Fraud and Insolvency Law

When a plaintiff obtains a judgment from the court, that party is normally precluded from starting another lawsuit seeking the same judgment debt from the defendant. However, in Royal Bank of Canada v Kim, 2019 ONSC 798, Justice Broad of the Ontario Superior Court made an exception because the bank had discovered evidence of fraud after it obtained summary judgment against the defendant. The bank sought to pursue a second action for a judgment in fraud so that the judgment would survive and be enforceable after the bankruptcy of the defendant who, in turn,  vigorously resisted the second action arguing that  the plaintiff had already obtained judgment against him and could not reconstitute the judgment after the fact.
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In McGoey (Re), 2019 ONSC 80, Justice Penny of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice found trusts over two properties held by a bankrupt were void as shams. In his decision, Justice Penny noted that had he not found the trusts to be sham trusts, he would still have set them aside as fraudulent conveyances, making us ask: “what is the difference between a sham trust and a fraudulent conveyance?”

A sham trust occurs where documents or acts give the appearance of creating legal rights that the parties have no intention of actually creating. In contrast, the documents and acts for a fraudulent conveyance accurately reflect the intentions of the parties and the legal rights that they want to create. The issue with a fraudulent conveyance is not that the transfer of rights is a sham, but that the transfer is being done for fraudulent purpose. With the evidence in front of him, Justice Penny was satisfied that, even if the McGoeys intended to transfer the properties, it was for a fraudulent purpose.
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Both of Canada’s primary insolvency statutes, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (“BIA”) and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act (“CCAA”) provide for an automatic stay of all legal proceedings when an insolvent debtor files for or seeks insolvency protection. The purpose of the stay is to provide breathing space to a debtor attempting to restructure its business so as to avoid “death by a thousand cuts” and also to ensure similarly situated creditors are treated equally. While it is an integral part of Canada’s insolvency regime, the stay of proceedings is not inviolable and there have been a number of noteworthy cases where Canadian courts have considered whether to lift the statutory stay and permit proposed class actions to proceed where the plaintiff has alleged fraud.
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In Turbo Logistics Canada Inc. v. HSBC Bank Canada, Baker & McKenzie’s litigation team was successful in upholding at the Ontario Court of Appeal, the trial decision awarding HSBC judgments in fraud for over $10.3 million dollars. At trial, Madam Justice Ruth Mesbur accepted the argument that “but for” the false statements made by the appellants, HSBC would never have made the loan and therefore the bank deserved damages equal to 100% of its loss on the loan. On appeal, the appellants argued that their rights under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been violated during the trial and that the trial should never have proceeded because an adjournment should have been granted.
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In Wong v. Luu, the British Columbia Court of Appeal upheld an order requiring the production of a redacted trust ledger to the bankruptcy trustees for Luu Hung Viet Derrick (“Luu”) on the grounds that the trust ledger was not presumptively privileged and that production would not violate the bankrupt’s right to communicate in confidence with his lawyers.

In 2012, Luu had been adjudged bankrupt in Hong Kong and his bankruptcy trustees had been hunting for his assets when the trustees became aware of more than $3 million dollars paid into the trust account of Luu’s lawyers in British Columbia in 2013. This had not been disclosed by Luu. When the bankruptcy trustees sought information from Luu’s lawyers about the monies received, they refused to provide any information on grounds of legal privilege.

The trustees successfully sought an order from the British Columbia Supreme Court compelling Luu’s lawyers to produce accounting records of the amount of trust funds held for or at the direction of Luu, and records showing the receipt of any trust funds and any payments made from trust to Luu or anyone at Luu’s direction. Luu’s lawyers appealed the order requiring production of the trust ledger.
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In Akagi v. Synergy Group (2000) Inc. (“Akagi“), the Ontario Court of Appeal set aside a series of ex parte orders made by Toronto’s Commercial List Court granting broad investigative powers to a court-appointed receiver.  The receiver had been empowered under section 101 of the Courts of Justice Act which gives the court powers to make such an order “where it appears to a judge of the court to be just or convenient to do so”.  The Court of Appeal ruled in its decision released on May 22, 2015, that there are situations where it is appropriate to appoint a receiver to investigate the affairs of a debtor or to review certain transactions including even, in proper circumstances, the affairs of and transactions concerning related non-parties.  However, the Court of Appeal ruled that the receivership in Akagi had morphed into an expansive investigation on behalf of non-parties which the Court found to be improper and misguided.
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How do you uncover a suspected fraud when you cannot obtain any information from the suspected fraudster in the first place? And what do you do if the suspected fraudster has avoided complying with a court order to produce documents? One under-utilized strategy is to seek to appoint a receiver over the books and records of the alleged fraudster.
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Our team acted for one of the parties in Labourers’ Pension Fund of Central and Eastern Canada v. Sino-Forest Corporation, where Justice Morawetz of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice approved Ernst & Young LLP’s $117 million settlement relating to class action lawsuits commenced by jilted investors following the downfall of former stock market darling, Sino-Forest Corporation.  The $9.2B class action involves significant fraud allegations that call into question Sino-Forest’s structure, reporting and revenues, as well as the practices of its auditors and underwriters. In addition to garnering attention as the largest auditor settlement to date in a Canadian securities class action, this landmark decision is noteworthy for the Court’s approval of a comprehensive third-party release and a ‘no opt-out’ settlement feature granted in favour of Ernst & Young.   The Court also approved a controversial framework that would make similar settlements available for  future settling defendants – a feature some critics characterize as extraordinary relief in cases where there are underlying fraud allegations.
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