Step-Mom’s Arguments Were Creative, But Lawsuit Against Her Step-Sons Was Likely Still Out of Time
A court decision released about a week ago illustrates the importance of bringing court actions in a timely manner — even when they involve family members!
In Laidlaw v. Laidlaw, the stepmother was prompted to sue her late husband’s sons (i.e. his children from a first marriage). She claimed that before he died, she and her husband had paid the sons $52,000 as a down payment toward the purchase of a condominium. Although the condominium was registered in the sons’ names, the stepmother said that the understanding was that, in exchange for the $52,000, she and the husband would live there for the rest of their lives.
Indeed, she and the husband did move in in July of 2004. Unfortunately, the husband died a few months later. The stepmother continued to live there after his death, but moved out in 2006 after getting into a dispute with the sons over the rent she was paying to them.
In 2006, the stepmother retained a lawyer who wrote to the sons, setting out her position and proposing that the $52,000 be returned to her. Perhaps not surprisingly, the sons refused, claiming that the money was a gift to them from their father while he was still alive.
The stepmother did not launch her court action against the sons until January of 2011, which was more than five years later. Unfortunately, in Ontario there is legislation that sets out limitation periods, meaning the time within which a court action must be commenced. Specifically, the Limitations Act provides that actions such as the stepmother’s must be commenced within two years of the date that the she knew she had a claim against the sons for the $52,000.
On first blush, it appeared that the stepmother had missed the deadline. However, she had some creative legal arguments to try to circumvent it.
For one thing, she claimed that if the sons were unwilling to repay her the $52,000, then they owed her $3,000 per month under an “expressed and/or implied” contract between them which was designed to ensure she could “maintain a proper and decent standard of living.” She asserted that this was an implied contract to essentially reimburse her for the losses she suffered as a result of the sons refusing to repay the $52,000 and from her not being able to use the condominium. Alternatively, she claimed there was an express and/or implied contract to support her.
More importantly, she claimed that because these so-called contractual obligations were continuing and ongoing, the 2-year limitation period was “refreshed” every month, so her claims were not statute-barred.
As a further argument, she claimed that the sons had an obligation under the “parental support” provision of the Family Law Act to support her. (That provision obliges every child who is not a minor to provide support – in keeping with the parent’s need and the child’s ability to pay – to a parent who has cared for or provided support to that child.)
The sons brought a motion to dismiss the stepmother’s claim outright, as being “vexatious and an abuse of process”, mainly on the basis that her action was out of time and accordingly statute-barred.
The judge on the motion refused to grant that order. Instead, he accepted the stepmother’s argument that the claim respecting the sons’ provision of liveable accommodation was ongoing or continuing, and that the limitation period was refreshed each month, so the wife’s claim was not out of time. He allowed the matter to proceed to trial.
However, the sons brought the matter back before the court, asking leave to appeal the motion judge’s ruling. They succeeded, in that they were allowed to appeal.
First of all, the court refuted the motion judge’s finding that this was a continuing obligation on the part of the sons to pay her $3,000 a month or provide her with living accommodation. This was not a contract for periodic payments such as payments under disability insurance or instalment payments under a loan. Instead, the contract (if any) came to an end when the stepmother moved out of the condominium in 2006.
Nor was the court persuaded that the sons might have owed the stepmother any obligation under the parental support provisions of the Family Law Act, as the motion judge seems to have found. After all, she had never cared for or supported them; she did not even know them when they were young (having married their father later in life, when the sons were already grown).
As such – and since there was reason to doubt the correctness of the motion judge’s order – the court granted the sons leave to appeal, which meant they could have the matter heard again (and hopefully have the stepmother’s action dismissed entirely.
For the full text of the decision, see:
Laidler v. Laider, 2012 ONSC 749 http://canlii.ca/t/fpv9z