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Scope of Work in Construction Litigation

The scope of work in a construction contract lays out what work is going to be completed by the contractor. This is a fundamental and important aspect of the agreement, that needs to be carefully set out to avoid disputes and ensure that the contractor is fairly paid, but not overpaid, for the work that they perform. Large scale construction contracts have detailed processes to clearly define the scope of work and deal with any changes that come up once work has started. Homeowners and contractors who deal with smaller projects often do not have the same level of detail regarding the scope of work, and unfortunately, this is a common area of dispute where the relationship breaks down between a contractor and homeowner. If the scope of work is not defined, the homeowner may dispute the bill thinking that they have been overcharged or the contractor has under delivered on what was required. While it is not always possible to implement the extensive procedures that are used on large projects, homeowners can benefit from knowing how large projects are conducted, and where possible applying these principles to the relationship with their contractor. Likewise, contractors can benefit from having clear quotes that precisely detail their scope of work so that the customer is less likely to dispute the contractor’s bill, and if a bill dispute develops the contractor has a better case in the event that matters go to court.

 

Setting out the Initial Scope of Work

The initial scope of work will be the basis on which the contractor makes their initial estimate or if they are offering an all-inclusive price, their quote for the job. The initial scope of work must be ascertained in order for the contractor to accurately estimate or quote the job. For large projects, the scope of work will likely be determined by a full set of plans and may include detailed specifications for the materials and construction techniques that the contractor must utilize. For homeowners, this is often not feasible; however, the more detail that can be communicated to the contractor in determining their estimate or quote, the better the chance that everyone is on the same page and the project will run smoothly, resulting in a satisfied client and a contractor who received the payment that they expected.

 

Ideally, a homeowner will have a set of plans on which the contractor is asked to offer an estimate or quote before the parties enter into a written agreement that includes details like payment terms and completion dates. If this is not possible, the homeowner may be wise to sit down with the contractor and go over the design of what they want to be built, and the materials that they want the contractor to use. For a homeowner who is not experienced with construction, the contractor may be able to offer advice and assistance in selecting materials and designing the improvement. At a minimum, both parties benefit by making sure that there is a written description of what will be constructed, the materials that will be used, and the cost.

 

Putting time and energy into defining the scope of work at the outset of the project may be difficult for the impatient, who want to get the project underway, but a clearly defined scope of work helps give both sides a better idea of the costs involved in the project and helps to avoid costly disputes. For both the homeowner and the contractor, having a clear understanding of the project is vital. The homeowner must understand exactly what they are getting, and how much they will need to pay. The contractor must understand exactly what is expected of them, and a clearly defined scope of work allows the contractor to show that they have completed the project and deserve payment.

 

Changes to the Scope of Work

In any project, whether it is a large residential development or a small residential renovation, there are often changes to the scope of work that take place over the course of the project. In a large project a municipality might require changes in order to issue approval, or a problem, such as inconveniently located bedrock, might become apparent that needs to be overcome in order to continue with construction. On a smaller project, gutting some walls might reveal shoddy work from a previous renovation, or water ingress or mould that should be remedied while the wall is open. In all of these hypotheticals, if the contractor did not include this work in their original quote and scope of work, then a change to the scope of work becomes necessary.

 

When there is a change to the scope of work, it can be problematic, because the work is already underway and suddenly there is the need to deal with the uncertainty created by the change in scope. The contractor will want to ensure that they are fairly paid for the additional work required by the change in scope. The owner or client will want to ensure that the contractor does not take advantage of the situation and bill an overly large amount for the additional work. It may be a delicate situation for both parties. The homeowner might feel like they are held hostage because their house is hallway ripped apart and they don’t want to get into a dispute with their contractor and delay the completion of their home. The contractor may have invested time and money into the project and might fear that getting into a dispute over a change to the scope of work will prevent or delay payment for the work already completed.

 

In large construction contracts, there is generally an independent consultant who acts as an intermediary when changes to the scope of work are needed. When the need for a change becomes apparent, a formal written change order will be issued to the contractor, the contractor will formally quote the change, and provide the quote to the consultant, who determines whether the quote is reasonable and in theory protects the interests of both parties. There may even be provisions for arbitration if one party does not agree with the consultant’s decision on a large change order.

 

For homeowners, it is cost prohibitive to have an independent consultant, and the pace of change on a residential project can be rapid, especially if the project is a residential renovation where things might be uncovered during the initial demolition phase. While there is no independent consultant on a smaller project, the parties themselves can still help avoid problems by clearly communicating. If the homeowner wants a change, that should be clearly specified and described. If the contractor thinks they are being asked to do something that was not included in the original scope of work, then they should deal with that issue immediately instead of putting it off until the final bill. Where both parties agree that something is an addition to the scope of work, the contractor should prepare a written quote for that addition – this is fair to both parties, the contractor is entitled to be paid for the extra work, and the homeowner is entitled to know what their requested change is going to cost.

