A B.C. woman has won a $465,000 legal battle against a Kootenay winery and notary in a property deal gone sideways, after a B.C. judge ruled it to be unfair.
In 2012, 84-year-old Jean Canfield agreed to transfer ownership of her Grand Forks home – which she was looking to sell – to Bronze Wines, a new wine company owned by a friend of her son-in-law named Scot Stewart, according to a lengthy written court decision made public on April 11.
This property was essentially Canfield’s “only asset of any significant value,” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Karen Horsman wrote.
The agreement included that the property be transferred to the tune of $465,000. In addition, Canfield would receive future income in the form of monthly payments as the winery became established; if the winery missed three consecutive payments, Canfield would be able to foreclose and reclaim the property, court documents show.
However, by 2013, Bronze Wines took out two mortgages on the property, totalling $400,000.
“This security proved to be wholly ineffective. Bronze Wines had no assets. The company was incorporated by Mr. Stewart for the sole purpose of operating the winery,” Horsman wrote.
“Mr. Stewart had limited income and assets. He had no experience in the wine-making business.”
Court documents show that Canfield began suing those involved in the failed deal beginning in 2014. By 2015, Bronze Wines was in significant financial difficulty. The property was sold in 2019, with net proceeds of $338,000 paid to the court.
While the defendants argued that Canfield was “an experienced real estate investor who was entirely capable of looking after her own interests in the bargaining process,” Horsman disagreed.
In her ruling, the Justice said that the contract process “did not take place on a level playing field,” and that the terms of the agreement were “more favourable to Bronze Wines than to Mrs. Canfield.”
She added that Canfield could not have understood the significance of the contractual terms of the agreement, which included a “generous” 20 to 40-year amortization period to repay the property purchase price without providing any real security or an agreed interest rate.
“The fact that Mrs. Canfield and her husband may have purchased properties in municipal tax sales many decades ago does not counter the vulnerable position she was in during this contracting process,” she continued.
In addition to Bronze Wines, the Justice also pointed blame at the now-retired notary, Howard Engman, for not taking steps to ensure that Canfield fully understood the agreement before signing it.
Court documents show that Engman didn’t recall his work as a notary for this specific contract.
Hansman ruled that Engman should have insisted Canfield receive independent legal advice on the agreement so “she would have had the opportunity to have the unconscionable agreement rescinded before the transfer of the property had occurred,” and instead sell the home for its full market value through more typical streams.
Hansman ruled that both Bronze Wines and Engman were responsible for the failed deal. The Justice ordered that Bronze Wines and the notary pay $465,000 – the adjusted fair market value of the property – minus any amounts Canfield is able to recover from the proceeds of the sale that were paid into the court in 2019.
The court ruling did not specify how the two parties split the cost.