27 Nov 2012

Analyzing the Debtor’s Patrimonial Situation in Actions for Punitive Damages

Sarah D. Pinsonnault
De Grandpré Joli-coeur s.e.n.c.r.l./LLP

In Acadia Subaru c. Michaud, 2012 QCCS 5670, the Superior
Court is asked to determine whether financial statements should be communicated
in order for the victim of a supposed SLAPP to establish the plaintiffs’ “patrimonial
situation”.

 

You may already be familiar with the history of this case. It began in
2009 with Mr. Michaud, a journalist, publicly criticizing on the radio what he
considered to be the inappropriately high prices charged by Quebec car dealers. Following this remark,
93 Quebec car
dealers instituted a legal action against Mr. Michaud for defamation, alleging
damage to their reputation arising from his comments.

Claiming to be a victim of a SLAPP, Mr. Michaud asked the Court of
Quebec to declare the proceeding improper pursuant to s. 54.1 CPC.  The Court ruled partially in his favour and
declared that each car dealer’s claim for $5,000 in punitive damages was in
fact abusive.

Subsequently, the Court of Appeal declared that the car dealers’ action
appeared improper and ordered them to deposit a security for costs in an
aggregate amount of $65,000.

Now, as this case continues its course before the Superior Court, Mr.
Michaud, as part of his defence and counterclaim for punitive damages, is
asking to have access to the plaintiffs’ 2009 to 2011 financial statements in
order to establish their patrimonial situation in accordance with s. 1621 C.C.Q.

When faced with such a request, the Court must first be convinced of the
seriousness of the claim for punitive damages. As previously mentioned, this
was already made clear by the Court of Appeal.

The question that then remained was to determine at what point in time these
financial statements should be communicated. The plaintiffs’ submitted that, at
the very most, the communication of these statements should be postponed to a
later date, such as before the trial judge. The Court disagreed with this proposal:

« [29] Dans le
présent cas, c’est 279 documents dont le défendeur devra prendre connaissance.
Aussi, il est nécessaire que le défendeur et son procureur en aient possession
avant le procès pour bien évaluer le quantum des dommages réclamés.

[30] Tout comme
monsieur le juge Normand Gosselin, j.c.s., dans l’affaire Grenier c. Arthur et
monsieur le juge Jacques Viens, j.c.s., dans l’affaire Gauvin c. Arthur, le
Tribunal est d’avis que de reporter la question de l’obtention des états
financiers au moment de l’audience au fond comporte un risque de report.

[31] Ce n’est pas le
matin du procès que les états financiers de 93 demanderesses, soit 279
documents, doivent être communiqués au défendeur, car cela occasionnerait
nécessairement une remise de l’audience pour lui permettre de prendre
connaissance des documents.

[32] Les états
financiers devront donc être communiqués dans les trente jours du présent
jugement. »

To read this case in its entirety, click here.

 

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