Court of Appeal Decision of the Week

Lacking Jurisdiction: Can a Court of Appeal Determine a Matter (Novel Cause of Action) Arising from in Chambers Negotiation?

Case: Abridean International Inc. v Bidgood, 2017 NSCA 25 (CanLII)

Keywords: Chambers Judge; Jurisdiction; Motion in Chambers; Enforceable Contract

Synopsis:

The Nova Scotia Labour Board awards the Applicant, Mr. Bidgood, a substantial sum of money following termination of his employment. Mr. Bidgood’s former employer appeals, arguing the Labour Board lacked jurisdiction to provide the award.

Negotiations occur between the parties. The Court of Appeal is informed an agreement in principle has been reached. Mr. Bidgood claims a deal is made. The appellants disagree. The Applicant, Mr. Bidgood, brings a motion (in chambers) to enforce the alleged settlement agreement.

Bryson J.A. raises the question of jurisdiction to resolve the matter, and dismisses the Applicant’s motion. The issue discloses a new cause of action, justiciable in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.

Importance:

This case provides an interesting opportunity to examine the jurisdictional limits of Courts of Appeal. Citing Future Inns Canada Inc. v. Nova Scotia (Labour Relations Board), 1996 CanLII 5240 (NS CA) per Hallett J.A. in chambers; R.B. v. Children’s Aid Society of Nova Scotia, 2002 NSCA 108 (CanLII) per Cromwell J.A. in chambers, Bryson J.A. noted the authority of a judge sitting in chambers is “confined to what the Rules or statute explicitly permits them to do”. (See para. 5).

To expedite resolution of this matter, the Applicant sought to have the issue (whether an enforceable contract had been entered into as between the parties) determined by a Justice of the Court of Appeal – the Justice presently seized with the parties’ appeal matter – on a summary basis. Bryson J.A. determined that, in this context (single Judge sitting in chambers), the powers of the Court of Appeal are procedural and interlocutory (See Rules 90.37 & 90.40).

Although Bryson J.A. commended the Applicant’s efforts in seeking “a swift and cost-effective means for resolution of the discrete issue dividing the parties”, the Court determined it lacked jurisdiction to address the matter. (See para. 10).

The jurisdictional challenge goes beyond the capacity of a single judge of the Court. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal is not a court of first instance. Its jurisdiction is set out in ss. 38-40 of the Judicature Act. Those sections describe appeal, not original jurisdiction. (See para. 7).

Moreover, Bryson J.A. declined to rely upon the Court’s inherent jurisdiction as per Rule 90 or the Judicature Act, RSNS 1989, c 240. Neither a Judge in chambers nor a full panel of the Court was the proper forum to address the issue.

Counsel for the Appellants: Jane O’Neill, Q.C. (McInnes Cooper, Halifax)

Counsel for the Respondent Peter Bidgood: David Cameron (Burchells LLP, Halifax)

Counsel for the Respondent Director of Labour Standards: Andrew Taillon (Department of Justice, Halifax)

Counsel for the respondent Attorney General of Nova Scotia: Edward Gores, Q.C. (Department of Justice, Halifax)

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Posted: Tuesday, April 11, 2017