 

While ultimately homeowners and residential contractors cannot implement the extensive procedures that are used on larger jobs, the same principles apply. The scope of work has to be clearly defined at the outset, for the benefit of both parties. Changes to the scope of work need to be clearly defined, and ideally agreed upon in writing through a written change order that defines the addition to the scope of work, and the compensation payable for completing that addition. Following these strategies should help both homeowners and contractors avoid disputes regarding the scope of work on a project. If the worst happens, and such a dispute does arise, it may be time to consult with construction litigation counsel. Velletta & Company is pleased to assist clients facing a construction litigation dispute, whether they are homeowners or contractors.

 

Cadeyrn Christie is a civil litigation lawyer and business lawyer with Velletta & Company. A former tradesperson, business owner, and high performance athlete, Cadeyrn focuses his practice on providing dynamic representation to individuals and businesses.Since joining Velletta & Company, Cadeyrn Christie has helped clients achieve cost effective legal solutions in a wide variety of contentious matters, including business disputes, debt collections, personal injury litigation, real estate disputes, and construction litigation. Contact Cadeyrn Christie

The Best Separation Agreement: more about Process than Product

As family, separation, and divorce lawyers, working with clients on the breakdown of a relationship is what we do. This is one of the biggest events in most people’s life; right up there with death and taxes.

 

The process part is surprisingly the most essential to all of this. No matter how luring it may be to think that you can just download a fill in the blank agreement, you can’t. Just like organic food, it’s not the apple that is organic but the entire process: it is the seed, soil, nutrients, harvest, handling and delivery that has it travel to your plate.

 

Likewise, a Separation Agreement is not just words and paper or an electronic product that puts the appropriate checks in the boxes. Here we will go over the nuts and bolts considerations but also give an explanation of the process that will set you up for an independent future.

 

NUTS AND BOLTS

Separation Agreements are similar to all agreements between two people in an intimate relationship, be it marriage, cohabitation or even wills. However, they are far different than all other contracts you might enter into. Here is what is typically required:

 

  • The agreement must be in writing
  • The agreement must identify the parties and their rights and obligations
  • The agreement must be lawful. This means that it cannot provide rights or oblige another to do something against the law and may at times have to conform with various legislation. For instance, you cannot skip child support if there is a child of the relationship.
  • Each party to the agreement must have the ability to enter into the agreement and do so freely. Most of the time they must be an adult but a child who is a parent or a spouse may also enter into a binding agreement.
  • Each party must sign the agreement in front of a witness
  • Each party must make full financial disclosure.

 

THE PROCESS EXPLAINED

All professionals who deal with family breakdown, separation, divorce and matrimonial discord understand that there are complex realities and personal circumstances behind every relationship coming to an end. This is where the process comes into play.  The process is often the part that is put under a microscope when looking backward to see if it was fair. Unless you fairly negotiated, shared information, had proper understanding on your side and can demonstrate that those items took place; you may be in trouble.

 

Now the reason that people have a contract or Separation Agreement is to ensure that their agreement is enforceable, fair and valid. Alternatives to a formal Separation Agreement include minutes of settlement, consent orders or orders after trial are almost always more costly than a Separation Agreement which will cost an average of $2,500 to $10,000.

 

Compare that to going to court to resolve family issues or having a bad agreement set aside and you will each be looking at $5,000 to over $100,000 in legal fees.

 

Essentially, a Separation Agreement and its terms should become intertwined with your respective lives and, if done correctly, neither party will need to change it. In appropriate circumstances, a review clause can be incorporated in various topic areas. This sounds tough, right? We all change, seemingly all the time. So how does one agreement accommodate all those changes?

 

This is where we will work with you to ensure that you understand what is in a Separation Agreement. You will know specifically what is meant by each term and what rights and obligations are being provided to you. Equally and often overlooked at first are the rights and obligations that you may be giving away with the Separation Agreement and without careful planning, they may be lost forever. This is an essential point, since, unless you have contemplated a particular possibility, other lawyers could and will argue that it was not considered and so should be a reason to set the agreement aside.

 

The typical reasons a court will set aside a Separation Agreement are:

– Lack of full, complete and honest financial disclosure it is really not adequate to simply state you know or are aware of the other’s finances. Evidence, usually a sworn financial statement, will need to be demonstrated otherwise the agreement may easily be set aside, and this is even more clear now that the Family Law Act makes full disclosure a law at section 5.

– Duress, coercion, and unconscionability these can be interpreted in a variety of ways but you have to remember that the court understands that parties potentially have emotions and other factors that can amount to unfair force being exerted against a person who enters a contract. One example would include someone not having sufficient time to consider the agreement because some event was imminent, such a factor has on many occasions led to agreements being set aside.

