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MINES AND MINERALS - Subsurface mineral rights - Contracts - Proprietary estoppel

Wednesday, April 12, 2017 @ 8:41 AM  

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Appeal by two couples who sought a declaration that they were entitled to a quitclaim of subsurface mineral rights involving the building in which they resided for many years. The claim was made on the basis of proprietary estoppel and arose when a previous owner, Westmin Resources, held the mineral rights. One of the couples moved on to the property in 1975 and the other moved on to the property in 1995-1996. Both couples had spent time and money maintaining the buildings on the property. Both couples had paid modest rent to live on the property. In 2003, sales agreements for the couples to purchase the buildings were prepared, but the agreements were never executed. The rights were currently held by the respondent, Dave Weinrauch and Sons Trucking (Weinrauch). Weinrauch was not aware of the appellants’ attempts to acquire the properties when it purchased the mineral rights in 2008. When Weinrauch was unsuccessful in its attempts to evict the appellants, Weinrauch filed a petition seeking a declaration that it owned the buildings. The appellants then commenced the action, claiming that the previous mineral rights holders assured the appellants that the buildings would belong to them, and that it would be unconscionable for Weinrauch to not honour those assurances. The Weinrauch petition had been stayed. Despite finding she could assume the predecessor gave representations required for a proprietary estoppel claim, the trial judge dismissed the appellants’ claim on the basis that there was no evidence fixing Weinrauch with knowledge of the appellant’s equitable claim. The couples appealed.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. The predecessor’s actions did not support an equitable claim against the subsurface mineral rights. No claim could be made against the successor of the rights, Weinrauch. The appellants were never assured by word or conduct that the buildings would become theirs if they continued to live on and take care of the property. No sales agreements were ever reached. It had been made clear to the appellants that the buildings were not going to be sold to them, but they could continue to live in them. The appellants carried on as they had before for several years, until there were attempts to evict them. The appellants did not choose to spend money on the properties because they were given assurances the buildings would be theirs, but simply to improve their own living conditions.

Hawes v. Dave Weinrauch and Sons Trucking Ltd., [2017] B.C.J. No. 452, British Columbia Court of Appeal, S.D. Frankel, P.M. Willcock and J.E.D. Savage JJ.A., March 9, 2017. Digest No. TLD-Apr102017012