Velcro Canada – Clarification on Cost Awards

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In what circumstances can a party obtain a large lump-sum cost award after a favourable Tax Court decision?

That was the question considered by the Tax Court in Velcro Canada Inc. v. The Queen (2012 TCC 273), in which the Tax Court awarded the successful taxpayer a lump sum cost award of $60,000 plus disbursements. The Court’s reasoning has provided some helpful clarification on the manner in which the Court will determine the nature and amount of a cost award.

In the main appeal (Velcro Canada Inc. v. The Queen, 2012 TCC 57), the Appellant taxpayer was successful in establishing that a Dutch holding company was the “beneficial owner” of royalties paid by a related Canadian company. (See our previous commentary on the decision by FMC’s Matt Peters here.)

At the costs hearing, the Appellant argued that the Tax Court should award enhanced costs because the Appellant had been entirely successful in the appeal, the amount in issue was in excess of $9 million, the issues raised were of national and international importance, and the novelty of the issues required additional time and resources in preparing for and conducting the appeal.

The Respondent’s view was that costs should be assessed in accordance with Tariff B of Schedule II of the Tax Court of Canada Rules (General Procedure). The Respondent argued that the main issue had previously been considered in the ground-breaking case of Prévost Car Inc. v. The Queen (2008 TCC 231; aff’d 2009 FCA 57), and that the Appellant had not adduced evidence of the work and effort put into the appeal. Further, no exceptional circumstances existed that would justify the Court exercising its discretion to award costs beyond the Tariff.

The Tax Court considered the factors discussed in section 147 of the General Procedure Rules and Tariff B of Schedule II thereto, and concluded that no exceptional circumstances were required to justify a deviation from the Tariff. In fact, the discretion of the Tax Court is quite wide – the Tariff may be relied on, but only if the Court chooses to do so. The Court stated:

[16] Under the Rules, the Tax Court of Canada does not even have to make any reference to Schedule II, Tariff B in awarding costs. The Court may fix all or part of the costs, with or without reference to Schedule II of Tariff B and it can award a lump sum in lieu of or in addition to taxed costs. The Rules do not state or even suggest that the Court follow or make reference to the Tariff. …

[17] It is my view that in every case the Judge should consider costs in light of the factors in Rule 147(3) and only after he or she considers those factors on a principled basis should the Court look to Tariff B of Schedule II if the Court chooses to do so. … [emphasis in original]

The Court went on to consider the result in the proceeding (taxpayer was entirely successful), the amount in issue (more than $9 million), the importance of the issues (very important domestically and internationally), any settlement offer in writing (there wasn’t one), the volume of work (considerable effort required), the complexity of the issues (relatively straight-forward but in a complex factual matrix), and the conduct of the parties (very well pleaded and impressive presentations at the hearing). The Court awarded $60,000 plus disbursements to the Appellant.

The Court’s decision is significant because it signals an evolution in the approach to cost awards from the currently accepted practice.

As most tax litigators know, a general practice developed whereby large lump-sum cost awards were sought only in exceptional circumstances (i.e., where one party had engaged in misconduct or unnecessary procedural wrangling). The decision of Associate Chief Justice Rossiter appears to open the door to the possibility of seeking large lump-sum cost awards in any proceeding because, according to the Court, the Judge should look first to section 147 of the Rules and may, but not necessarily, look to the Tariff.

It seems that this approach accords with the Tax Court’s recent focus, and emphasis, on the importance of settlements. The parties to a tax appeal should not lightly dismiss the Court’s reasoning in Velcro Canada when considering whether to settle a matter before going to trial.