A British Columbia judgment for the payment of money or the return of personal property is effective for 10 years. A judgment can be "renewed", but the process is not straightforward. This article provides a brief discussion of the steps necessary to renew the original judgement, and some of the complications that can arise in doing so.
The Limitation Act
The 10-year limitation period on local judgments comes from Section 7(a) of the Limitation Act, S.B.C. 2012, c. 13 (section 3(3)(f) of the former Limitation Act). The current act says that a court proceeding must not be commenced to enforce or sue on a BC judgment for the payment of money or the return of personal property more than 10 years after the day on which the judgment becomes enforceable.
However, there are no provisions in the current or former Limitation Acts which describe how the judgment may be renewed beyond 10 years.
A New Lawsuit
The practice in British Columbia is to commence a new lawsuit seeking enforcement and renewal of the original judgment prior to the expiry of the 10-year limitation period. Unfortunately, this means that the plaintiff is required to carry out service on the judgment debtor and seek another judgment on the new action (likely by summary trial).
The new lawsuit is not a duplication of the old lawsuit; it is an action seeking the enforcement of the original judgment. The renewal lawsuit would describe that an action was brought and judgment was granted. It should also describe the attempts made by the judgment creditor to collect and enforce the judgment, and outline that the defendant has not paid or complied.
Abuse of Process
The new lawsuit is not simply a rubber stamp, and the defendant may have defences to the new action. One of those potential defences is to argue that the new action to renew and enforce the judgment is an abuse of process. The onus is on the defendant to show that the new action to enforce the previous judgment amounts to an abuse of process. The defendant must show that there is “some reasonably obvious aspects of vexation or oppression, or unfairness or dishonesty, in sufficient depth to awaken the conscience” (University of British Columbia v. Kapelus, 2012 BCSC 486 at para. 54).
Collection Efforts – University of British Columbia v. Kapelus
Some cases discuss whether or not a lack of attempts to collect on the original judgment amounts to an abuse of process. See, for example, the UBC v. Kapelus case cited above. In that case, UBC obtained multiple certificates of judgment for costs against the defendant in prior litigation. The judgments totaled over $230,000, including interest.
After obtaining the costs awards, UBC registered the judgments against the defendant's property and made demands for payment. However, beyond renewing the registrations against land, UBC took no other steps to execute on the judgments. The defendant did not pay any of the judgments.
Prior to the expiry of the 10-year limitation period in the former Limitation Act, UBC filed a notice of civil claim for renewal and enforcement of the judgments. One of the issues in the lawsuit was whether UBC's alleged lack of collection efforts amounted to an abuse of process. The court found that UBC registering and renewing its judgments against the defendant's property and then taking no further steps was not an abuse of process.
In reaching that conclusion, the court stated that "it is not unusual for a judgment creditor to register a judgment against property, and then wait to see whether events producing a successful recovery occur" (para. 63).
The enforcement and renewal of a British Columbia judgment can be complex. A party considering renewal should not wait until the last minute, and should consult a lawyer well before the end of the 10-year limitation period approaches.
It is important to note that the Limitation Act contains different limitation periods for judgments made outside of British Columbia.
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.