Commercial Litigation

Overview

We believe it is as important to prevent lawsuits as it is to settle them. That is why our commercial litigation team is prepared to take the appropriate actions at every step of the process, whether legal proceedings are planned or not. By combining their extensive litigation experience with the know-how of their network of professionals, they will easily meet your highest expectations.

Whether you are a major corporation or an SME in the manufacturing, financial services, real estate, distribution, or new economy sectors, you will find the answers you seek. Lavery’s expertise in this field is recommended by the Canadian Legal LEXPERT Directory.

Services

  • Dispute prevention and resolution, including breach of contract
  • Restraint of trade
  • Breach of confidentiality
  • Unfair competition
  • Shareholder disputes
  • Commercial leases
  • Securities
  • Intellectual property
  • Trademark enforcement and compliance
  • Product liability
  • Banking litigation, commercial paper, bills of exchange, security, realizing on security, and other financial transactions
  • Collection
  • Libel, slander and defamation
  • Real estate litigation
  • Consumer protection

Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory

  1. Construction: An unwarranted contestation may be considered an abuse of procedure

    In the decision in 9058-4004 Québec inc. c. 9337-9907 Québec inc.1 rendered on October 21, 2022, the court granted compensation to a subcontractor for its extrajudicial fees further to a general contractor’s unfounded contestation of its claim as part of a hypothecary action. The facts In May 2019, Portes de garage Citadelle Ltée (“Citadelle”) and general contractor 9337-9907 Québec inc. (“AllConstructions”) concluded a contract for the provision of services and materials needed to install unloading docks in a building under construction. On May 16, 2019, notice of the contract was given to the building owner, 9058-4004 Québec inc. (“Transport Pouliot”). The first two phases of Citadelle’s work were completed between June and August 2019. In late September 2019, AllConstructions allegedly vacated the worksite after a dispute with Transport Pouliot. The third phase of Citadelle’s work was completed in October 2019. On November 25, 2019, Citadelle sent a statement of account to AllConstructions and registered a legal hypothec on the building two days later. On December 23, 2019, after registering a prior notice of the exercise of a hypothecary right, AllConstructions brought a hypothecary action against Transport Pouliot in the Superior Court, claiming the sums it was owed. For its part, Citadelle brought a hypothecary action against the owner, Transport Pouliot, and instituted legal proceedings against AllConstructions in April 2020. It is important to note that during the proceedings, AllConstructions admitted that it had received payment from Transport Pouliot for the sums invoiced by Citadelle. To justify its refusal to pay its subcontractor Citadelle, AllConstructions argued summarily that the services and materials provided were inadequate and did not meet standards. Despite its weak position and the lack of compelling evidence, AllConstructions maintained its argument. Citadelle had no choice but to pursue its legal proceedings and apply to have AllConstructions’ action declared abusive in order to recover its extrajudicial fees. AllConstructions’ abuse of procedure Citadelle claimed that