– Failure to obtain independent legal advice people are often surprised at this but given the many necessary considerations even well intention and amicable separating parties may be faced with an agreement being thrown out because one or both of the parties did not consult a lawyer and as such were not aware of what rights and obligations they were losing by entering into a Separation Agreement.

 

As a lawyer who focuses on the diverse needs of family members at a specific point in their lives, I feel privileged to add value and understanding at this difficult time. We are often able to add significant value to these discussions and typically this can come in actual savings of taxes, and legal fees. We are confident in employing our services and aim to do this in a way that brings you the most timely and cost-effective results. In family matters, we often employ various techniques which include a multitude of dispute resolution mechanisms and always employ a strategy to advocate for you.

 

 

Michael_JakemanMichael has an undergraduate degree, a bachelor of science, from the University of Alberta and a professional degree in law, a juris doctor, from the University of Victoria. Michael serves individuals like you and has been protecting individuals rights since his call to both the bar association of British Columbia and Alberta in 2006. Michael believes clients are central to our profession and has served the legal profession in this pursuit through consulting work with both the Canadian Bar Association of British Columbia and the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria. Learn More about Mr. Jakeman

 

 

Calculating Reasonable Notice – Breaks in Service

Non-unionized employees in British Columbia who are terminated by the employer without cause are entitled to reasonable notice of the termination.  Reasonable notice can be given as pay in lieu of notice, as working notice, or as a combination of both.

These employees are entitled to statutory pay or working notice pursuant to the Employment Standards Act, and unless they are bound by an employment agreement that says otherwise, they may also be entitled to additional “common law” reasonable notice that is enforceable by the courts.

An employee’s reasonable notice period is usually calculated in weeks or months.  In calculating an employee’s entitlement to reasonable notice, the courts will consider the length of service of the employee, their age, and their ability to find other work.  The employee’s length of service tends to be a highly determinative factor, but in some cases, disputes may arise as to how the employee’s length of service is to be calculated.  It is typical of many long service employment relationships that there will be breaks in the employee’s service.  Typically, an employee will want their entire employment history counted when determining the length of service, while the employer is interested in minimizing their severance obligations.

In some cases, the court will ignore a break in service when calculating reasonable notice.  To make such a determination, the court will consider the length of the break relative to the length of service, the conduct of the employer in respect of the break (i.e., was the employee temporarily forced out of employment by the employer), as well as any evidence that shows that the employer intended to treat the employee’s service as continuous.  Typically, if the employee willingly leaves their job for another and is away for a considerable time before returning, the employment will not be considered as continuous.

If you are a long-serving employee who has been terminated from your employment, it is crucial that you seek legal advice.  An employer seeking to terminate a long serving employee should also be cautious as issues such these, as the amounts at stake as pay in lieu of notice could be substantial.

 

W. Eric Pedersen is a lawyer practising in Velletta & Company’s civil litigation department. Mr. Pedersen has worked with the civil litigation department to achieve successful outcomes for individuals and businesses, appearing in Provincial Court, Supreme Court, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal

Raising Capital: Strategies for Success

If your business has reached the stage where you need to raise investment capital to grow and develop, being well prepared and adopting key strategies for success will greatly increase your chances.

Consult Your Team: If you are at the stage of raising capital to fund the development of your business, you will likely have in place a team of professionals. It makes sense to consult with them and tap into their creativity and experience. This is a good launching point.

 

How Much: The more junior and less developed your business is, the more expensive in terms of rates or dilution it will be to obtain investment capital. Carefully consider how much of this expensive investment capital you need in the first stages. As your business develops and grows you will be able to raise capital at lower rates and with less dilution.

 

Be Prepared: Potential investors are usually savvy business people. They will quickly form an opinion to invest, or not to invest based on first impressions. How do you make a good first impression?

 

  1. Have at least a basic business plan, explaining where you want to take your business, how much capital you need, how that capital will be deployed and other basic information. It needs to look professional.
  2. Make sure you have pro forma financial statements demonstrating how the potential investor will benefit from their investment.
  3. Put together a physical binder, or digital data room of key documents concerning your business. Make it easy for the potential investor to perform due diligence on your business.
  4. Have a term sheet setting out all the terms and conditions of participation in your capital raise.
  5. One of the first places a potential investor will look is at your website. Make sure you have one, and that it is tasteful and represents your brand. A good website is a simple way to look established, successful and that you are going places. Even something very simple is better than nothing at all.
  6. Know your stuff. You should be well prepared to answer questions about your product or business. You will need to know the financial numbers and be able to explain how the investor will see a good financial return on their participation in your business. Be fully prepared to explain the form of the investment, how it works and the exact terms.

 

Intellectual Property: If your business or product is unique or innovative make sure you protect your intellectual property. At the very least you will want potential investors to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

Adopting these key strategies will help you make that critical positive first impression and be a launching pad for success.

