Canada: L'Obligation De Divulguer Un Contrat De Cautionnement Dans Un Projet De Construction

Last Updated: February 28 2018
Article by Philippe Charlebois

Les entrepreneurs en construction devront faire preuve de plus de prudence en prenant les mesures raisonnables appropriées afin de divulguer les cautionnements permettant le paiement de la main d'Suvre et des matériaux à tous les acteurs impliqués dans leurs projets.

C'est ce qu'il faut retenir de la décision de la Cour Suprême du Canada dans Valard Construction LTD c. Bird Construction Co. Elle y conclut qu'un fiduciaire a l'obligation de divulguer l'existence d'une fiducie à un bénéficiaire qui en serait autrement déraisonnablement désavantagé, même si le cautionnement ne l'exige pas expressément.

Dans cette récente affaire, Bird Construction Company, entrepreneur général d'un chantier de construction en Alberta dans un projet de sable bitumineux, a conclu un contrat de sous-traitance avec Langford Electric Ltd pour l'exécution d'une partie du projet. Conformément au contrat du Comité canadien des documents de construction (CCDC), Langford s'est procuré un cautionnement, auprès d'une compagnie d'assurance (La Garantie) en faveur de Bird permettant le paiement de la main d'Suvre et des matériaux en cas de défaut de paiement de sa part. Le texte du cautionnement créait une fiducie expresse, dont Bird était nommé fiduciaire.

Par la suite, Langford conclut un contrat de sous-traitance avec Valard Construction Ltd. Une fois les travaux terminés, ce dernier ne fut jamais payé, Langford étant devenue insolvable. À ce moment et à aucun moment durant les délais prescrits par le cautionnement, Valard n'a eu connaissance de l'existence celui-ci.

Plusieurs mois plus tard et après l'obtention d'un jugement par défaut contre Langford, Valard déposa donc une réclamation à l'assureur, La Garantie, qui refusa de payer, suivant l'expiration du délai afin de présenter une réclamation. Valard a donc entamé des procédures judiciaires contre Bird pour manquement à son obligation fiduciaire.

Le tribunal de première instance ainsi que la Cour d'appel de l'Alberta ont rejeté l'action de Valard, affirmant que Bird n'avait pas d'obligation légale d'informer les éventuels réclamants du cautionnement. La Cour Suprême annule la décision de la Cour d'appel et conclut que le fiduciaire, Bird en l'espèce, a le devoir de divulguer l'existence de la fiducie.

Devoirs fondamentaux

Le droit canadien reconnaît trois devoirs fondamentaux en matière de fiducie :

  • le fiduciaire doit agir de façon honnête et habile;
  • le fiduciaire ne peut pas déléguer sa charge à autrui; et
  • le fiduciaire ne peut pas tirer d'avantage personnel de l'opération des biens de la fiducie.

Or, même si le cautionnement n'exige pas expressément un devoir de divulgation, la Cour Suprême conclut qu'un fiduciaire a l'obligation de divulguer l'existence d'une fiducie à un bénéficiaire, s'il est déraisonnablement désavantagé par l'absence de connaissance de celle-ci.

« Déraisonnablement désavantagé »

À la lumière de la nature des clauses applications, de l'environnement social et commercial de la situation et des droits du bénéficiaire, Valard a été déraisonnablement désavantagé. En ne connaissant pas l'existence du cautionnement, Valard n'a pas eu l'opportunité de s'en prévaloir afin de déposer une réclamation dans les délais prescrits. La preuve révélait également qu'un tel cautionnement n'était pas fréquent dans le cadre de projet de construction pour les sables bitumineux.

Le devoir fiduciaire de divulguer l'existence de la fiducie

Le devoir imposé aux fiduciaires n'est pas la perfection, mais plutôt l'honnêteté, l'habileté et la prudence raisonnable établit la Cour. Les exigences précises de cette norme dépendent également des circonstances particulières de chaque cas, notamment les clauses de la fiducie, l'identité du fiduciaire et des bénéficiaires, la taille de la catégorie des éventuels bénéficiaires et les pratiques de l'industrie.

Le fiduciaire a peu ou pas de mesures à prendre lorsqu'il peut raisonnablement présumer que les bénéficiaires connaissent l'existence de la fiducie ou lorsqu'une situation d'urgence rend la notification irréalisable. Au contraire, lorsque les bénéficiaires ne connaissent pas l'existence du cautionnement, le fiduciaire a le devoir de prendre des mesures raisonnables afin que les bénéficiaires éventuels soient informés de l'existence du cautionnement. Dans le cas en l'espèce, c'est l'absence de mesures prises par Valard qui s'est avérée être problématique. Bien que Bird ne pouvait pas présumer que Valard connaissait l'existence du cautionnement, elle ne pouvait s'acquitter de son devoir en ne prenant aucune mesure. Bird devait notifier la caution d'une quelconque façon.

Valard a donc subi un désavantage déraisonnable en raison de l'omission de Bird de prendre quelconque mesure afin de divulguer le cautionnement, Bird aurait pu s'acquitter de son devoir de divulgation en affichant, par exemple, un avis relatif au cautionnement sur le babillard du chantier. Le coût aurait été négligeable et lui aurait permis de se décharger de son devoir.

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.

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