AllConstructions’ defence was unfounded, frivolous and intended to delay. AllConstructions only had testimonial evidence to support its allegations, and it failed to file any expert opinions or exhibits. The contract did not contain a “pay when paid” clause, and AllConstructions admitted in the proceedings that it had received payment from Transport Pouliot for the sums invoiced by Citadelle. AllConstructions claimed that it had serious arguments to make in response to the application to have its action declared abusive. It stated that the work performed by Citadelle was inadequate and that the materials and services provided were not up to standards. It maintained its position, despite the fact that it had vacated the worksite a month before Citadelle’s work was completed and, therefore, could not have verified the actual quality of the work performed. In March 2022, AllConstructions ultimately abandoned its contestation of Citadelle’s claim a few days before the trial and nearly a year and a half after the proceedings began. The judge allowed Citadelle’s application to have AllConstructions’ action declared abusive. AllConstructions’ defence was unfounded, frivolous and intended to delay. It had no solid factual or legal basis. The allegation that Citadelle failed to comply with standards in the performance of its contract is mere speculation, as AllConstructions left the worksite in September 2019. Citadelle incurred unnecessary extrajudicial fees as a result of AllConstructions’ unfounded contestation of its claim. The judge awarded Citadelle a sum of $9,000.00 as compensation for the legal fees that it had paid. What it means A general contractor that cannot justify a deduction from its subcontractor’s claims after the work is completed but does so anyway risks having its contestation declared abusive. Jurisprudence has established that abuse of procedure may consist of légèreté blâmable [blameworthy conduct]2 or témérité [recklessness] resulting from allegations that do not stand up to careful analysis or are exaggerated beyond the scope of the dispute between the parties.3 A manifestly unfounded action is a civil fault that may be subject to legal proceedings and sanctions in accordance with article 51 of the Code of Civil Procedure.4 A party that considers itself the victim of abusive proceedings may, in addition to applying to have the proceedings declared abusive, claim the reimbursement of reasonable legal fees it has paid.5 This is precisely what Citadelle did and what it obtained. AllConstructions irresponsibly managed its dispute with its subcontractor. It made arguments based only on unverified assumptions, even though the evidence set out in the application was relatively solid and complete. As a victim of abuse of procedure, Citadelle was granted a reimbursement of its legal fees in addition to the sums that it was owed by AllConstructions. Court file No. 760-22-011912-204 Royal Lepage commercial inc. c. 109650 Canada ltd., 2007 QCCA 915 El-Hachem c. Décary, 2012 QCCA 2071 2741-8854 Québec inc. c. Restaurant King Ouest, 2018 QCCA 1807 (CanLII) Only extrajudicial fees deemed reasonable are reimbursed in full. The factors considered in establishing a total reasonable amount are summarized in paragraph 32 of the case at hand and are cited from Groupe Van Houtte inc. c. Développements industriels et commerciaux de Montréal inc., 2010 QCCA 1970, and Iris Le Groupe visuel (1990) inc. c. 9105-1862 Québec inc., 2021 QCCA 1208