 

Michael Velletta, Victoria BC lawyerMichael J. Velletta is a senior lawyer with decades of experience, sitting on the boards of a number of publicly traded companies in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

What to Bring to your First Meeting with a Lawyer

At Velletta & Company, our number one goal is to provide each of our clients with exceptional customer service. This starts right from the very first meeting. Throughout your matter, you may find yourself in our office or in contact with us quite frequently and we want to make sure we start the relationship off on the right foot!

Here are 5 things that you as the client can bring to make the process go even smoother.

 

  1. Two pieces of photo ID.

We need to confirm that you are you! Your ID is necessary for us to have relevant information about you that relates to the case such as your legal name, drivers license #, etc.   Examples of acceptable ID include Driver’s License, Passports and Medical Services Card (with photo ID).

 

  1. Pen & Paper

We will cover a number of things in our first meeting and there may be certain steps or documentation that we need you to follow through with—so note-taking in our meetings is always encouraged! Whether it is a pen and paper or notes on your cell phone—anything works.

 

  1. A List of Questions

Before your meeting write down any questions you may have. We are happy to answer them all and to help you understand the process that will take place. We want to make sure the process is as stress-free for you as possible.

 

  1. Relevant Documents

Bring any documents you currently have relating to your case. These may be a range of things and will vary based on your case. But the general rule of thumb is that if it has any relevance at all to your case, bring it in.

 

  1. Method of Payment

Please ensure that you bring a method of payment with you. We will notify you before the meeting of our consultation or retainer fees if they apply.

 

By bringing these 5 items with you to your first meeting we can ensure the process goes even smoother for both parties involved. We can also dive right into the details of your case and begin the steps necessary to ensure the best outcome possible!

The New Civil Resolution Tribunal

the-new

In British Columbia, most disputes involving less than $25,000 are resolved through Small Claims Court. Unfortunately many Small Claims litigants find this process time consuming and difficult to navigate without a lawyer, despite efforts to make it easier for parties to represent themselves and quickly settle their disputes through negotiation. Even with these efforts, Small Claims cases can take over a year to go to trial, if the case does not resolve at the mandatory settlement conference. In response to these problems, some have called for an expedited administrative process to deal with smaller disputes in a timelier manner, and without all of the formalities and rules of a traditional court proceeding. In response to these concerns British Columba enacted the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act [SBC 2012] c. 25 (the “Act”).

 

The Act

The Act establishes a Civil Resolution Tribunal (the “CRT”) that would provide an accelerated process for resolving minor strata property disputes and civil disputes up to $10,000. Initial tests of the tribunal process using a voluntary model showed low adoption, and so the process was made mandatory. The actual implementation however has been slow, and the Act is not yet fully implemented. In July 2016 the CRT began accepting strata disputes, and the current plan appears to be that in 2017 the CRT will begin accepting civil disputes up to $10,000.

 

Our firm regularly conducts Small Claims cases on behalf of our clients, and we are actively monitoring the development of the CRT so that we can advise our clients regarding this new dispute resolution process.

 

The Act contains a number of provisions that will make the CRT process very different from the traditional Small Claims Court process. Section 18 of the Act states that a tribunal proceeding is to be conducted with as little formality and technicality, and as much speed as is possible under the Act, the Rules, and with a proper consideration of the issues in the dispute.

 

The First Major Difference

Most, if not all, CRT proceeding will be conducted over the internet. Section 19 of the Act specifies that the tribunal may use electronic communication tools to conduct all or part of a proceeding. Courts have already begun to adopt online communication tools like video conferencing, but such methods are the exception rather than the rule. The CRT will change this, but it is not yet clear how the CRT intends to deal with parties who do not have internet access or who are not familiar with computers. One only has to sit through one attempted video conference that experiences technical difficulties to discover how quickly technology can malfunction, even with technologically sophisticated parties.

 

The Second Major Difference

Lawyers will only participate in CRT hearings under limited circumstances. Section 20 sets out that generally the parties are expected to represent themselves. There are exceptions that allow lawyers to act in CRT hearings when their client is a child or mentally impaired, when the rules otherwise permit, or when the tribunal deems it in the interests of justice and fairness.

The Possible Effects

Naturally lawyers are concerned about any quasi-judicial process that limits the rights of the parties to retain trained legal counsel. This is not a concern that is born out of self-interest. Disputes under $10,000 are rarely a profitable endeavor for a lawyer. The concern is that lawyers often play a vital role in negotiating matters, keeping the parties calm, and ensuring that the process runs smoothly. Lawyers also help muster the evidence and present it in an organized and compelling manner to secure the best possible result for their clients. Without lawyers involved in the process, the tribunal itself will have to accomplish these tasks, as well as adjudicating the dispute. If the tribunal fails to fill this void, the inevitable reality is that some parties will suffer from the lack of legal counsel.

