Administrative law – Workers compensation – Worker – Definition – Liability of sole director of a corporation – Statutory provisions – Privative clauses – Judicial review – Administrative decisions – Jurisdiction – Standard of review – Patent unreasonableness – Evidence
Poulin v. Manitoba (Workers’ Compensation Board),  M.J. No. 122, Manitoba Court of Appeal, April 23, 2003, Huband, Twaddle and Hamilton JJ.A.
Janzen was an employee of N.L. Poulin Limited, a federally incorporated corporation engaged in the business of pest control and extermination services. In his capacity as a worker under the Workers Compensation Act, R.S.M. 1987, c. W200 (the “Act”), Janzen was injured by inhaling a toxic and dangerous chemical. Janzen commenced an action against Poulin, the director of the corporation, alleging his negligence caused injury to Janzen. Poulin filed a Statement of Defence denying liability and contending the accident was due to Janzen’s own negligence. The Statement of Defence also asserted that as sole beneficial shareholder and director of the corporation, Poulin was immune from a lawsuit. The Statement of Defence further contended that the board should be estopped from advancing a claim against Poulin by reason of misrepresentation or negligent misstatement. By way of counterclaim, relying on the same misrepresentation or negligent misstatement, Poulin contended that an employee of the Board negligently led him to believe that the “special coverage” which he had previously maintained was not necessary, whereas had the special coverage been maintained, he would have been immune from civil suit.
These proceedings were a judicial review of a WCB Appeal Commission decision to prevent the civil claim from proceeding. Poulin argued that s. 68(4) of the Act allowed the Board to determine whether a right of action was removed by the Act. The Commission ruled that the legal action was not removed. Before the Commission, Poulin had argued that the Commission should consider evidence of the circumstances under which he had deleted “special coverage” which, if continued, would have provided him with immunity from the civil action. The Commission concluded that they were incapable of making such a finding on the grounds that the Commission is not a superior court, and does not command inherent jurisdiction to dispense equitable relief. On judicial review, McKelvey J. held that it was not patently unreasonable for the Commission to have come to this conclusion.
Poulin appealed that decision, arguing that the Commission had declined jurisdiction and the standard of judicial review with respect to the point should have been of correctness rather than the standard of patently unreasonable which was used by the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench. The Manitoba Court of Appeal concluded that the standard of review was patent unreasonableness. The Court of Appeal held that the Commission did not decline its jurisdiction but rather exercised its jurisdiction by refusing to redefine the statutory meaning of “worker” on the basis of evidence which would have been considered in the context of a court action. The appeal was dismissed with costs.
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