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  2. Sales without legal warranty at the buyers’ risk: Clarity is key

    On July 15, 2022, Justice François Lebel of the Court of Québec rendered a decision1 confirming that, in the case of the sale of immovable property, a clear and unambiguous exclusion clause, whereby the warranty is waived at the buyer’s risk, results in a break in the chain of title preventing the buyer from taking any legal action under such warranty against the seller and previous sellers. Justice Lebel thus declared the originating application against the defendants Marshall and Bergeron inadmissible and dismissed the call in warranty. This decision is consistent with the recent decision of the Court of Appeal of Quebec in Blais,2 rendered in May 2022, which clarified the state of the law on the consequence of waiving a legal warranty where successive sales are involved. The facts In March 2009, the defendant Bergeron sold an income property (hereinafter the “Property”) to the defendants, the Marshalls, with a legal warranty of quality. In May 2012, the Marshalls in turn sold the Property to the defendants Hamel and Drouin, still with a legal warranty of quality. In December 2016, the defendants Hamel and Drouin resold the Property to the plaintiff, but this time [translation] “without legal warranty of quality, at the buyer’s risk, but with warranty of ownership”. In the fall of 2020, the plaintiff had work done to repair the drain tile system. It was at that point that it discovered the presence of petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil under the Property’s foundation, rendering the soil unsuitable for residential use. According to an expert report, the alleged contamination stemmed from a heating oil tank once located in a shed behind the Property. The tank was apparently removed before the sale in December 2016. The plaintiff was seeking a reduction in the sale price and to have the defendants Hamel and Drouin, as well as the two previous sellers, the defendants Marshall and Bergeron, held solidarily liable. The plaintiff referred to the warranty of quality provided for in articles 1726 and following of the Civil Code of Québec (C.C.Q.) and the warranty against public law restrictions provided for in article 1725 C.C.Q. The plaintiff also claimed to be the victim of fraud on the part of the defendants Hamel and Drouin. After being called in warranty by the defendants Hamel and Drouin, the Marshalls moved to dismiss the substantive claim and the action in warranty. They claimed that the sale of the Property between the defendants Drouin and Hamel and the plaintiff was made at the buyer’s risk and that such a clause in a subsequent deed of sale irrevocably breaks the chain of title, thereby preventing the plaintiff from taking any legal action against the seller and previous sellers. The law and the importance of a clear clause According to article 1442 C.C.Q., which codifies the principles arising from the decision in Kravitz,3 buyers may seek to have the sellers previous to their own seller held liable. However, for such an action to be deemed valid, it must be established that: The defect existed at the time that the previous sellers owned the immovable; and The right to the legal warranty was transferred to the plaintiff through subsequent sales. Indeed, the buyer of an immovable may take legal action directly against a previous seller in accordance with article 1442 C.C.Q. However, this article presupposes that the right to the legal warranty was passed on from one owner to the next, right down to the current buyer seeking to file a claim for latent defects. In other words, the legal warranty must have been transferred to each owner through the chain of title. In Blais, the Court of Appeal confirmed that an unambiguous warranty exclusion clause results in a break in the chain of title. Such a clause prevents the buyer of an immovable from taking legal action directly against the former owners who sold the immovable with a legal warranty. Given the decision in Blais, it is now clear that such a clause waiving the legal warranty closes the door to any direct recourse against a seller’s predecessors, even if such predecessors sold the immovable with a legal warranty.4 In these circumstances, a buyer who acquires an immovable at their own risk will be deprived of their right to take legal action directly against the previous sellers, insofar as the warranty exclusion clause in the deed of sale is clear and unambiguous. In this case, Justice Lebel considered that the wording of the warranty exclusion clause in the deed of sale, which was binding on the plaintiff, was clear and unambiguous, and that a sale at the buyer’s “risk” excludes both the warranty of quality and the warranty of ownership, which covers the public law restrictions of article 1725 C.C.Q. Justice Lebel indicated that there was a break in the chain of title resulting from the sale at the buyer’s risk and that the plaintiff could not claim that it was still entitled to take legal action directly against any sellers other than the defendants Hamel and Drouin. He therefore ruled in favour of the defendants Marshall and Bergeron and declared the originating application against them inadmissible. Key takeaways A warranty exclusion clause in a deed of sale will only be deemed valid if it is clear and unambiguous. The mention that a sale is made “at the buyer’s risk” completely eliminates the warranty of quality provided for in article 1726 C.C.Q. and the warranty of ownership provided for in article 1725 C.C.Q. A deed of sale containing a valid warranty exclusion clause AND a mention that the sale is made “at the buyer’s risk” precludes any recourse by the buyer against the seller, but also against previous sellers. With the current state of the Quebec real estate market, the decision in Hamel, which ties in with the Court of Appeal’s teachings in Blais, certainly clarifies how case law established in recent years should be applied, in particular as concerns the effect of a warranty exclusion clause on successive sales. The members of our Litigation and Dispute Resolution group are available to advise you and answer your questions. 9348-4376 Québec inc. c. Hamel, 2022 QCCQ 5217 Blais c. Laforce, 2022 QCCA 858. General Motors Products of Canada Ltd v. Kravitz, [1979] 1 S.C.R. 790 Supra note 1, paras. 6 and 8.

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  3. Bill C-18 (Online News Act): Canada looking to create a level playing field for news media

