Canada: Recours En Justice Après La Fin Des Travaux : Trois Ans, Top Chronos !

Pour tout donneur d'ouvrage, entrepreneur ou sous-entrepreneur, la détermination du moment où les travaux d'un contrat ont pris fin est une question primordiale et déterminante puisqu'elle a une incidence directe sur le sort de tout droit d'action qu'il peut faire valoir devant les tribunaux en vue de recouvrir les sommes qu'il estime lui être dues en lien avec l'exécution du contrat. À compter de la fin des travaux, une partie dispose d'un délai de trois ans, dit le délai de « prescription », afin d'intenter son recours. En cas de défaut d'agir, le réclamant perd son droit de se pourvoir en justice.

Le 20 juillet dernier, la Cour supérieure du Québec rendait jugement dans l'affaire Construction Socam ltée c. Corporation d'hébergement du Québec et réitérait les critères permettant de déterminer la « fin des travaux » au sens de l'article 2110 du Code civil du Québec.

Les faits

Le 25 mars 1998, à la suite d'un appel d'offres public, la Corporation d'Hébergement du Québec (« CHQ») octroie un contrat d'une valeur de 4,5M$ à Construction Socam ltée (« Socam ») pour l'agrandissement et le réaménagement de son Centre d'accueil Father Down à Montréal. Le Groupe Arcop (« Arcop »), défendeur en garantie, est chargé de la surveillance du projet pour le compte de la CHQ. Les travaux débutent le 20 avril 1998.

Le 3 mai 1999, Socam fait parvenir une lettre à Arcop l'informant de « l'achèvement des travaux » et lui demandant d'enclencher le processus de réception provisoire. Le 19 mai 1999, à la suite de son inspection des travaux, Arcop émet le certificat de réception provisoire auquel sont annexées une liste des travaux à corriger où à compléter en architecture et une liste des travaux à parfaire en mécanique.

La CHQ signe le certificat de réception provisoire et prend possession de l'ouvrage le même jour, les parties ayant convenu que le bâtiment était prêt en tous points à l'usage auquel il était destiné.

Le 14 juin 2004, Socam institue son recours contre la CHQ pour solde contractuel impayé.

La CHQ et Arcop soutiennent que l'action de Socam a été instituée plus de trois ans après la fin des travaux survenue le 14 mai 1999, et que, par voie de conséquence, cette dernière est prescrite.

Socam prétend pour sa part que la fin des travaux est survenue deux ans plus tard soit en juillet 2001, au moment où les déficiences et travaux à compléter ont été achevés. Elle plaide que les conditions prévues au contrat pour la réception provisoire des travaux n'étaient pas réunies au moment où le certificat fut délivré et que la fin des travaux n'est survenue qu'en juillet 2001.

À la suite d'une analyse détaillée des faits, la Cour en arrive à la conclusion que l'action de Socam a été intentée plus de trois ans après la fin des travaux. Son recours est prescrit et donc être rejeté.

Le droit

Dans le cas d'un contrat d'entreprise, la fin des travaux survient lorsque le contrat a été exécuté intégralement et que l'immeuble est en état de servir conformément à l'usage auquel il est destiné.

Les travaux qui ont pour but de corriger des malfaçons ne retardent la survenance de la fin des travaux, peu importe leur nombre ou la durée des travaux visant à y pallier. Il faut toutefois distinguer ces travaux des travaux prévus au contrat qui demeurent inachevés, ces derniers empêchant l'arrivée de fin des travaux.

En l'espèce, les plans et devis énumérés au contrat n'ont pas été mis en preuve. La Cour rappelle une série d'éléments factuels permettant de déterminer la fin des travaux, et conclut qu'en l'espèce, tous ces indices sont réunis, à savoir :

« l'occupation de l'édifice par le propriétaire, la réception provisoire, les propos et gestes de l'entrepreneur, la démobilisation du chantier, la fin des rapports journaliers, le paiement par l'entrepreneur des derniers comptes d'électricité et de gaz, le retrait des roulottes de chantier, la tenue d'une dernière réunion de chantier » .

Dans son analyse, la Cour retient notamment les éléments de preuve suivants :

- Les Conditions générales prévoient que la date de fin des travaux correspond à la date de réception provisoire, qui elle dénote un certain achèvement de l'ouvrage ;
- Socam, en demandant la réception provisoire le 3 mai 1999, estimait elle-même à ce moment que les travaux étaient achevés ;
- L'ouvrage a servi à l'usage auquel il est destiné dès l'été 1999 en ce que le CHSLD, fonctionnait à pleine capacité et les chambres étaient comblées ;
- En réclamant en boucle la réception définitive de l'ouvrage, Socam reconnaissait que les travaux étaient finis.

Conclusion

Il est donc capital pour les parties à un contrat d'entreprise de ne jamais trop tarder avant d'intenter un recours en justice pour réclamer les sommes qu'elles croient leur être dues et de s'assurer de bien situer dans le temps la fin des travaux. Notons que les documents contractuels prévoient parfois un délai à l'intérieur duquel doit être présenté l'avis de réclamation de l'entrepreneur ou du sous-entrepreneur et que le défaut de respecter ce délai peut aussi entraîner la déchéance de son droit d'action .

Cet article est paru dans l'édition du vendredi 26 août 2016 du journal Constructo

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