Manitoba was unsuccessful in its appeal of a decision allowing a Statement of Claim filed by one of its employees (“Desrivieres”) to stand. The action commenced by Desrivieres sought entitlement to disability benefits under the government employee plan. The court held that the dispute resolution mechanism in this Plan did not oust the jurisdiction of the court.

28. January 2003 0

Administrative law – Government – Employees – Benefit plans – Dispute resolution schemes – Jurisdiction – Final and binding – Definition – Adjudication – Jurisdiction of court – Labour law – Collective agreements

Desrivieres v. Manitoba, [2002] M.J. No. 449, Manitoba Court of Appeal, November 15, 2002, Scott C.J.M., Monnin and Hamilton JJ.A.

This case involved the issue of whether Desrivieres, an employee of the government of Manitoba, had the right to sue Manitoba for payment of long-term disability benefits arising under the group long-term disability insurance plan (the “Plan”) for government employees. Manitoba argued that there was a dispute resolution mechanism in the Plan that ousted the jurisdiction of the court to entertain Desrivieres’ action for disability benefits. Manitoba sought to strike Desrivieres’ Statement of Claim seeking a declaration of entitlement to such benefits. At first instance, the motions judge dismissed Manitoba’s motion to strike the Statement of Claim and Manitoba appealed that Order.

The employment of provincial civil servants is governed by the provisions of the Civil Service Act, R.S.M. 1987, c. C110 (the “Act”). The Act is administered by the Civil Service Commission. The Commission created regulations concerning employment (the “Conditions of Employment Regulation”). Section 47(1) of this Regulation required Manitoba to provide an employer-paid, long-term disability income plan for eligible employees. The court reviewed the relevant provisions of the Regulations and noted that primary issue in this appeal concerned the role of the adjudicator appointed under the Plan. The court found that the adjudicator terminated Desrivieres’ disability benefits on the basis that she no longer qualified under the Plan. Manitoba argued that the decision making process involving the adjudicator, as set out in the Plan, was a dispute resolution mechanism that ousted jurisdiction of the court. Specifically, the Regulation contained a provision which stated that “the provisions of this Plan and its administration are not subject to grievance, arbitration, or appeal”.

The court reviewed the decision of Weber v. Ontario Hydro, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 929 and noted that this decision stood for the proposition that an arbitrator under a collective agreement has exclusive jurisdiction to determine a dispute under the agreement. The court noted that the principles of this exclusive jurisdiction model, as set out in Weber, had been applied and distinguished in numerous cases and that these decisions helped to clarify situations where the exclusive jurisdiction model applied and where it did not. The court then reviewed the decision in Phillips v. Harrison (2000), 153 Man. R. (2d) 1, which laid out three factors for determining whether the courts must defer their jurisdiction to a statutorily-based dispute resolution regime:

  1. the legislation establishes a comprehensive dispute resolution scheme intended, either expressly or inferentially, to govern all aspects of the relationship between parties in an employment setting; and
  2. the scheme addresses, either expressly or inferentially, the essential character of the dispute between the parties, which in itself arises from the employment relationship; and
  3. the scheme provides an effective remedy.

In the case at bar, the court held that the court was not obliged to afford exclusive jurisdiction to the Plan and that the court had jurisdiction to entertain Desrivieres’ Statement of Claim. The court held that the Act and Regulations did not establish a comprehensive dispute resolution scheme intended, either expressly or inferentially, to govern all aspects of the relationship between the parties created by the Plan. The court also found that there was no effective redress for a claimant in the Plan.

The court noted that the role of the adjudicator under the Plan was an administrative role, not a comprehensive dispute resolution scheme. Even though the Regulation provided for a “second independent review” by the adjudicator, it did not change the true nature of the role. The dispute to be resolved in this case was between Desrivieres and the adjudicator who was, in reality, an agent of Manitoba for processing the disability claims. The court held that the adjudicator did not have any indicia of independence from Manitoba and that the role of adjudicator could not be equated with an independent, binding, third-party adjudication on the merits.

The court further held that there was ambiguity in the wording of the Regulation in that the Regulation contained express provisions for appeals, arbitrations, and grievances. Therefore, Desrivieres had argued that the section which provided that “the provisions of this Plan and its administration are not subject to grievance, arbitration or appeal” merely referred to “grievance, arbitration, or appeal” within the confines established by the Regulation itself. The court did not decide this point, but held that this interpretation was reasonable and indicated that the wording of the Regulation was ambiguous. The court noted that “clear words are required to oust the jurisdiction of the court” and the ambiguity contained within the wording of the Regulation was not sufficient to constitute “clear words” ousting the court’s jurisdiction.

In the result, Manitoba’s appeal was dismissed and Desrivieres’ Statement of Claim was allowed to stand.

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