating to questions of mixed fact and law that require only superficial consideration of the evidence in the record, in the context of a shareholder dispute. It noted that the Superior Court Judge had not provided reasons as to why the exception applied in this case and found that the exception did not in fact apply, because an in-depth analysis of the respective scopes of two separate shareholder agreements (one with an arbitration clause and one without) was required. The Court also held that the mere presence of related third parties in the dispute was not sufficient to deny the stay application.

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Ontario – Deferential approach on set-aside application for want of procedural fairness – #723

In Aquanta Group Inc. v. Lightbox Enterprises Ltd., 2023 ONSC 971, Justice Akbarali dismissed an application to set aside an arbitral award on procedural fairness grounds under paragraph 46(1) 6 of the Ontario Arbitration Act, 1991 [the “Act”]. This decision showcases the margin of manoeuver arbitrators enjoy on discretionary procedural decisions. 

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