Canada: Maple Ridge Community Management Ltd. v. Peel Condominium Corporation No. 231: Reviewing Small Claims Court Judgments For Insufficient Reasons

One of the reasons that a trial judge has a duty to give sufficient reasons is to permit meaningful appellate review. But sufficiency of reasons will depend on the context. The Ontario Court of Appeal's July 9, 2015 decision in Maple Ridge Community Management Ltd. v. Peel Condominium Corporation No. 231 held that appellate judges reviewing Small Claims Court decisions must recognize that the Small Claims Court's summary procedure will mean that "reasons from the Small Claims Court will not always be as thorough as those in Superior Court decisions." The decision is also a helpful reminder of:

  • how a Court and litigants are to approach an appeal where it is alleged that the trial judge gave insufficient reasons; and
  • when the Court of Appeal, sitting as a "second appeal" court, will decide issues when the "first appeal" judge did not do so.

Background

The case emerged from the termination of a condominium management agreement. The plaintiff-condominium management company sued for damages in the Small Claims Court. Its claim was dismissed, as the Small Claims Court deputy judge found that the defendant was justified in terminating the agreement due to the plaintiff's "insubordination, recklessness and/or gross negligence". He cited legal definitions of these words, reviewed the facts, and concluded that:

Notwithstanding that the grounds relied on by the Defendant in terminating the Agreement, may not have been sufficient individually to meet the tests outlined above, although in some cases I believe they were, I am satisfied that when taken together they are sufficient to constitute insubordination, recklessness and/or gross negligence entitling the Defendant to terminate the Agreement without notice [...]

On appeal, the Divisional Court judge held that the reasons were insufficient to permit meaningful appellate review, as it was unclear "what" was decided or "why". Specifically, it was not indicated which acts or omissions individually amounted to insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence, or "why" acts and omissions that were individually insufficient to constitute insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence collectively amounted to same.

Preliminary Issues

The defendant, on appeal to the Court of Appeal, advanced several arguments. Justice Hourigan, for a unanimous Court of Appeal, rejected two of them. First, the Divisional Court did not err in reviewing the trial judge's reasons on a correctness standard. Reasonableness review applies to reviewing the reasons of an expert tribunal, not a court, and the Small Claims Court is a court. Moreover, insufficient reasons demonstrate an error of law.

Second, the defendant's submission that there should have been an additional analysis into whether a substantial wrong or miscarriage of justice had occurred before ordering a new trial was rejected. A new trial is the appropriate order in the face of insufficient reasons.

The "What" and the "Why"

Justice Hourigan held that, though the Divisional Court had identified the correct standard upon which to assess the trial judge's reasons, it misapplied it. He held:

[26] The Divisional Court's finding that the trial judge did not specify which grounds individually amounted to insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence was based on the trial judge's statements that the allegations "could" meet these standards rather than that they actually did. The Divisional Court's interpretation is incorrect when read in the context of the entire trial decision. The trial judge reviewed each ground and stated whether it could individually meet the tests for insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence. He then stated that "in some cases" – presumably those where he earlier indicated that the ground "could" individually constitute insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence – the grounds were, as a matter of fact, sufficient to meet those tests on an individual basis.

[...]

[28] In addition, the Divisional Court's finding that the trial judge did not demonstrate how he reached his conclusion because he did not state why acts and omissions that were individually insufficient to constitute insubordination, recklessness or gross negligence could collectively constitute the same is similarly unfounded when the trial judge's reasons are read in context. As submitted by PCC 231, it is self-evident, as a matter of logic and common sense, that multiple acts or omissions can rise to a level that one alone cannot reach. [...]

The Record

Justice Hourigan also held that the Divisional Court was obliged to consider the record to determine whether "the reasons were more comprehensible when read in the context of this record" (para. 30). He held:

[31] The level of requisite detail in reasons will be lessened "[w]here the record discloses all that is required to be known to permit appellate review": [...] If a detailed record is available, the appellate court should not intervene "simply because it thinks the trial court did a poor job expressing itself" [...]

[32] There was ample evidence in the trial record that established that Maple Ridge was insubordinate, grossly negligent and/or reckless. The appeal justice was required to consider that evidence before concluding that the reasons of the trial judge were inadequate. He did not do so. Instead, he appears to have restricted his analysis to a review of the text of the reasons without regard to the trial record. In my view, in failing to conduct a contextual analysis, the Divisional Court erred in law.

The Small Claims Court Context

Justice Hourigan further noted that "access to justice" is currently a challenge in Canada, and the Small Claims Court is meant to partially address that concern. He held:

[34] The Small Claims Court is mandated [...] to "hear and determine in a summary way all questions of law and fact and may make such order as is considered just and agreeable to good conscience." The Small Claims Court plays a vital role in the administration of justice in the province by ensuring meaningful and cost effective access to justice for cases involving relatively modest claims for damages. In order to meet its mandate, the Small Claims Court's process and procedures are designed to ensure that it can handle a large volume of cases in an efficient and economical manner.

[35] Reasons from the Small Claims Court must be sufficiently clear to permit judicial review on appeal. They must explain to the litigants what has been decided and why [...] However, appellate consideration of Small Claims Court reasons must recognize the informal nature of that court, as well as the volume of cases it handles and its statutory mandate to deal with these cases efficiently. In short, in assessing the adequacy of the reasons, context matters [...] Just as oral reasons will not necessarily be as detailed as written reasons, reasons from the Small Claims Court will not always be as thorough as those in Superior Court decisions. Failing to take the Small Claims Court context into account only serves to restrict access to justice by unnecessarily imparting formality and delay into a legal process that is designed to be informal and efficient.

[36] In the present case, the Divisional Court decision overlooks the clear reasoning in the trial judge's judgment and demands a level of detail that is significantly higher than generally required, particularly in Small Claims Court decisions.

Further Proceedings in the Divisional Court

Finally, the plaintiff argued that the matter should be remitted to the Divisional Court, to address its other appellate arguments that were never considered by the Divisional Court due to the Divisional Court's decision on the adequacy of reasons. Justice Hourigan "would not accede" (para. 37) to this submission, providing guidance on what appellate courts should do in this situation:

[38] [...] on appeal this court may make any order or decision that ought to or could have been made by the court or tribunal appealed from and may make any other order or decision that is just. If Maple Ridge wanted to uphold the judgment of the Divisional Court on grounds other than the inadequacy of the reasons, it should have made those arguments before this court. [...] It is hardly proportionate or practical to suggest that this modest claim should be sent back to the Divisional Court for its third appeal.

[39] In any event, the other grounds of appeal advanced by Maple Ridge are weak. [...]

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions