Jennifer Pereira, Q.C. joins the Remai Modern Foundation Board

Congratulations to Jennifer Pereira, Q.C. on her appointment to the Remai Modern Foundation Board. The Remai Modern Foundation, incorporated in 2017, is a nonprofit foundation whose sole purpose is to support the mission and activities of Remai Modern. Donations, gifts and bequests are invested to generate income for acquisitions, research, major exhibitions and programming, to help sustain Remai Modern as a leading cultural institution.

For more information about the Remai Modern Foundation, click here.

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What if I just don’t? A cautionary tale for those who ignore Saskatchewan’s new prompt payment requirements

For the past several years, we have been presenting to the construction industry the pending (and as of March 1, 2022, now in force) prompt payment provisions, which are now included in The Builders’ Lien Act of Saskatchewan. A common question that arises during every discussion on the topic is “what if I just don’t follow these provisions?” While the answer in many cases is clearly outlined in the legislation, there are many unknowns as well. For example, we know that if an Owner does not formally dispute an invoice within 14 days, the invoice becomes due and payable. However, some wondered about the repercussions of simply ignoring the paperwork or payment requirements along the way.  Surely there would be some second chances? We often rely upon Court decisions to interpret legislation, but since the legislation itself is new, it may be a while before we know how the Saskatchewan Courts will address questions of this nature.

Fortunately, we can now take some guidance from the Courts in Ontario (the first jurisdiction in Canada to enact prompt payment legislation.) Their prompt payment provisions have been in place for over two years, and the related Court decisions are now starting to trickle in. The verdict? The Courts fully appreciate the importance of the prompt payment provisions and will interpret them strictly and to the detriment of those who choose to ignore them.

One such case was very recently reported in SOTA Dental Studio Inc. v. Andrid Group Ltd., 2022 ONSC 2254. SOTA hired Andrid to construct a dental clinic in Vaughn, Ontario. Andrid issued invoices to SOTA, none of which were disputed within 14 days of receipt, making those invoices due and payable. When SOTA did not pay within the required 28 days, Andrid invoked the adjudication process and obtained a decision from the adjudicator requiring SOTA to pay the invoiced amount. SOTA continued to ignore its payment obligations, leaving Andrid to pursue enforcement measures. Andrid was able to garnish a portion of the amount owing from SOTA’s bank account, but the majority of the debt remained unpaid.

Similar to Saskatchewan, Ontario’s prompt payment legislation permits a party to apply for judicial review of an adjudicator’s decision, though in Ontario the parties are required to seek leave of the Court to do so, which is not a requirement in Saskatchewan. However, in both provinces, an application for judicial review does not operate as a ‘stay’ of the adjudicator’s order unless the Court orders otherwise.

SOTA was granted leave to bring the judicial review application but did not seek a ‘stay’ of the adjudicator’s decision in the interim. As such, the adjudicator’s decision remained enforceable until the judicial review application was heard by the Court.

In advance of the hearing, the Court flagged their concern with SOTA’s continued failure to pay the amount owing under the adjudicator’s decision. Notably, the Court outlined the following principles to be understood by all parties in the construction industry:

[12]           …  So that there is no misunderstanding in future cases, we suggest the following principles to be borne in mind.

(a) prompt payment is integral to the scheme of the Construction Act. 

(b) failure to pay in accordance with the prompt payment requirements of the Act may lead this court to refuse leave.  Where leave is granted, an applicant must obtain a stay or must make payment, failing which this court may dismiss the application on motion to quash or at the hearing of the application.

At the hearing, SOTA argued that it had not made payment because “there was no money.” The Court responded sternly:

[13] … If the owner is insolvent, as appears to be the case, it should not be permitted to run up costs and delays through recourse to litigation in the face of the order below and the prompt payment provisions of the Act.  If there are circumstances that should lead the court to grant a stay, in all of these circumstances, these must be established on proper evidence in the context of a motion for a stay.

And with that, the Court dismissed SOTA’s application for judicial review and awarded costs to Andrid in the sum of $10,000.

So, what’s the answer to the question “what if I just don’t?” Well, so far the message appears to be that the Courts will take no mercy upon you. All parties in the construction industry should understand the prompt payment and adjudication requirements that are now in force for non-exempt construction contracts entered into after March 1, 2022. In this case, ignorance will not be bliss!

This article is intended to provide legal information only, not legal advice.  Dividing family property can be quite complicated. It is recommended that you seek the advice of a lawyer when considering the division of family property.

For further information, please contact:

Misty S. Alexandre
Direct: 306-933-1352
Email: [email protected]

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Saskatchewan Estate Litigation Update: Choquette v Viczko, 2021 SKQB 167

The recent decision in Choquette v Viczko, 2021 SKQB 167, offers a new interpretation of s. 50.5 of the Administration of Estates Act (“Act”).

Background:

Under s. 50.5 of the Act, if an executor sells land to which a beneficiary is beneficially entitled, the executor requires the consent of that beneficiary. The provision reads as follows:

50.5(1) The executor or administrator shall not sell real property for the sole purpose of distributing the estate among the persons beneficially entitled to it unless those persons concur in the sale.

Facts in Choquette v Viczko

The factual background in Choquette may be summarized as follows:

  1. Joseph Viczko died on September 10, 2011. Joseph had three children, namely, Ms. Choquette, Donna Boots and David Viczko;
  2. Joseph had been a farmer. His will directed that it was his “intention to sell the W1/2 12‑39‑27 W2, or any other farm land that [he owned] while I am living and distribute the proceeds of sale equally between my daughters”. The will further provided that if, at his death, Joseph had not sold the farmland, then it “shall be sold by my Trustee and the proceeds divided equally between my daughters”;
  3. At the time of his death, Joseph had not sold the west half of section 12, and so it was left to be distributed in accordance with his will. Ms. Boots was named as executor under the will;
  4. In 2012, she sold the land to her brother, David Viczko, and his spouse, Jennifer Viczko;
  5. In 2013, Ms. Choquette commenced an action seeking to set aside the sale and transfer. In her statement of claim she identified two grounds. Among her objections, was the assertion that her consent to the sale was required because of s. 50.5(1) of the Administration of Estates Act.
Queen’s Bench Ruling in Choquette v Viczko:

One issue that Choquette considered was this: who qualifies as a  beneficiary whose consent to the sale of the land is required under s. 50.5 of the Act?

Choquette clarified that not every sale of estate land will trigger the need for s. 50.5 consents from Estate beneficiaries.

For example, Choquette said that if the Will is such that the beneficiaries of the Estate are only left the proceeds of the sale of the land (but not given a right to go on title to the land itself), then the executors need not obtain consent.

The Court in Choquette reasoned as follows:

23      This operation of s. 50.4 is consistent with the overall approach of the Legislature to wills and estates. That approach is to accommodate, where possible, the implementation of a testator’s final testamentary wishes. Reading “the persons beneficially entitled to it” to mean “the persons beneficially entitled to the real property” is consistent with that approach. I conclude that “the persons beneficially entitled to it” in s. 50.5(1) means “the persons beneficially entitled to the real property”.

24      Therefore, s. 50.5(1) refers to persons who are beneficially entitled to the real property that is proposed to be sold. Here, Ms. Choquette is not such a person. Rather, she is beneficially entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the sale of the real property. Therefore, the answer to this question is “no”. Ms. Choquette is not a beneficiary whose consent to the sale of the land is required under s. 50.5 of The Administration of Estates Act.

This has practical implications for many executors. Many wills say that the Estate is to be sold (liquidated) and the proceeds divided between the beneficiaries. In such case, the names of beneficiaries are not actually going on title to the land. Rather, the beneficiaries will later get a sum of cash (representing the sale proceeds).

Choquette also declared that where is a direction in the Will to sell land, and distribute the proceeds, s. 50.5 simply does not apply to that situation. That is because the terms of the Will already provide sufficient authority for the Executor to sell Estate land:

27             Put another way, s. 50.5 is an enabling provision, not a restricting provision. It enables an executor to sell real estate where the executor is not otherwise empowered to do so. Here, where the executor was expressly empowered by the testator to sell the land, there was no need for the executor to resort to s. 50.5 for authority to do so.

36      The question that I am considering here asks whether the specific direction given in the will of the deceased, to sell the land and distribute the proceeds thereof, is paramount to the provisions of the Act (specifically s. 50.5). The answer effectively is “yes”, but the more precise answer is that, because of the specific direction given in the will, the provisions of s. 50.5 have no application. It is not that both the will and s. 50.5 apply to the circumstances, with the direction in the will being paramount. Rather, because of the direction in the will s. 50.5 of the Act does not apply to the circumstances at all.

The court has the ability to retroactively approve a sale:

Choquette also affirmed that the court has the ability to retroactively approve a sale which occurred without beneficiary approval. The court will look at whether the sale was appropriate (i.e. is there evidence it was sold for fair market value? Would it serve no purpose to re-open the sale, causing delay or expense).

If the sale was appropriate, then the court can “cure” the prior lack of beneficiary consent.

We find the below in Choquette:

39      Section 50.5(4)(b) refers to court approval of a sale where a beneficiary does not concur in the proposed sale. Here, the sale occurred years ago. The sale to the Viczkos is not a proposed sale. What is sought is retroactive approval of the sale. In the circumstances of this matter, it is appropriate to approve the sale retroactively. In so saying, I have reference to the guidance provided to the court, in s. 50.5(5), when considering a request to approve a sale:

(5) On application pursuant to subsection (4), the court may make an order approving the sale of the real property if the court is satisfied that it is in the interest and to the advantage of the estate of the deceased and the persons beneficially interested in it.

(emphasis added)

Leave to appeal:

The unsuccessful party in Choquette sought  an order extending the time within which to appeal the Queen’s Bench decision. The Court of Appeal did not give her permission to appeal. In large part, the Court of Appeal found that there was no error with the underlying conclusion that the sale should be approved as reasonable, in any event.

However, the Court of Appeal did suggest that Choquette’s interpretation of s. 50.5 may one day be revisited (and thus is not yet cemented in stone):

[36]           If the Chambers judge’s decision to dismiss Ms. Choquette’s claim rested solely on his analysis in relation to these three questions, I would have found that there was an arguable issue raised by her appeal and would also have been inclined to grant Ms. Choquette an extension of time to appeal, even in the face of her significant delay in making her application. The conclusions reached by the Chambers judge involve determinations of questions of law, largely turning on the proper interpretation of the Act. In the course of his analysis, he acknowledged the existence of ambiguity in the meaning of several of the key provisions. On several key issues, the Chambers judge referred only to decisions of judges of the Court of Queen’s Bench. In this regard, on the question as to whether s. 50.5(1) is applicable when a will gives an executor a right of appeal was raised, but left undecided, in Viczko CA. Moreover, although the Chambers judge supported his conclusion with reference to several decisions from the Court of Queen’s Bench, he was required to distinguish Tomochko Estate v Wilchuk2017 SKQB 381, 34 ETR (4th) 283, and Holter v Holter2019 SKQB 102. Regardless of whether the distinctions he offered are sound, it is at least arguable that s. 50.5(1) should be interpreted as applying even when a will provides for a right of sale.

Choquette v Viczko, 2022 SKCA 11

Thus, it is very possible that the proper interpretation of s. 50.5 may continue to be litigated in Saskatchewan court, until the Court of Appeal addresses this specific issue.

The law in light of Choquette

For now, as Choquette was not overturned on appeal, the law of Saskatchewan is currently set out below:

  1. Where a person is merely beneficially entitled to a portion of the proceeds of the saleof the real property, but not the land itself, s. 50.5 does not apply (Choquette at para 24);
  2. Where the executor was expressly empowered by the testator to sell the land, there was no need for the executor to resort to  50.5for authority to do so” (Choquette at para 27).

Thus, some executors may find their task simplified, when they go to sell Estate land.

However, executors should still, if possible, attempt to obtain beneficiary approval to sales of Estate land. While this consent may not be strictly legally required under s. 50.5, getting advance consent can reduce headaches later. That is, a beneficiary could still later complain that land (in whose proceeds they have an interest) was sold for undervalue. Getting prior approval from beneficiaries, is a means to avoid any later complaints.

 

Contacting a Lawyer on this Subject

James Steele’s preferred practise area is estate litigation, including will challenges, executor disputes, power of attorney issues, etc. Contact James Steele at 1-306-933-1338 or [email protected]. The above is for general information only, and not legal advice. Parties should always seek legal advice prior to taking action in specific situations.

Read more on our blog.

The Saskatchewan Estate Law blog is dedicated to providing practical, real-world information on Estate Law issues that affect Saskatchewan residents. The blog is written by RS lawyer, James Steele, whose practice focuses on estate litigation.

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Join Tiffany Paulsen, Q.C. and other seasoned litigators to break down their most effective questioning techniques, providing you with the tools, tips and strategies you need to get the most out of your next questioning. Find out how to gather information, obtain admissions, test theories, assess witness credibility and handle difficult witnesses and counsel.

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