City administrator’s decision to revoke taxi plate licences was upheld on the basis that there was no procedural unfairness, and that the decision to revoke the licences was itself fair.
Administrative Law – Bias – Bylaws – Decisions reviewed – Judicial Review – Municipalities – Natural Justice – Permits and Licences – Procedural requirements and fairness – Reasonableness – Revocation – Standard of Review – Taxi Licence Appeal Board
Seroya v. Calgary (City),  A.J. No. 215, 2017 ABQB 157, Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, March 6, 2017, A.D. Macleod J.
An application for judicial review of the City of Calgary’s decision to revoke five taxi plate licences issued to the applicant was denied. The applicant had obtained five taxi plate licences (“TPLs”) from the City, and it was brought to the city’s attention by way of complaints from other drivers that the applicant was engaged in the illegal practice of subleasing TPLs. The applicant was notified that he was required to attend a hearing to determine whether there had been a breach of the Livery Transportation Bylaw (the “Bylaw”). The applicant was self-represented at the hearing. After reviewing documentary evidence and hearing the testimony of several witnesses, the Manager and Hearing Officer (the “Manager”) found that the applicant had breached the Bylaw, and accordingly revoked his TPLs and confirmed the applicant would be ineligible to receive a TPL by transfer or any other manner. The applicant appealed the decision to the Licence and Community Standards Appeal Board, and the Appeal Board confirmed the Manager’s decision.
On review, there were three preliminary issues: (1) whether the application was filed and served within the limitation period, (2) whether the proper administrative bodies were served with the application; and (3) whether the issues of lack of procedural fairness and breach of natural justice were properly before the Court of Queen’s Bench.
From a review of the Procedural Manual for Licence and Community Standards Appeal Board, the court confirmed that the decision of the Appeal Board is final only when the written decision is delivered. Though the applicant knew the outcome from the completion of the hearing, the limitation period did not begin to run until he received the written decision. The court also held that, though the applicant had only served the City with the application for judicial review, the City and the Appeal Board are internal divisions of the same administrative body, and therefore service was satisfactorily effected on both the City and the Appeal Board. Finally, with respect to whether the issues of lack of procedural fairness and breach of natural justice were properly before the Court of Queen’s Bench, the court held that the applicant had exhausted all the internal remedies within the administrative framework, and allowed for the consideration of the application on its merits.
With respect to the substantive application, the issues were: (1) whether there was a lack of procedural fairness and natural justice, and (2) whether the decision to revoke the TPLs was fair. The applicant’s first claim was that he did not receive sufficient notice with respect to the hearing. The court held that the evidence suggested that the applicant knew the case against him well before the hearing. This evidence included correspondence between the applicant and the City that set out the facts giving rise to the alleged breach of the Bylaw. The applicant responded in writing in one letter with a denial of the other driver’s accusations, and in another with his own interpretation of the Bylaw. Therefore, the court held that there was no doubt that the applicant appreciated the issues prior to the hearing.
The applicant also claimed that the relationship between the Manager and counsel for the City was sufficiently close to impair the ability of the Manager to be impartial and raised a reasonable apprehension of bias. The court considered the Bylaw and how they ascribed the Manager the power to act as both the decision-maker as well as the person responsible for investigation and enforcement of the Bylaw. The court confirmed that these were institutional constraints that by themselves do not give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias and to which the court must defer.
The applicant also submitted that he had a legitimate expectation that a process approximating standard legal procedure would be implemented at the hearing due to the impacts of the decision to revoke the five TPLs held by him. However, the court noted the broad discretion afforded to the Manager under the Bylaw, including the discretion to revoke TPLs without a hearing. In this case, the applicant was granted a hearing, the right to be represented by counsel (which he refused), the opportunity to present evidence and question witnesses, the opportunity to present oral and written arguments, and written reasons for the decision. Further, the applicant failed to explain in what way he was specifically prejudiced by the process.
The applicant submitted that he did not have access to all the evidence or the full witness list before the hearing. However, the hearing record suggests that there was only one document relied on at the hearing that had not previously been disclosed, and the applicant was advised that he could adjourn the hearing if he needed time to review the document, which he refused.
Finally, regarding whether the decision to revoke the TPLs was fair, the court noted that the applicant never owned the five TPLs. The Bylaw specified that the TPLs are the property of the City and are granted as a privilege to applicants that meet and maintain certain eligibility requirements. At the hearing, the applicant’s only defence was that he was not subleasing TPLs but was renting them. This defence was rejected. The record clearly indicated that the Manager had reason to believe the applicant had breached the Bylaw. The court held the decision to revoke the TPLs was reasonable and was entitled to deference.
This case was digested by JoAnne G. Barnum of Harper Grey LLP. If you would like to discuss this case further, please feel free to contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or review her biography at http://www.harpergrey.com.
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