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UNJUST ENRICHMENT - Remedies - Measure of damages

Monday, June 15, 2020 @ 5:58 AM  

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Appeal by the defendants from trial judgment awarding the respondent damages for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Cross-appeal for a liability finding against T. J and B worked at their father’s cattle ranch for many years. B alleged there was an oral agreement under which B and J would work on the ranch for little remuneration but would ultimately each receive half of the ranch in exchange for their labour. J’s spouse, T, also became involved in the ranching operation. Twenty-five years after the agreement was allegedly made, issues arose amongst the family members, and the father sought to exclude B from the ranch. B sued his father, J, T and 1010, a corporation owned by J and T, in contract and unjust enrichment. The father then sold certain ranching property to 1010 in exchange for minor consideration and some preferred shares in 1010. He gifted the remainder of the ranch property to J along with gifting the bulk of the preferred shares to J and T. B did not receive any ranch property from his father. The father died before he could testify. J was the sole beneficiary under his will. The trial judge found that an agreement existed with respect to the ranch. He found there were sufficient acts of part performance through the provision of labour, cattle for the ranch herd, capital for equipment and supplies and trucking services and through the dealings with the Crown leases to make the contract enforceable. The trial judge stated that, even if there was no binding contract, B was entitled to recover the same amount of damages under his claim for unjust enrichment. The trial judge did not award any damages against T, but also did not dismiss the claim against her.

HELD: Appeal by T allowed in part. The action against her was dismissed. Cross-appeal dismissed. The trial judge did not err in finding the essential terms of the contract were present. There was ample evidence supporting his findings of fact in relation to parties, price and property. The trial judge was aware of the caution that must be applied when determining if there was a contract formed between family members. There was no higher standard of proof in a case where the defendant had died. The trial judge was entitled to give weight to the subsequent conduct evidence to assist in determining the intentions of the parties regarding the terms of the contract. Although J was a minor at the time the contract was formed, s. 5 of Lord Tenterden’s Act did not require this contract to be in writing to be enforceable as against J. His failure to promptly repudiate the contract upon reaching the age of majority was fatal to his disavowal of the contract. The trial judge did not err in his calculation of the damages for unjust enrichment. The value survived approach to the quantification of damages was the correct approach. B’s contributions directly enabled the assets of the ranch to be acquired and then preserved and grown over the decades. After considering all the benefits B received, the trial judge did not err in determining these benefits were equivalent to only a small proportion of the value of his contributions as a member of this common enterprise. The trial judge provided sufficient reasons and evidence-based examples for coming to his conclusions. There was no error in the method or result of the trial judge’s determination of what assets formed the ranch and their value. The claim against T must be dismissed. She was not a party to the contract so there was no claim against her in contract. As there was no evidence that she personally received any ranch property, there could be no judgment against her for unjust enrichment.

Jans v. Jans Estate, [2020] S.J. No. 192, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, N.W. Caldwell, J.A. Ryan-Froslie and J.A. Tholl JJ.A., May 13, 2020. Digest No. TLD-June152020002