Litigation Guardian: Lawyers Can Assess Mental Capacity

Litigation Guardian: Lawyers Can Assess Mental Capacity

In Gengenbacher v. Smith, 2016 BCSC 1164, the court examined what is the test that a solicitor must satisfy to determine if the solicitor can represent an individual seeking to be a litigation guardian of an adult under a legal disability and determined that the court will leave the determination of mental capacity to the lawyer and the court will not enquire into the degree of the incapacity.

The Court Stated:

[11]        I will deal first with the application to substitute a litigation guardian, a Mr. Evens, on behalf of Mr. Gengenbacher. Mr. Evens has signed a consent stating that he is Mr. Gengenbachers brother, undertakes to be responsible for the costs of the proceeding, and has no interest in the proceeding adverse to that of Mr. Gengenbacher.

[12]        Counsel for Mr. Gengenbacher has prepared a certificate of fitness, in the terms required by Rule 20-2(8), certifying that Mr. Gengenbacher is a mentally incompetent person, and setting out the bases of that belief. Those bases include meetings and telephone conversations with Mr. Gengenbacher since 2014, and review of medical reports from a psychiatrist, a neurologist and Alberta government employees, all from between 2008 and 2010.

[13]        Counsel for the lawyer points to the age of the medical information on which the certificate is partly based, and is concerned that any order made with respect to appointing a litigation guardian not become either res judicata in any later proceedings between Mr. Gengenbacher and his former lawyer, or influence any findings of fact in any later proceedings. The concern is that the order might be taken as a finding of Mr. Gengenbacher’s capacity that might somehow be applied retrospectively.

[14]        In my view, the Rules with respect to conducting litigation through a litigation guardian clearly leave any assessment of capacity to counsel: the court does not inquire into capacity, nor does the court rule on capacity. It is enough that a lawyer, as an officer of the court, certify that a person is a mentally incompetent person, in the words of Rule 20-2(8).

[15]        If this were a fresh action, no order would be required. Sub-rule (2) provides that no action may be by or against a person under legal disability except by his or her litigation guardian. Person under legal disability is a necessarily broader term than mentally incompetent persona so as to permit infants to engage in litigation while minors. In E.M.E. v. D.A.W., 2003 BCSC 1878 (CanLII), the court held at para. 16 that persons under legal disability for the purposes of Rule 20-2 were infants or mentally incompetent persons, based on a reading of the Rule as a whole. I note that sub-rule (12) contemplates a litigant who attains majority during the litigation, and who is “then under no legal disability of assuming conduct of their litigation on filing an affidavit.

[16]        Sub-rule (10) contemplates court involvement in this question only if a litigant becomes a mentally incompetent person while a party to a proceeding, in which case the court must appoint a litigation guardian if no committee has been appointed or the litigant has not nominated a representative under the Representation Agreement Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 405. E.M.E. v. D.A.W., does not require an inquiry into mental capacity in every case, as in there it was an opposing party seeking appointment of a litigation guardian for a self-represented litigant, with neither a lawyers certificate nor consent of a proposed litigation guardian

Trevor Todd

Trevor Todd is one of the province’s most esteemed estate litigation lawyers. He has spent more than 40 years helping the disinherited contest wills and transfers – and win. From his Kerrisdale office, which looks more like an eclectic art gallery than a lawyer’s office, Trevor empowers claimants and restores dignity to families across BC. He is a mentor to young entrepreneurs and an art buff who supports starving artists the world over. He has an eye for talent and a heart for giving back.

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