Jurisdiction of Canadian Courts to hear Actions against Foreign Travel Companies
In this decision released this morning the Supreme court of Canada held that Ontario had jurisdiction to hear two cases against tour companies offering vacations in Cuba in circumstances where the tourists were injured in Cuba.
Here is an extract from the decision.
Club Resorts Ltd. v. Van Breda, 2012 SCC 17
In separate cases, two individuals were injured while on vacation outside of Canada. Morgan Van Breda suffered catastrophic injuries on a beach in Cuba. Claude Charron died while scuba diving, also in Cuba. Actions were brought in Ontario against a number of parties, including the appellant, Club Resorts Ltd., a company incorporated in the Cayman Islands that managed the two hotels where the accidents occurred. Club Resorts sought to block those proceedings, arguing that the Ontario courts lacked jurisdiction and, in the alternative, that a Cuban court would be a more appropriate forum on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens. In both cases, the motion judges found that the Ontario courts had jurisdiction with respect to the actions against Club Resorts. In considering forum non conveniens, it was also held that the Ontario court was clearly a more appropriate forum. The two cases were heard together in the Court of Appeal. The appeals were both dismissed.
Held: The appeals should be dismissed.
This case concerns the elaboration of the “real and substantial connection” test as an appropriate common law conflicts rule for the assumption of jurisdiction. In determining whether a court can assume jurisdiction over a certain claim, the preferred approach in Canada has been to rely on a set of specific factors which are given presumptive effect, as opposed to a regime based on an exercise of almost pure and individualized judicial discretion. Given the nature of the relationships governed by private international law, the framework for the assumption of jurisdiction cannot be an unstable, ad hoc system made up on the fly on a case‑by‑case basis – however laudable the objective of individual fairness may be. There must be order in the system, and it must permit the development of a just and fair approach to resolving conflicts.
To meet the common law real and substantial connection test, the party arguing that the court should assume jurisdiction has the burden of identifying a presumptive connecting factor that links the subject matter of the litigation to the forum. Jurisdiction must be established primarily on the basis of objective factors that connect the legal situation or the subject matter of the litigation with the forum. Abstract concerns for order, efficiency or fairness in the system are no substitute for connecting factors that give rise to a “real and substantial” connection for the purposes of the law of conflicts. In a case concerning a tort, the following factors are presumptive connecting factors that, prima facie, entitle a court to assume jurisdiction over a dispute:
(a) the defendant is domiciled or resident in the province;
(b) the defendant carries on business in the province;
(c) the tort was committed in the province; and
(d) a contract connected with the dispute was made in the province.
Although the factors set out in the list are considered presumptive, this does not mean that the list of recognized factors is complete, as it may be reviewed over time and updated by adding new presumptive connecting factors. When a court considers whether a new connecting factor should be given presumptive effect, the values of order, fairness and comity can serve as useful analytical tools for assessing the strength of the relationship with a forum to which the factor in question points. These values underlie all presumptive connecting factors, whether listed or new. In identifying new presumptive factors, a court should look to connections that give rise to a relationship with the forum that is similar in nature to the ones which result from the listed factors. Relevant considerations include:
(a) Similarity of the connecting factor with the recognized presumptive connecting factors;
(b) Treatment of the connecting factor in the case law:
(c) Treatment of the connecting factor in statute law; and
(d) Treatment of the connecting factor in the private international law of other legal systems with a shared commitment to order, fairness and comity.
The presumption of jurisdiction that arises where a recognized connecting factor — whether listed or new — applies is not irrebuttable. The burden of rebutting the presumption of jurisdiction rests, of course, on the party challenging the assumption of jurisdiction. That party must negate the presumptive effect of the listed or new factor and convince the court that the proposed assumption of jurisdiction would be inappropriate. This could be accomplished by establishing facts which demonstrate that the presumptive connecting factor does not point to any real relationship between the subject matter of the litigation and the forum or points only to a weak relationship between them.
If the court concludes that it lacks jurisdiction because none of the presumptive connecting factors — whether listed or new — apply or because the presumption of jurisdiction that flows from one of those factors has been rebutted, it must dismiss or stay the action, subject to the possible application of the forum of necessity doctrine. If jurisdiction is established, the claim may proceed, subject to the court’s discretion to stay the proceedings on the basis of the doctrine of forum non conveniens.
In Van Breda, a contract was entered into in Ontario. The existence of a contract made in Ontario that is connected with the litigation is a presumptive connecting factor that, on its face, entitles the courts of Ontario to assume jurisdiction in this case. Club Resorts has failed to rebut the presumption of jurisdiction that arises where this factor applies. Therefore, there was a sufficient connection between the Ontario court and the subject matter of the litigation. Club Resorts has not discharged its burden of showing that a Cuban court would clearly be a more appropriate forum. While a sufficient connection exists between Cuba and the subject matter of the litigation to support an action there, issues related to the fairness to the parties and to the efficient disposition of the claim must be considered. A trial held in Cuba would present serious challenges to the parties. All things considered, the burden on the plaintiffs clearly would be far heavier if they were required to bring their action in Cuba.
In Charron, the facts supported the conclusion that Club Resorts was carrying on a business in Ontario which is a presumptive connecting factor. Club Resorts’ commercial activities in Ontario went well beyond promoting a brand and advertising. Its representatives were in the province on a regular basis and it benefitted from the physical presence of an office in Ontario. It therefore follows that it has been established that a presumptive connecting factor applies and that the Ontario court is prima facie entitled to assume jurisdiction. Club Resorts has not rebutted the presumption of jurisdiction that arises from this connecting factor and therefore the Ontario court has jurisdiction on the basis of the real and substantial connection test. Furthermore, Club Resorts failed to discharge its burden of showing that a Cuban court would clearly be a more appropriate forum in the circumstances of this case. Considerations of fairness to the parties weigh heavily in favour of the plaintiffs.
Here is a link to the decision http://scc.lexum.org/en/2012/2012scc17/2012scc17.html