Court Inherent Jurisdiction to Prevent Miscarriage of Justice

In Zant v Zant 2022 BCSC 2023 the Court exercised it’s inherent jurisdiction to prevent an abuse of court and miscarriage of justice.

During temporary covid court rules, an imposter posed as a wife and signed and spoke to a consent order over telephone that settled the wife’s interests for very little.

Evidence came forward one year later that the “wife’ was an imposter”, the real wife brought court proceedings to set aside the consent court order, and the court did so

INHERENT JURISDICTION

The court has inherent jurisdiction to set aside a consent order where there are grounds that would invalidate a contract.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal in Racz v. Mission (District), [1988] B.C.J. No. 19 (C.A.) endorsed the law relating to setting aside a consent order summarized by Fraser and Horn, Conduct of Civil Litigation in British Columbia, Vol. 2 as follows:

[8] The law relating to the setting aside of a consent order is summarized by the editors of Fraser and Horn, Conduct of Civil Litigation in British Columbia, vol. 2 at p. 1064 (January 1985):

27.11 Order Obtained by Consent.

An order entered by consent is in effect an agreement of compromise and such an order may be set aside on any ground which would invalidate a contract. In all other respects the judgment has full force and validity. A separate action must be brought to set aside a final order. Where the order is interlocutory however, a motion may be made to set it aside.
Grounds upon which a consent order may be set aside include lack of authority of counsel, common mistake, fraud, collusion, duress and illegality.

Nichol v. Nichol, 2015 BCCA 278 summarized the inherent jurisdiction of the court in more general terms at para. 28:

[28] Further, the Supreme Court has inherent jurisdiction to prevent miscarriages of justice. As this Court stated in R & J Siever Holdings Ltd. v. Moldenhauer, 2008 BCCA 59, at para. 14:

[14] … In addition to the powers conferred by the Rules of Court, the Supreme Court of British Columbia, as a superior court of record, has inherent jurisdiction to regulate its practice and procedures so as to prevent abuses of process and miscarriages of justice: see I.H. Jacob, “The Inherent Jurisdiction of the Court” (1970) 23 Current Leg. Prob 23 at 23-25. As the author said, at 25,

The inherent jurisdiction of the court may be exercised in any given case, notwithstanding that there are Rules of Court governing the circumstances of such case. The powers conferred by the Rules of Court are, generally speaking, additional to, and not in substitution of, powers arising out of the inherent jurisdiction of the court. The two heads of powers are generally cumulative, and not mutually exclusive, so that in any given case, the court is able to proceed under either or both heads of jurisdiction.

The Annulment Order was also set aside on the basis that it constitutes an abuse of process. There should be no question that it is an abuse of process for a party to secure an order of the court with the assistance of an imposter.
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Wills Variation and Estranged Children

J.R.v J.D.M. 2016 BCSC 2265 discusses in great detail the law and related facts of the case in a wills variance case brought by the  estranged child of the deceased.

 

The Facts:

No explanation was left by the deceased for the disinheritance other than the notaries notes that he had not seen his daughter for over ten years.

The daughter’s evidence that she had been sexually and emotionally abused by her father, together with his lack of financial contribution to her education and general welfare was accepted by the court.

As is often the case in estrangement cases that I have dealt with, the child left home at an early age ( 15) .

When this occurs it is  my experience that  it is done for valid reasons.

Any attempt by her in subsequent years to make amends with her father was rejected by him. The court accepted her evidence that there had been nothing positive or healthy in her relationship with her father and that she reasonably believed that her father had no genuine interest in making amends are pursuing any reconciliation.

Generally speaking in my experience, when children leave home at an early age and deliberately have little or no contact with either or both parents, there is usually a valid reason that amounts to the  fault on behalf of the parents to have caused the estrangement.

The court somewhat recognize such behavior and are receptive to the notion that the failure of a parent to financially contribute to a child support during his or her minority is a factor in assessing his or her moral claim for a variation of a parents will when the child has been disinherited.

The court found that any telephone calls between the daughter and the father were distressing and demeaning to the daughter. She was not invited to his second wedding but did attend his funeral.

The court found as a fact that it was the father’s mistreatment of his daughter and his voluntary abdication of his parental obligations that cause the fracture of the father daughter relationship.

As such, the onus for repairing the relationship and seeking any form of reconciliation with his daughter rested squarely with the father and his moral duty to her was enhanced as a result of his blameworthy conduct.

THE  LAW

[98]        When faced with a long period of estrangement as in this case, the court will  inquire into the role played by the testator. If the estrangement is largely the fault of the testator, it will likely not negate a testator’s moral duty to an adult child. McBride, at para. 132; Gray v. Nantel, 2002 BCCA 94 at paras. 17-21. The Court’s summary at para. 132 of McBride is of particular relevance to this case:

“In the early development of the caselaw, a long period of separation, abandonment or estrangement between a child and testator was frequently, though not invariably, taken to militate against finding a moral duty to an adult child. The modern judicial trend indicates that the court will enquire into the role played by the testator in the estrangement or relationship breakdown, and where it is seen to be largely the fault of or at the insistence of a testator, it will likely not negate a testator’s moral duty, and may even enhance it. The weight of the authorities also indicates that the court may discern a moral duty as a means of rectifying the testator’s childhood neglect of the children: Gray v. Gray Estate, 2002 BCCA 94, 98 B.C.L.R. (3d) 389,”

Doucette v. Clarke, 2007 BCSC 1021, 35 E.T.R. (3d) 98 [Doucette]; Tomlyn v.Kennedy, 2008 BCSC 331, 38 E.T.R. (3d) 289; Wilson v. Watson, 2006 BCSC 53, 21 E.T.R. (3d) 285; P.S.G. v G.G. Estate, 2005 BCSC 1855; Ryan.

[123]     The comments of Donald J.A. in Gray in addressing the moral claim of an adult child in a WVA claim are apposite in this case:

“I cannot accept that a child so neglected for his first 18 years and then treated shabbily during a brief reconciliation can be said to forfeit the moral claims to a share in his father’s estate by abandoning any further effort to establish a relationship. The fault in this sad story lies with the father and, in my opinion, the onus to seek further reconciliation was on his shoulders. The testator gave the appellant virtually nothing in an emotional or material way; the will was his last opportunity to do right by his son.”

Settlement Agreements to Be Upheld

The bar to set aside a settlement agreement is a high one.

There is a great public interest in holding people to their bargains.

BC courts have repeatedly cited the principles set out by the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Robertson v. Walwyn Stodgell Cochran Murray Ltd. 24 BCLR (2d) 385 (BCCA), 1988 CarswellBC 120 at para 9, cited in Lessing Brandon & Company LLP v. Dyck and others, 2019 BCSC 2331 at para 43:

“The fact that the settlement agreement may not have been a desirable one from [one parties point of view], or the fact that they may have received poor advice from their lawyer, or the fact that they later changed their minds, cannot provide grounds for setting aside the settlement agreement, or for a refusal to enforce it […]

Sojka v Sojka 2018 BCSC 562 reviews the law with respect to enforcement of a settlement reached at a mediation where both parties were represented by counsel, and one party attempted to renege on the agreement by utilizing what the court regarded as “settler’s remorse.”

The plaintiff brought on a court application to enforce the minutes of settlement that were signed by the parties and their counsel, and relied upon S 8(3) of the Law and Equity act and the inherent jurisdiction of the court to enforce the terms of settlement, which the court in fact did.

The defendants in their attempt to renege on the settlement argued that they were mistaken as to certain evaluations of property at the mediation, which the court found was not in fact the case, finding that the minutes of settlement and release constituted a clear agreement between the parties.

The court followed the decision of Roumanis v Hill 2013 BCSC 1047 as to when the enforceability of a settlement agreement ought to be decided on a summary procedure.
The court stated:

The question of the proper procedure to adjudicate the enforceability of the settlement was addressed in Mackenzie v Mackenzie (1975) BCJ 1114 were the court reviewed the authorities and concluded that the court ought to enforce settlement upon application in the action of justice could be done by proceeding summarily.

The court found that there is a sound policy for the courts to enforce the terms of a valid settlement agreement as stated by the BC Court of Appeal in Robertson v Walwyn et al (1988) 24 BCLR )2d) 385 (BCCA):

“Justice affects both parties and requires a balancing of their interests. The fact that the settlement agreement may not have been a desirable one from the point of view of the Robertsons, or the fact that they may have received for advice from their lawyer, or the fact that the later change their minds, cannot provide grounds for setting aside the settlement agreement, or refusal to enforce it. And it would do scant justice to the interests of the defendants in this case to recognize the validity of the settlement agreement, and that it will ultimately prevail, but to refuse to enforce it at this time and in these proceedings.”

Hawitt v Campbell 1983 Carswell BC 199 (BCCA) set out that a court could refuse to exercise its discretion to perfect a settlement where:

1. There was a limitation on the instructions of the solicitor known to the opposite party;
2. There was a misapprehension by the solicitor making the settlement of the instructions of the client or the facts of the type that would result in an justice or make it unreasonable or unfair to enforce the settlement;
3. There was fraud or collusion;
4. There was an issue to be tried as to whether there was such a limitation, misapprehension, fraud or collusion in relation to the settlement.

Guarantee Claims

What Is a Guarantee?

A useful definition of a guarantee is found in Western Dominion Inv. Co. v. MacMillan, [1925] 2 D.L.R. 442 (Man K.B.).

Reduced to its simplest terms a guaranty is a promise of one man to pay the debt of another if that other defaults. In every case of guaranty there are at least two obligations, a primary and a secondary. The secondary—the guaranty–is based upon the primary, and is enforceable only if the primary defaults. It is so completely dependent upon the unchanged continuance of that primary, that if any, even the slightest, unauthorized changes are made in the primary, as e.g., by extension of time for payment, or by reducing the chances of enforcing payment, as, e.g., by releasing any part of the securities,–the secondary thereby falls to the ground. In other words, the secondary is not only collateral to, but is exactly co-extensive with, the primary, as the primary existed when the secondary came into existence. Lastly, if the secondary obligor pays the debts he is entitled, as of right, to step into the creditor’s shoes.

Guarantee Must Be In Writing

Section 59 of Law and Equity Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 253 requires that both a contract respecting the disposition of land and a guarantee be evidenced in writing:

(3) A contract respecting land or a disposition of land is not enforceable unless

(a) there is, in a writing signed by the party to be charged or by that party’s agent, both an indication that it has been made and a reasonable indication of the subject matter,
(b) the party to be charged has done an act, or acquiesced in an act of the party alleging the contract or disposition, that indicates that a contract or disposition not inconsistent with that alleged has been made, or
(c) the person alleging the contract or disposition has, in reasonable reliance on it, so changed the person’s position that an inequitable result, having regard to both parties’ interests, can be avoided only by enforcing the contract or disposition.

(6) A guarantee or indemnity is not enforceable unless

(a) it is evidenced by writing signed by, or by the agent of, the guarantor or indemnitor, or
(b) the alleged guarantor or indemnitor has done an act indicating that a guarantee or indemnity consistent with that alleged has been made.