    Earlier this month, Canadian Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez introduced Bill C-18 (Online News Act) in Parliament. This bill, which was largely inspired by similar legislation in Australia, aims to reduce bargaining imbalances between online platforms and Canadian news outlets in terms of how these “digital news intermediaries” allow news content to be accessed and shared on their platforms. If passed, the Online News Act would, among other things, require these digital platforms such as Google and Facebook to enter into fair commercial agreements with news organizations for the use and dissemination of news related content on their platforms. Bill C-18, which was introduced on April 5, 2022, has a very broad scope, and covers all Canadian journalistic organizations, regardless of the type of media (online, print, etc.), if they meet certain eligibility criteria. With respect to the “digital news intermediaries” on which the journalistic content is shared, Bill C-18 specifically targets online communication platforms such as search engines or social media networks through which news content is made available to Canadian users and which, due to their size, have a significant bargaining imbalance with news media organizations. The bill proposes certain criteria by which this situation of bargaining imbalance can be determined, including the size of the digital platform, whether the platform operates in a market that provides a strategic advantage over news organizations and whether the platform occupies a prominent position within its market. These are clearly very subjective criteria which make it difficult to precisely identify these “digital news intermediaries.” Bill C-18 also currently provides that the intermediaries themselves will be required to notify the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (“CRTC”) of the fact that the Act applies to them. The mandatory negotiation process is really the heart of Bill C-18. If passed in its current form, digital platform operators will be required to negotiate in good faith with Canadian media organizations to reach fair revenue sharing agreements. If the parties fail to reach an agreement at the end of the negotiation and mediation process provided for in the legislation, a panel of three arbitrators may be called upon to select the final offer made by one of the parties. For the purposes of enforceability, the arbitration panel’s decision is then deemed, to constitute an agreement entered into by the parties. Finally, Bill C-18 provides digital platforms the possibility of applying to the CRTC for an exemption from mandatory arbitration provided that their revenue sharing agreements meet the following criteria: Provide fair compensation to the news businesses for news content that is made available on their platforms; Ensure that an appropriate portion of the compensation would be used by the news businesses to support the production of local, regional and national news content; Do not allow corporate influence to undermine the freedom of expression and journalistic independence enjoyed by news outlets; Contribute to the sustainability of Canada’s digital news marketplace; Ensure support for independent local news businesses, and ensure that a significant portion of independent local news businesses benefit from the deals; and Reflect the diversity of the Canadian news marketplace, including diversity with respect to language, racialized groups, Indigenous communities, local news and business models. A bill of this scope will certainly be studied very closely by the members of Parliament, and it would not be surprising if significant amendments were made during this process. We believe that some clarifications would be welcome, particularly as to the precise identity of businesses that will be considered “digital information intermediaries” for the purposes of the Online News Act.

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  4. The Supreme Court of Canada’s Decision in Prelco: The Application of Limitation of Liability Clauses in Case of a Breach of a Fundamental Obligation of a Contract