 

It is too soon to tell how the CRT process will actually be implemented, but we are cautiously observing the development of this new process in order to monitor any potential impact on our clients.  If you have any questions, as always, contact us here at Velletta & Company!

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

_DSC0089_lowrezCadeyrn Christie is a civil litigation lawyer and business lawyer with Velletta & Company. A former tradesperson, business owner, and high performance athlete, Cadeyrn focuses his practice on providing dynamic representation to individuals and businesses.

OPCA Litigants: Their Own Worst Enemy.

The term “OPCA litigant” (Organized Pseudolegal Commercial Argument litigant) appears to have been first coined by Mr. Justice Rooke of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, in his seminal decision of Meads v. Meads, 2012 ABQB 571*.

Meads was a family law case in which one party chose to advance a number of meritless arguments in an attempt to deprive the court of jurisdiction or otherwise derail the matter. These arguments included claiming that the opposing party, the opposing party’s lawyer, and the court were attempting to “induce him into slavery”. The OPCA litigant produced reams of documents and left a court hearing half way through, apparently out of the fear that by remaining he would accept the court’s jurisdiction over him.

 

Mr. Justice Rooke took the case as an opportunity to release a massive 188 page decision that not only dealt with the issues between the parties, but went on to explore in depth the different types of OPCA litigants and explain why their arguments don’t work.

OPCA litigants have many different varieties. Some of the more common variants include the Freemen on the land” movement, de-taxers and Sovereign Citizens; but there are many others. The main characteristic of OPCA litigants is that they purport to believe that they have some kind of special tactic that will deprive the court of jurisdiction over them, or otherwise exempt them from following the law.

OPCA litigants usually represent themselves, as all lawyers are officers of the court with a duty to refrain from vexatious or meritless litigation, and so it is extremely unlikely that a lawyer would knowingly advance the case of an OPCA litigant. Many self-represented parties do an excellent job and would never engage in OPCA tactics, but almost all OPCA litigants are self-represented. This self-representation makes OPCA litigants even more challenging, because the court has a duty to explain the process and render some limited level of assistance to self-represented litigants. In the case of OPCA litigants, the court has to walk a fine line to fulfill their duty to the self-represented party, while also minimizing the impact of the shenanigans in which OPCA litigants routinely engage. The courts across Canada are increasingly aware of this issue, and are actively working to avoid the negative impacts of OPCA litigants.

 

Don’t Buy in to the OPCA!

The various strategies of OPCA litigants are too wide-ranging to fully discuss in this article, but some of them include:

  • Claiming that they are “natural persons” and are subject only to “God’s Law” and not to the laws of man;
  • Alleging that individuals are only obliged to pay income tax if they opt-in to government provided programs, like Canada Pension Plan;
  • Relying upon centuries-old statutes from England as part of an argument that Canadian courts lack jurisdiction to decide legal matters;
  • Claiming that due to procedural irregularities in their creation, Canadian courts only have jurisdiction over admiralty law and the sea, and have no jurisdiction on dry land;
  • Flat out refusing to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the courts, on the basis that the court has no jurisdiction over the individual unless the individual accepts the jurisdiction of the court.
  • Affixing stamps, thumb prints, and Latin phrases to documents, either to deliberately confuse the reader, or out of the belief that these items have some legal significance or impact.

Most troubling is the fact that OPCA argument is often promoted by “gurus” who sell their strategies to gullible individuals. This is especially common with tax evasion schemes where a guru will convince people that a made up strategy can allow them to never pay income tax and thereby take home more money. Often these gurus end up in jail or on the losing end of civil court actions due to their own strategies, but that is little consolation to someone who bought in to the guru’s strategy and ended up facing serious regulatory or criminal penalties; such as going to jail for tax evasion.

Canadian courts have unequivocally rejected the arguments and strategies advanced by OPCA litigants, especially the OPCA claim that the courts lack jurisdiction. The courts exist to enforce the law, to provide a venue for the resolution of disputes, and to create order in our society. In order to do this, the courts need the jurisdiction to fulfill these goals. In Meads at para 370 the court succinctly explained the position of Canadian courts towards OPCA and jurisdiction:

“There is always a court, though perhaps not this one, that has jurisdiction over these litigants and their activities. They cannot opt out. All arguments that invoke ‘immunity’ and indeed any schemes that claim a person can possess or acquire a status that allows them to ignore court authority are incorrect in law.”

The Meads decision goes on to address the other strategies of OPCA litigants, including debunking the idea that centuries-old statutes like the Magna Carta protect individuals from all government legislation, and rejecting the OPCA theory that everything, including paying income tax, is a contract that you can opt out of or terminate.

The court in Meads ultimately concluded that none of the OPCA strategies were valid, and stated that courts should dispose of OPCA arguments as directly as possible to protect those targeted by OPCA litigants, avoid the waste of court time, and to send a clear message that OPCA strategies will not succeed.

