Class action roundup: reefer madness, bad payday lenders and tree troubles

Lawsuit concept. Stock photo by Getty Images

Imagine receiving a big envelope in the mail from the federal government addressed to your full name that reads: “Marihuana Medical Access Program.” Would you feel uneasy about receiving such mail? 

In November 2013, Health Canada sent the oversized envelopes through Canada Post to nearly 40,000 individuals, who had registered in the program. The two individuals currently named under pseudonyms of John Doe and Suzie Jones launched a claim against the federal agency, alleging that “by identifying on the envelopes the participants’ names together with the name of the program, Health Canada breached their privacy and exposed them to security concerns.”

The plaintiffs claim that a reasonable person looking at the envelope would assume the recipients were marijuana users or might suffer from a serious illness. 

In John Doe and Suzie Jones v. Her Majesty the Queen the Federal Court of Canada has certified a class action for a new privacy tort: Publicity Given to Private Life.  

The tort of Publicity Given to Private Life has been around in the United States for many years. The way to prove this tort in court in most states is to show the matter publicized is of a kind that: 

  • would be highly offensive to a reasonable person; and
  • is not of legitimate concern to the public.   

Even though the test for certification of class actions is not too strict, the Court’s decision to certify shows privacy laws are growing rapidly here. The outcome of this suit will likely affect how database hacks will be treated in the future.   

U.S. sues Canadian payday lender

Would you sign a loan at 600 percent annual interest rate?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the United States has filed a lawsuit against NDG Enterprise, a collection of mostly Canadian-based companies that made payday loans to consumers in all 50 states over the Internet.

The companies are accused of charging illegal annual interest rates, some as high as 700 per cent on a 14-day loan.

Nearly all American states have a usury limit set by law, which is the highest interest rate that can be charged on a loan. Generally speaking, the maximum allowable interest rate is below 30 per cent in most states. In Canada, any interest rate on a loan above 60 per cent is illegal. 

In addition, the payday lenders are charged with making illegal fees, ranging from $23 to $405 depending on the size of the loan. The companies are also alleged to have made false threats to the consumers, deceiving loan recipients about outstanding amounts and withdrawing money illegally from employers’ payroll accounts.

The Bureau is seeking a refund for the money the defendants took from consumers and wants all the ill-gotten gains returned. 

‘Your tree is a nuisance!’

In a battle of whether a tree that caused damages to a neighbouring property stays or goes, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice has ruled the tree is to be removed under the tort of nuisance.

The boundary tree, severely broken during an ice storm in 2013, had caused damages to a neighbouring property. The City of Toronto granted authority to have the tree removed under the Municipal Code, but one neighbour brought a suit alleging the removal order was contrary to the Ontario Forestry Act. The Forestry Act deals with trees that are located on property boundary lines.

The Court found the Forestry Act did not conflict with the Municipal Code and the City removal order was appropriate. The case was decided based on the tort of nuisance, which states the “law of nuisance imposes responsibility on a landowner for the natural state or conditions of his or her property if the owner is aware or ought to have been aware that the state of the property is a nuisance to neighbours.” The Court found the boundary tree presented continued danger and ordered both neighbours to comply with the removal order and pay their share of the removal costs.

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