Appeal court rejects lower court decision, orders town to pay Hummel’s legal costs
A St. Catharines judge’s ruling that the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake did nothing wrong in passing a bylaw to freeze development in 2018 has been summarily rejected by Ontario’s highest court.
In a unanimous decision released Friday morning, the Court of Appeal systematically threw out a decision by Justice James Ramsay that found no problems with an interim control bylaw approved at a special meeting two days after council took office four years ago.
Developer Rainer Hummer had sued the town over the bylaw and the circumstances in which it was passed – and on Friday the Court of Appeal agreed with him.
The ruling, written by Justice Peter Lauwers with Justices Ian Nordheimer and Benjamin Zarnett assenting, cited several errors by Ramsay, who rejected the original lawsuit in 2021.
The justices ordered the case be returned to Superior Court for a trial on the issues of Hummel’s claims “of negligent misrepresentation and misfeasance in public office.”
As well, “The issues of whether the process leading to the adoption of the initial interim control bylaw was illegal, and whether there was bad faith in its enactment, may be litigated afresh,” Lauwers wrote.
The court also ordered the town to pay Hummel’s legal costs.
In his lawsuit, Hummel alleged an ‘insidious scheme’ by Lord Mayor Betty Disero and council to stop development was aimed at a particular developer — Benny Marotta. But by enacting the sweeping interim control bylaw, Hummell argued the town affected his company and other developers.
The Court of Appeal ruling highlighted several mistakes by Ramsay.
“I have found that the application judge made three overriding legal errors in his brief six-page endorsement,” Lauwers wrote.
“I have also found that the application judge did not adequately analyze whether the process leading to the bylaw’s enactment was legal.”
As well, Ramsay’s “finding that there was no bad faith rested on these three errors, and on his inadequate analysis of the process leading to the bylaw’s enactment. Accordingly, I would set aside that finding.”
The court also said Ramsay “erred in this mootness ruling” over whether the potential illegality of the bylaw didn’t matter because it was subsequently repealed.
Ramsay gave “no legal basis” for some of his assertions and did not address Hummel’s argument that the notice of the meeting to pass the bylaw “was inconsistent with the principles reviewed by the Supreme Court.”
The lower court “gave short shrift to these arguments. I would set aside his finding that the process leading to the adoption of the bylaw was not illegal,” Lauwers wrote.
More to come …
See the Thursday, Nov. 3 edition of The Lake Report for further coverage.