The end result is that pursuing these strategies will not magically make the case against you go away, and at most will result in only a temporary delay of the proceedings, while reducing the credibility of any legitimate legal arguments that you may have.

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What to Do When Faced with an OPCA Litigant?

The recent BC Supreme Court case reported under the style of cause For the Peter of the August-Sjodin Family,: sp17uwe./:secwepemc v. Little Shuswap Lake Indian Band, 2016 BCSC 1213, illustrates the damages that a vexatious OPCA litigant can cause.

The unusual style of cause gives away the OPCA strategies of the litigant in this case, who commenced various actions against his tribal band and its officials. The plaintiff was seeking, among other things, access to facilities from which he had been banned and compensation of “$20,000 in functional fiat Canadian currency from each defendant.”

The Notice of Civil Claim contained stamps, fingerprints, numbers and random letters that the court concluded were meaningless. The legal actions started by the plaintiff did not appear to have any merit, but still had to be defended by the defendants, causing significant costs.

Ultimately the court made an order that the plaintiff would have to provide security for costs before he could proceed with his action. This meant that the plaintiff could not take any steps in his lawsuit without putting an amount in to court that was deemed sufficient to cover the defendant’s costs if the plaintiff ultimately lost the case. Unfortunately the defendants were left with no recourse against the plaintiff to cover the already substantial legal costs that they had been forced to incur, because the plaintiff had no money. It is unlikely that the plaintiff would come up with the security for costs, and so his case was effectively at an end.

OPCA litigants usually end up in disputes with the government, but in civil actions against a private defendant the OPCA litigant can cause you to incur substantial costs just to deal with the OPCA litigant’s nonsense. If the OPCA litigant has no money these costs may be impossible to recover, so dealing with an OPCA litigant as cost effectively as possible is a priority.

 

The following are some of the strategies available to limit the damage caused by OPCA litigants:

  • Make an application to strike the OPCA plaintiff’s pleadings. This involves an application to a Master of the court, or a judge, and if the application is successful then the plaintiff’s claim against you can be dismissed. More likely the court may order that the plaintiff amend their claim, which limits the benefits of this option.
  • If the OPCA litigant actually has property, then you may pursue an award of special costs against them in order to recover the legal fees that you were forced to incur due to their meritless claim. This is possible where the OPCA litigant’s conduct has risen to an outrageous level and fulfills the legal test for an award of special costs. Unfortunately, many OPCA litigants are also flat out broke so no award of costs could ever be collected.
  • Seek security for costs where the OPCA litigant’s claim, defence or application is clearly meritless. This strategy appears to be gaining popularity to deal with the fact that many OPCA litigants will never pay a costs award after the fact. Where appropriate, your counsel might apply to the court for an order that the OPCA litigant be forced to pay into court an amount to cover costs before they can proceed with their litigation. For impecunious and vexatious OPCA litigants, this might prevent them from being able to proceed with their litigation.
  • Finally, for particularly persistent OPCA litigants someone may ultimately need to make an application to have them declared a vexatious litigant. If successful, that type of application can result in an order prohibiting the OPCA litigant from starting new lawsuits without the permission of a judge.

 

Conclusion

Many people would love to write their name in capitals, reference some centuries-old statute, throw in some incorrectly used Latin phrases and a few thumb prints for good measure, and completely avoid income tax, child support, or other obligations. Fortunately this is simply not possible.

The various OPCA schemes only end one way, with the OPCA litigant on the losing end; despite any meritorious arguments that they may have had before resorting to OPCA strategies. There are techniques for dealing with OPCA litigants, should you ever have the misfortune of facing one in a civil matter.

If you do find yourself in such an unfortunate situation, it is wise to seek experienced legal counsel as soon as possible. Velletta & Company is proud to offer a full range of legal services, including civil litigation defence. We have dealt with OPCA litigants in the past, including securing special costs awards against OPCA litigants. Contact us today!

 


*To anyone who is interested in reading more about this topic, the author recommends the Meads decision above as an excellent starting point as it cites many of the important OPCA decisions in Canada.

Why should you choose Velletta & Company?

Meet Mr. Michael Velletta as he explains how he and the team at Velletta & Company are here to help you!

Promissory Notes

Promissory Notes: Ancient Origins, Modern Importance

Promissory notes are believed to have originated in ancient China, and then made their way into European history, before ultimately becoming an important part of modern business. In ancient times money was made of precious metal, and any large transfer of funds over a distance was a heavy proposition, so promissory notes evolved as a lighter alternative. Now it is common to use promissory notes in many different business transactions, and for loans between private individuals. The Canadian Bills of Exchange Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. B-4) creates a statutory definition in section 176(1) for promissory notes in Canada:

 

“an unconditional promise in writing made by one person to another person, signed by the maker, engaging to pay, on demand or at a fixed or determinable future time, a sum certain in money to, or to the order of, a specified person or to bearer.”

