Canada: Le Code Civil Du Québec Au Secours De La Cour Fédérale

Que l'on considère son système gouvernemental ou juridique, le Canada semble parfois être un pays schizophrène. Les gouvernements fédéral et provinciaux ont leurs propres champs de compétence législative attribués par la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867. De plus, le Québec est une juridiction de droit civil, avec son propre Code Civil du Québec (C.c.Q.), découlant de ses origines françaises. Les autres provinces ont hérité la « common law » de l'Angleterre. Les cours supérieures des provinces et la Cour fédérale du Canada tranchent les débats en vertu de la juridiction qui leur a été octroyée par la même Loi constitutionnelle de 1867. Malgré cette division des pouvoirs, les juridictions des cours supérieures et de la Cour fédérale ne sont pas étanches. Par conséquent, il est parfois possible d'intenter une procédure en Cour fédérale ou en cour supérieure par rapport aux mêmes faits.

Les avocats et surtout les « geeks » ayant un intérêt pour le droit constitutionnel ont, sans doute, lu attentivement une décision fort intéressante du juge Martineau de la Cour fédérale (Domaines Pinnacle inc. c. Beam Suntory inc., 2015 CF 680). Il vient de rendre une décision qui démontre que l'application des règles supplétives prévues dans le C.c.Q peut avoir un effet déterminant sur l'issue de procédures entamées au Québec devant la Cour fédérale.

Les litiges

Domaine Pinnacle Inc. (Pinnacle) produit un cidre de glace de pommes portant la marque « Domaine Pinnacle ». Beam Suntory Inc., Beam Canada Inc. et Jim Beam Brands Co. (collectivement, Beam) distribuent des vodkas aromatisées portant le nom « Pinnacle » au Canada, à l'exception du Québec.

En décembre 2012, Pinnacle a déposé une requête introductive d'instance à la Cour supérieure du Québec, visant à obtenir des injonctions permanente, interlocutoire et provisoire à l'encontre de Beam afin d'empêcher la commercialisation des vodkas et autres produits alcoolisés portant le nom « Pinnacle » sur le marché québécois.

En février 2013, Pinnacle a également initié un recours en Cour fédérale contre Beam alléguant la concurrence déloyale et la violation d'une marque de commerce en vertu des alinéas 7b) et 7c) de la Loi sur les marques de commerce. Beam s'est portée demanderesse reconventionnelle en demandant, entre autres, une déclaration selon laquelle l'utilisation de la marque « Pinnacle » en liaison avec leur vodka ne viole aucun droit allégué par Pinnacle.

Le problème

Le 30 mars 2015, Beam a fait une offre écrite de règlement (offre) à Pinnacle. Cette offre prévoyait trois éléments : 1) Pinnacle se désistera de son action; 2) Beam se désistera de sa demande reconventionnelle; 3) Chaque partie assumera ses propres frais. Le 1er avril 2015, Pinnacle a accepté inconditionnellement l'offre (transaction) et a produit à la Cour fédérale le même jour un avis de désistement de son action. Cependant, le 2 avril 2015, Beam a avisé Pinnacle de son refus de se désister de sa demande reconventionnelle au motif que Pinnacle ne s'était pas également désistée des procédures intentées devant la Cour supérieure du Québec. Le souci? L'offre ne comportait pas l'obligation pour Pinnacle de se désister de son action en Cour supérieure.

La question à trancher

Le juge Martineau devait donc déterminer si l'acceptation inconditionnelle de l'offre finale de règlement faite en vertu de la Règle 420 des Règles des Cours fédérales a également mis fin au litige devant la Cour fédérale et constitue une transaction liant Beam.

Pinnacle demandait l'homologation de la transaction et son exécution forcée suite à son acceptation de l'offre. Beam plaidait vice de consentement afin d'annuler la transaction conclue entre les parties. Beam a également présenté une requête visant à amender sa défense et demande reconventionnelle en Cour fédérale afin d'alléguer que Pinnacle est de mauvaise foi et que la production d'un désistement de l'action en Cour fédérale constitue un abus de procédure. Beam s'est toutefois désistée de cette requête lors du troisième jour d'audition.

La décision

Le juge Martineau commence son jugement en tranchant la question de la compétence de la Cour fédérale dans le présent litige. Il conclut que, la Cour fédérale ayant une compétence concurrente sur l'action en Cour fédérale et la demande reconventionnelle en vertu de l'article 20 de la Loi sur les Cours fédérales, elle peut statuer sur la validité de la transaction, interpréter l'offre ou les termes de la transaction ou procéder à son homologation afin d'en forcer l'exécution.

Le juge Martineau juge qu'une transaction a été conclue entre les parties suite à l'acceptation inconditionnelle de l'offre de Beam par Pinnacle. Pour arriver à cette conclusion, le juge Martineau applique les dispositions du C.c.Q. concernant la formation du contrat, et plus précisément les règles relatives à l'offre et à l'acceptation. En appliquant ces dispositions, le juge Martineau décide qu'une offre de règlement suivie d'une acceptation constitue une transaction valable, ce qui est le cas en l'espèce.

Beam prétendait qu'il faut rechercher l'intention commune des parties afin d'interpréter l'offre. Il soutenait que l'objet de la transaction est la renonciation par les parties aux conclusions recherchées dans leurs procédures respectives, ce qui inclut l'action en Cour supérieure qui a la même finalité que l'action en Cour fédérale. Le juge Martineau s'appuie à nouveau sur les dispositions du C.c.Q., cette fois sur les règles d'interprétation des contrats, pour rejeter l'interprétation proposée par Beam. Le juge Martineau réfère à l'article 1431 C.c.Q. qui prévoit que les clauses d'un contrat, même si elles sont énoncées en termes généraux, comprennent seulement ce sur quoi il appert que les parties se sont proposées de contracter. Qui plus est, le juge Martineau soutient que si une réserve n'est pas inscrite, ce n'est pas sous le couvert d'interpréter la transaction que l'on peut rétroactivement, par voie judiciaire, permettre l'inclusion d'une réserve particulière non négociée. L'offre du 30 mars 2015 étant claire, le juge Martineau ne considère pas nécessaire de l'interpréter.

Au sujet des dépens, le juge Martineau donne encore raison à Pinnacle qui allègue qu'il y a eu abus de droit quand Beam a tenté d'induire la Cour en erreur sur le contenu de l'offre et mauvaise foi quand Beam a tenté d'y ajouter des conditions additionnelles. Exerçant sa discrétion judiciaire, le juge Martineau conclut qu'un montant forfaitaire de 30 000$ à titre de dépens est raisonnable et doit être accordé à Pinnacle.

Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP

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