Traffic Nuisance: Certification for Class Action Dismissed by Superior Court of Quebec

January 22, 2016 | Adina Georgescu

On June 25, 2015, the Superior Court of Quebec, in a 92 page judgment, dismissed a motion to certify a class action brought against the City of Brossard and the City of Longueuil in Quebec based on allegations of nuisance and abnormal neighbourhood annoyances caused by increased traffic on Chemin des Prairies, located in the City of Brossard. The Superior Court judgment is currently being appealed to the Court of Appeal of Quebec.

The Petitioners’ are residents of the City of Brossard and Chemin des Prairies. The action is based on a general civil liability claim and on the no-fault liability regime provided for in section 976 of the Civil Code of Quebec (“CCQ”) for cases of abnormal neighbourhood annoyances.

The two municipalities are accused of faulty urban planning, particularly in authorizing the development of the Quartier Dix-30 Mall, one of the largest malls in Quebec, thus increasing traffic on neighbouring Chemin des Prairies.  The municipalities are also accused of tardiness in finalizing construction of arterials roadways in Brossard that would have allegedly relieved traffic from Chemin des Prairies.

If the Petitioners are successful in their appeal to have the class action certified, they seek the following relief: an injunction ordering the Respondents to remedy the issues related to the traffic on Chemin des Prairies, and compensatory and punitive damages for all members of the group.

Under Quebec law, the certification of class actions depends on four cumulative criteria as provided in section 1003 of the Code of Civil Procedure of Quebec (“CCP”) (in force until December 31, 2015) :

        1. the recourses of the members raise identical, similar or related questions of law or fact;
        2. the facts alleged seem to justify the conclusions sought;
        3. the composition of the group makes the application of article 59 or 67 difficult or impracticable; and
        4. the member to whom the court intends to ascribe the status of representative is in a position to represent the members adequately. 

The Superior Court of Quebec concluded that criteria a, c and d were met, but dismissed the motion for certification on the basis that criterion b was not met. 

Criterion b of section 1003 of the CCP requires that the facts alleged seem to justify the conclusions sought. The Petitioners must demonstrate, prima facie, the basis of their claim. In this respect, the Court’s analysis can be summarized as follows. 

With regard to the general civil liability claim, where the three elements of the claim must be demonstrated (namely liability, damages, and a causal link), the Court concluded that the Petitioners failed to demonstrate liability and a causal link.  The allegations in the Petitioners’ motion, although they must be deemed proven, are contradicted by the evidence, and most particularly by expert reports filed by both the Petitoners and Respondents. Furthermore, the Court also held that in the absence of bad faith allegations against the municipality, it cannot conclude that the City of Brossard’s urban planning decisions resulted in any liability. 

With regard to the no-fault liability regime in cases of abnormal neighbourhood annoyances (section 976 of the CCQ), the Court held that the Petitioners have an obligation to demonstrate that the inconvenience caused by the increased traffic on Chemin des Prairies is abnormal. The normal or abnormal nature of the inconvenience must be assessed objectively; not in consideration of the Petitioners’ expectations. Chemin des Prairies has been catergorized by the City of Brossard as a “collector” road which, in accordance with applicable norms, bears a traffic capacity of approximately 5,000 vehicles per day. The Court concluded, based on the evidence on the record, that the traffic on Chemin des Prairies respects those norms and that, as a result, the consequences of such traffic are not abnormal. The Court also held that the Petitioners were unable to demonstrate that they incurred a particular prejudice as a result of the traffic on Chemin des Prairies, different from that of any resident living along a collector road. Hence, the conditions of section 976 CCQ were not met. 

Finally, with regard to the injunctive relief sought by the Petitioners, the Courts cannot order a public body such as a municipality to act in a particular manner when the decision to do so falls in the discretionary spectre of the powers of the municipality. 



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