 

Benefits of Promissory Notes

The main benefit of a promissory note is that it clearly documents an obligation to pay money, and creates a strong cause of action in the event that the issuer defaults upon the note. The signed promissory note is effective from the time it is made, and is an independent obligation of the issuer. If the note is drafted properly, the holder of the note can sue upon it without having to prove much beyond the fact that the defendant issued the note, and then defaulted upon it.

 

Strategically, having a signed promissory note can be invaluable to a creditor seeking to collect upon a debt. Collections work is pragmatic, and no creditor wants to spend more money enforcing a debt than the debt is actually worth. Litigation is expensive, and it takes a significant amount of time to obtain a judgement. In order to provide a more efficient method of obtaining judgment, the British Columbia Supreme Court Civil Rules contain a process called a summary trial. A summary trial is available in cases where a judge is able to decide the issue without having to hear live testimony and weigh the credibility of the parties. A signed promissory note can help a creditor to qualify for the summary trial process, and as a result obtain a more rapid and cost effective judgment against the debtor.

 

Pitfalls of Promissory Notes

 

1: A Sum Certain in Money

In order to be a promissory note, the document must make it clear that the issuer of the note is unconditionally promising to pay a specific amount of money. This makes a promissory note distinguishable from a revolving line of credit. The note must make it clear how much is owed by the issuer of the note. If the amount is not clear, then you have no promissory note, and consequently a big problem.

 

2: Interest

If the note contains interest, it must be clear how interest is calculated. This ties in to the requirement that the note be for a sum certain in money. The interest must be capable of being objectively calculated, and this requires that the rate of interest be stated, along with the formula for how interest is calculated – e.g. simple interest, or interest compounded monthly.

 

3: Notice of Default or Demand for Payment

Notes need to make it clear when a default has occurred. Many notes with regular payments contain a provision that the holder of the note must give notice of default to the issuer of the note, and the issuer must fail to remedy the default within a certain period of time, before the issuer can accelerate the debt and collect. If you are the one signing the promissory note, you may want a provision that gives you time to remedy a default without the holder of the note taking collection actions. On the other hand, if you are the holder of the note, you need to make sure that you give notice of a default correctly, and wait the requisite amount of time before taking collection actions.

 

For promissory notes that are payable on demand, you will also likely want to include in the note the amount of time that the issuer has to pay the note, after demand has been given. Under the common law, the issuer had a reasonable amount of time to satisfy the demand, and this had to be assessed taking into consideration the amount of the note. You would be wise to include a specific amount of time in order to avoid this issue, and make it totally clear how much time the issuer has to satisfy the demand.

 

For both defaults on installment notes, or demands for repayment on demand notes, the note should specify whether the notice must be given in writing, and whether it needs to be given at a particular place. In order to give effective notice, the holder of the note will need to comply with these requirements, or else the notice may be ineffective and therefore not trigger the issuer’s obligations.

 

4: Limitation Periods

Promissory notes can be either due on demand, or else contain specific dates on which payments must be made. For both types of notes, if the issuer defaults, you must bring a civil action to enforce the note within the applicable limitation period. The Limitation Act [SBC 2012] c.13 creates a general two year limitation period to commence a civil action. This limitation period runs from the date that the claim is discovered. For a note with regular payments, a claim would usually be discovered when the issuer of the note defaults upon a payment and fails to remedy the default within any time specified in the note.

 

For demand notes however, the situation is potentially much different. A note payable on demand can be demanded by the holder of the note at any time. Under the common law, demand notes were considered to be due and payable when the note was issued, and the limitation period ran from that date. Fortunately, the Limitation Act contains section 14, which provides that for claims upon a demand obligation, the claim is discovered on the first day that there is a failure to perform the obligation after a demand for performance has been made. This protects the holder of a demand note from their claim becoming statute barred before they have even issued a demand for performance. This only protects the holders of demand notes in British Columbia, and other jurisdictions might have less forgiving limitation periods.

 

Whether your note is payable in installments, or due on demand, it is vital to commence your enforcement proceedings quickly after there is a default. Failing to do so might result in your claim expiring, and then you are left unable to collect upon the amount in court.

 

5: Acceleration on Default

When a note contains payment in installments, and a payment is missed, this traditionally only allows the holder of the note to sue for the missed payment. The holder of the note could not sue for the full amount of the note unless there is a provision allowing the holder to accelerate the debt. Acceleration is important, because if the issuer of the note starts missing payments, you want to be able to claim the whole amount owing immediately, and not have to commence a separate lawsuit for each missed payment as the payments are missed. Promissory notes are subject to the legal rule of contra proferentem, meaning that courts will strictly interpret any ambiguity in the note against the party who drafted it, resolving any doubt about the meaning of a term in favor of the other party. It is important that the provision is drafted clearly, and gives the holder of the note the unambiguous right to claim the entire outstanding amount as immediately due and owing if the issuer of the note defaults upon a single payment.

