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ACTIONS AGAINST MUNICIPALITY - Bringing action - Limitation period

Friday, October 13, 2017 @ 12:55 PM  

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Appeal by the City of Montréal (City) from a judgment of the Quebec Court of Appeal setting aside a decision concluding that the action filed by the Dorvals and Bien-Aimée against the City of was prescribed. The case concerned a conflict between, on the one hand, the application of an exceptionally short prescriptive period of six months to actions against a municipality under the Cities and Towns Act (Act), and, on the other, the interpretation of art. 2930 of the Civil Code of Québec (CCQ), under which the three year general law prescriptive period provided for in art. 2925 CCQ applied where an action in damages was “based on the obligation to make reparation for bodily injury caused to another”. When art. 2930 CCQ applied, it precluded, inter alia, the application of the six month prescriptive period provided for in s. 586 of the Act. In October 2010, Maria Altagracia Dorval was murdered by her former spouse. In the weeks leading to the attack, Dorval had complained in vain to the police after receiving death threats from her former spouse. The respondents, who were members of Dorval’s immediate family, argued that the police failed to take appropriate action to adequately ensure Dorval’s safety. In October 2013, they brought an action in damages against the City in its capacity as principal of the police officers whose negligence had allegedly contributed to Dorval’s death. The City countered their action with a motion to dismiss, arguing that the action was prescribed under s. 586 of the Act. The Superior Court granted the motion to dismiss based on prescription of the action, but the Quebec Court of Appeal reversed that decision.

HELD: Appeal dismissed. A large and liberal interpretation of art. 2930 CCQ was consistent with the legislature’s objectives at the time of the article’s enactment. That interpretation was supported by a textual and contextual analysis of the legislative provision in question and was justified by concerns for consistency and stability in the law. Wrongful interference, whether bodily, material or moral in nature, remained the basis for civil liability actions, and the consequences of the interference were crystallized in the heads of damages being claimed. Because the family members’ action was based on the City’s alleged obligation to make reparation for bodily injury caused to Dorval, the three year prescriptive period under arts. 2925 and 2930 CCQ applied to it. It was claimed that the City had an obligation to make reparation for the interference with physical integrity it allegedly caused to Dorval, which was alleged to also include all pecuniary and non pecuniary consequences that were a direct and immediate result of that interference regardless of whether they were suffered by Maria Altagracia Dorval or by other victims. The three year prescriptive period applied to the family members’ action. Such an interpretation facilitated access to justice for those who suffered consequences that were the immediate and direct result of wrongful interference with a person’s physical integrity. Further, this interpretation was consistent with the legislature’s intent and did not require its intervention. For the purposes of the application and interpretation of art. 2930 CCQ, any civil liability action instituted to claim reparation for the direct and immediate consequences of interference with a person’s physical integrity had to be based on the obligation to make reparation for bodily injury caused to another. This interpretation led to the conclusion that the action instituted by the members of Dorval’s family was not prescribed.

Montréal (City) v. Dorval, [2017] S.C.J. No. 48, Supreme Court of Canada, B. McLachlin C.J. and R.S. Abella, M.J.Moldaver, R. Wagner, C. Gascon, S. Côté and R. Brown JJ., October 13, 2017. Digest No. TLD-October92017013SCC