    Introduction Non-liability clauses are often included in many types of contracts. In principle, they are valid and used to limit (limitation of liability clause) or eliminate (exoneration clause) the liability of a party with respect to its obligations contained in a contract. The recent unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada confirms that under Quebec law, parties may limit or exclude their liability in a contract by mutual agreement. However, a party may have such a clause declared inoperative by invoking the doctrine of breach of a fundamental obligation of the contract. In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed the validity of the clause at issue and circumscribed the limits of the application of the doctrine. The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision The facts The dispute relates to a contract signed between 6362222 Canada inc. (“Createch”), a consulting firm specializing in the improvement and implementation of integrated management systems, and Prelco inc. (“Prelco”), a manufacturing company specializing in the fabrication and transformation of flat glass. Under the terms of the contract that the parties concluded in 2008, Createch was to provide software and professional services to help Prelco implement an integrated management system. Createch prepared a draft contract and Prelco did not ask for any changes to the proposed conditions. A clause entitled Llimited Liability was included in the contract, which stipulated that Createch’s liability to Prelco for damages attributed to any cause whatsoever would be limited to amounts paid to Createch, and that Createch could not be held liable for any damages resulting from the loss of data, profits or revenues or from the use of products or for any other special, consequential or indirect damages. When the system was implemented, numerous problems arose and Prelco decided to terminate its contractual relationship with Createch. Prelco brought an action for damages against Createch for the reimbursement of an overpayment, costs incurred to restore the system, claims from its customers and loss of profits. Createch filed a cross-application for the unpaid balance for the project. At trial, the Superior Court of Québec concluded that the limitation of liability clause was inoperative under the doctrine of breach of fundamental obligation, because Createch had breached its fundamental obligation by failing to take Prelco’s operating needs into account when implementing the integrated management system. The Court of Appeal of Québec confirmed the trial judge’s decision and held that the doctrine of breach of fundamental obligation can annul the effect of an exoneration or limitation of liability clause by the mere fact that a breach relates to a fundamental obligation. The Supreme Court of Canada’s reasons The Supreme Court of Canada allowed the appeal and set aside the decisions of the lower courts. Per Chief Justice Wagner and Justice Kasirer, the Supreme Court held that the limitation of liability clause in the parties’ contract was valid, despite the fact that Createch had breached its fundamental obligation. The Supreme Court addressed the two legal bases for the existence of the doctrine of breach of fundamental obligation: the validity of the clause having regard to public order and he validity of the clause having regard to the requirement relating to the cause of the obligation. In this case, the Court determined that public order could not render the limitation of liability clause inoperative as the contract at issue was one by mutual agreement and the parties were free to share the risks associated with a contractual breach between them, even if the breach involved a fundamental obligation. As for the validity of the limitation of liability clause, the Court determined that it was not a no obligation clause that would exclude the reciprocity of obligations. Createch had significant obligations to Prelco, and Prelco could keep the integrated management system, obtain damages for unsatisfactory services and be compensated for necessary costs for specific performance by replacement, but no higher than what had been paid to Createch. A limitation of liability clause does not therefore deprive the contractual obligation of its objective cause and does not exclude all sanctions. The Court explains: “[86] Thus, art. 1371 C.C.Q. applies to contract clauses that negate or exclude all of the debtor’s obligations and, in so doing, deprive the correlative obligation of its cause. Where a contract includes such clauses, it can be said that the reciprocal nature of the contractual relationship is called into question (arts. 1371, 1378 para. 1, 1380 para. 1, 1381 para. 1 and 1458 C.C.Q.). To apply a more exacting criterion would amount to annulling or revising a contract on assessing the equivalence rather than the existence of the debtor’s prestation and, as a result, to indirectly introducing the concept of lesion, which is narrowly delimited in the Code.”1 Prelco remains bound by the limitation of liability clause in this case. The Supreme Court of Canada is of the view that the trial judge and the Court of Appeal erred in law in declaring the limitation of liability clause inoperative. It allowed Createch’s appeal. Conclusion This Supreme Court of Canada decision confirms the importance of the principles of autonomy of contracting parties and freedom of contract between sophisticated legal persons in Quebec law. The doctrine of breach of fundamental obligation does not permit the circumvention of the principle of freedom of contract: It cannot be said that an obligation is deprived of its cause when a sanction for nonperformance of obligations fundamental to the contract is provided for in a limitation of liability clause. [1] 6362222 Canada inc. v. Prelco inc., 2021 SCC 39, para. 86..

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  1. Benjamin Poirier pens an article in Cheval Québec Magazine

    Benjamin Poirier, a lawyer with the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Group, penned an article entitled L’inspection vétérinaire préachat :l’amour n’est plus aveugle in the Spring 2017 edition of Cheval Québec Magazine. With a view to improving practices for the benefit of members of the equestrian community, Mr. Poirier discusses the importance of a pre-purchase veterinary examination during a purchase-sale transaction and its legal implications. Click here for more information on Cheval Québec Magazine.

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  2. Lavery lawyer Léonie Gagné contributed to the community by offering free legal consultations at the Bar of Montreal’s Salon VISEZ DROIT

    Léonie Gagné, a litigation lawyer at Lavery, offered free legal consultations in her area of practice at the 19th annual Salon VISEZ DROIT, organized by the Bar of Montreal on April 12. Committed to giving back to the community, Ms. Gagné decided to volunteer her time and expertise for this event which is organized to educate the public about their rights and obligations as well as promote a better understanding of the legal system. The Salon VISEZ DROIT consists of four days of law-related activities organized by the Bar of Montrealfor the general public. The 19th edition took place from Monday, April 11, to Thursday, April 14, 2016, at the Complexe Desjardins in Montréal, with actress Lynda Johnson serving as spokesperson. Thousands of visitors came to the event to meet the exhibitors and participate in the free activities offered.

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