 

From a practical point of view, you might choose not to accelerate the note, but the threat of doing so is a powerful bargaining chip to keep the issuer of the note on track with their payments.

 

Why Hire a Lawyer for a Promissory Note?

Our office routinely sees promissory notes that were drafted by the parties themselves without the benefit of legal assistance. These notes can range from relatively well drafted notes that are still enforceable despite their flaws, to totally useless pieces of paper that provide nothing more than a false sense of security. Even worse, we see clients who loaned money or made an agreement verbally and did not get a signed promissory note at all, which makes it potentially much harder to collect the amount owed.

 

For a lawyer, drafting an enforceable promissory note is relatively simple, and can be done for the client affordably. The lawyer will also meet with you to review your specific circumstances, and can advise you about any particular pitfalls in your situation, or about additional steps that you can take to protect yourself. In many cases, if you are loaning money and the debtor has assets, you might also want to obtain security over those assets so that you have collateral in the event that the debtor defaults. When the small cost of having a lawyer draft the note is compared with the huge hassle you can face in the event of a default, it is clear that if you are lending any significant amount of money, you’d be wise to have a lawyer prepare a promissory note.

Pre-Judgement Garnishing Orders

Pre-Judgement Garnishing Orders:
A pre-judgement garnishing order is an extraordinary remedy that can get money paid into court before a trial, and helps insure that the plaintiff will not end up with a paper judgement against a defendant who has no assets or funds. A plaintiff may apply to the court for a pre-judgement garnishing order immediately after filing their notice of civil claim, and before serving the defendant and thereby alerting them to the lawsuit.

If the garnishing order is granted, the parties named in the order who owe money to the defendant must instead pay those funds into court. The person upon whom the order is served is referred to as the “garnishee”. The funds are then held until the court makes an order regarding who gets the funds – the plaintiff or the defendant. The result is that the plaintiff can secure part of their claim early on, before the defendant even knows that they are being sued. This element of surprise helps to prevent the defendant from dissipating or hiding their funds once they know about the lawsuit.

Criteria:
Pre-judgement garnishment is an unusual remedy, because even though the plaintiff has not yet proven their case, they are able to garnish funds owed to the defendant. Because of the invasive nature of this remedy, there are strict requirements in order to qualify for a pre-judgement garnishing order. If these requirements are not met, the order is often refused or, if granted, may be set aside upon the application of the defendant. In order to obtain a pre-judgement garnishing order, the following criteria must be present:

1: the claim must be for a debt or liquidated amount: Debt is generally the more common claim, where funds have been advanced or a party owes money pursuant to a contract. A liquidated amount usually arises where the parties have inserted language into a contract that specifies the amount of the damages in the event that one party breaks the contract.

2: the plaintiff must deduct all just discounts: The courts have held this to mean that the plaintiff must deduct the amount of any claim of the defendant which, if ultimately accepted at trial, would establish that a sum was owed from the plaintiff to the defendant. In essence the plaintiff must make allowance for all potential claims of set off, or counterclaims of the defendant.

3: the plaintiff must know the identity of someone who owes money to the defendant: This is usually a bank at which the defendant holds an account. For bank accounts you need to know the specific branch at which the account is located. You can garnish anyone who owes money to the defendant, including employers – although there is a limit to the amount of wages that you can garnish. The funds must be actually owed at the time the order is served upon the garnishee, and so to garnish anything other than a bank account, your timing will likely need to be impeccable in order to serve your garnishing order on the garnishee after the debt has become due, but before it has been paid to the defendant.

Risks:
The largest risk is usually that you will pursue pre-judgement garnishment and end up not getting enough to have made the garnishment proceedings worth it. If the defendant has no money in their bank account, or if the garnishee does not in fact owe money to the defendant, then there is nothing for the garnishing order to seize.

The second risk of pre-judgement garnishment is that the defendant can apply to have the order set aside and the funds returned. Courts have held that, due to the invasive nature of pre-judgement garnishment proceedings, there must be meticulous compliance with the procedural requirements. In particular, the affidavit of the party who seeks the garnishing order must provide all the information for the registrar to approve the order. Since the application is without notice, the applicant must make full and frank disclosure in their affidavit.

Despite the onerous requirements to obtain a pre-judgement garnishing order, this type of order can be a valuable tool in your civil collection matter. Having funds paid into court will provide you with some peace of mind knowing that if you obtain a judgement, you should at least receive the amount of the funds in court. Garnishing a debtor’s bank account also demonstrates that you are taking the matter seriously, and having funds paid into court can motivate the debtor to make a reasonable proposal to satisfy the debt.

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