Proprietary Estoppel, Land Use and Oppression

By Jeremy Burgess
Categories: Blog, Litigation

The recent case of Dalpadado v North Bend Land Society, 2018 BCSC 835 (CanLII)

The Petitioners asserted that the respondent, North Bend Land Society (“NBLS”), had breached promises to the Petitioners which granted the Petitioners rights over certain lands (the “Lands”) and had acted in a manner that constituted oppression. In particular, the Petitioners say that they were promised exclusive use the Lands and NBLS had breached its bylaws and acted in an oppressive manner by, among other things, breaching the promises in respect of the Lands. NBLS responded that the Petitioners’ claim amounted to a land grab.

By way of further background, NBLS was a non-profit organization incorporated in order to purchase lands in North Bend, BC with the intent to subdivide land for its members. Its membership was generally comprised of elderly members of limited means. Its leadership were not particularly legally sophisticated and it ran into a number of issues during the subdivision process.

The pith of the dispute arose after the Petitioners purchased an interest in NBLS which provided them with use of land where a mobile home was located. The Petitioners sought and were granted permission by NBLS to use a neighbouring area for a play space and for ATV use (the “Disputed Lands”). Disputes arose when the Petitioners erected a fence around the Disputed Lands, built a gazebo on the Disputed Lands and asserted exclusive use and possession of the Disputed Lands. NBLS had reached an impasse with its efforts to have the Petitioners remove their structures from the Disputed Lands and retreat from their possession about the exclusive use and possession of the Disputed Lands. The need to resolve the conflict was heightened when a new member to the NBLS purchased an interest in NBLS granting them exclusive rights to certain of the Disputed Lands.

The Petitioners sought to support their claim on the basis of proprietary estoppel which consists of three elements: (1) a representation or assurance made that a claimant will receive or is entitled to some benefit; (2) the claimant reasonably relies and acts on that representation; and (3) there is a detriment to the claimant resulting from the reliance that would be unjust or unfair to suffer if the promising party is allowed to break their promise.

The court rejected the claim for proprietary estoppel on the basis that the Petitioners had never been promised either exclusive or indefinite use of the Disputed Lands. The Petitioners went further than the promise that had been given by erected structures where what they were granted was temporary use. As the Petitioners went beyond the permission granted to them, any deprivation they suffered lied at their own feet and, in fact, their use of the Disputed Lands deprived another NBLS member of his rights. As such, the court rejected the claim for proprietary estoppel for failing to meet each of the elements of that claim.

 

The Court went on to reject the Petitioners claims that NBLS’ bylaws did not allow for the addition of new members.

 

In addressing the Petitioners’ claims that NBLS was being operated in an oppressive manner, the court held that the impugned provision of the Societies Act, s. 102, the court found that the oppression remedy crafted and honed in the context of corporate disputes was applicable. As such, the court turned to the seminal case with respect to oppression, BCE Inc. v. 1976 Debentureholders, 2008 SCC 69 where it was held that:

  • finding oppression is a fact-specific exercise;
  • what is just and equitable is determined in accordance with the reasonable expectations of stakeholders in the context of and with regard to impugned relationships; and
  • two inquiries that relate to claims for oppression include:
    • whether the evidence supports the reasonable expectations of the claimant; and
    • whether the evidence establishes that such expectations were violated by conduct where such conduct is oppressive, unfairly prejudices the claimant’s expectations or unfairly disregards the claimant’s expectations.

The court rejected a number of claims of oppression variously finding that there had been no oppressive conduct or otherwise holding that there had been irregularities and providing directions to the NBLS to correct/address same.


Jeremy Burgess is a litigation associate at Pushor Mitchell with broad experience in litigation. If you have any questions about a legal dispute, we’d be happy to assist you. Feel free to contact Jeremy in a confidential manner toll free at 1-800-558-1155 or at burgess@pushormitchell.com. You may also contact our litigation group.

 The foregoing is for informational purposes only and is not legal advice, nor should be construed as such.