Supreme Court of Canada denies Leave to Appeal in the latest dry cleaner Contamination Case

Written by Marc McAree, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP

On April 11, 2019, the Supreme Court of Canada denied the dry cleaner’s application for leave to appeal from the Ontario Court of Appeal’s decision in Huang v Fraser Hillary’s Ltd. 1

Huang confirms that Ontario courts are inclined to measure and assess damages in contaminated land lawsuits based on the cost to remediate contamination and that the statutory cause of action in Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act (“EPA”), 2 s. 99(2) is alive-and-well. Huang is the latest decision in what we expect will be an increasing number of claims brought pursuant to EPA, s. 99(2).

Fraser Hillary’s Limited (“FHL”) owns a dry cleaning business in Ottawa that has operated since 1960 near two neighbouring commercial properties owned by Eddy Huang. David Hillary is the president and sole corporate director of FHL. Mr. Hillary also owns a residential property situated near the FHL property. 3

Spills of dry cleaning solvents containing tetrachloroethylene (“PCE”) and trichloroethylene (“TCE”) were known to have occurred between 1960 and 1974 at FHL’s dry cleaning business. In 1974, FHL bought new equipment and deployed new practices that the trial court and Court of Appeal held virtually eliminated any possibility of spills thereafter. 4

In 2002, Mr. Huang discovered TCE at his nearby commercial properties. He sued FHL and Mr. Hillary.5 Mr. Huang relied on five causes of action that plaintiffs typically plead in contaminated land lawsuits:

  • liability pursuant to EPA, s. 99(2)
  • nuisance
  • strict liability
  • negligence
  • trespass.

Trial Decision

At trial, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found that

  • FHL was liable pursuant to EPA, s. 99(2) as the owner and controller of a spilled pollutant. The trial court held that EPA, s. 99(2) applies prospectively to permit compensation for spills that happened before the statutory cause of action was promulgated into law in 1985.6
  • FHL was liable in nuisance because the TCE present at Mr. Huang’s property caused an interference with Mr. Huang’s use and enjoyment of land that was both substantial and nontrivial.7
  • FHL was not liable in negligence, trespass or strict liability.
  • Mr. Hillary was not liable under any cause of action. 8

The trial court considered various clean up options in assessing and awarding damages to Mr. Huang based on the cost to remediate his commercial properties. 9

Court of Appeal Decision

FHL appealed the trial court decision to the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Mr. Huang cross-appealed specific aspects of the trial court decision including that: (i) FHL was not liable in negligence, trespass, or strict liability, and (ii) Mr. Hillary was not liable as a nearby residential property owner.

Footnote

1 Huang v Fraser Hillary’s Ltd, 2018 ONCA 527, leave to appeal to SCC refused, 38282 [Huang ONCA].

2 Environmental Protection Act, RSO 1990, c E19, s 99(2) [EPA].

3 Huang v Fraser Hillary’s Ltd, 2017 ONSC 1500 at paras 1-4 [Huang ONSC]

4 Huang ONSC at para 23; Huang ONCA at para 7.

5 The claim against Mr. Hillary was in his personal capacity as the owner of a nearby residential property at 36 Cameron Avenue, not as a corporate director and officer of FHL; Huang ONSC at para 19.

6 Huang ONSC at paras 84, 97

7 Huang ONSC at para 124

8 Huang ONSC at paras 52-55, 61, 103, 147, 169.

9 Huang ONSC at paras 185-93.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

This article has been republished with the permission of the author. It was first published on the Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP website and can be found here.


About the Author

Marc McAree, B.A. (Hons.), LL.B., M.E.S., is a partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP and certified as an Environmental Law Specialist by the Law Society of Ontario. Marc provides advice and solutions to a wide range of clients to overcome their environmental law and litigation issues.  Marc has significant environmental law expertise in contaminated land/brownfields clean ups, transactions and litigation, and environmental compliance and approvals.  Marc also helps clients reduce and manage environmental risks and liabilities. Marc is
recognized for his excellence representing clients in environmental civil
litigation at all levels of Ontario Courts, defence of clients against
environmental regulatory prosecutions, and appearances before Ontario’s
Environmental Review Tribunal and other administrative law decision-makers on
appeals and other hearings.  Marc has
particular experience litigating soil and groundwater contaminant impacts,
nuisance and odour issues.

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