Saturday, April 07, 2012

Brennan v. Gardy Estate

I have written about a few of the cases in which a family member or friend has made a successful claim against the estate of a person for personal care or other services that they had given him or her (see for example this post here). These are claims in unjust enrichment. On what basis do the courts distinguish between those services that should be compensated, and those that should not?

To succeed the plaintiff must show that the now deceased person was enriched, that the plaintiff suffered a corresponding deprivation, and that there is no juristic reason for the enrichment.

What does this mean? Enrichment and corresponding deprivation are straightforward enough. The now deceased person benefited from the plaintiff’s labour or expenditures. But what is the absence of a juristic reason? I won’t try to define it here, nor will I quote the somewhat abstract language the courts have used in describing it. But a case from last year, Brennan v. Gardy Estate, 2011 BCSC 1337, provides one example of a juristic reason for unjust enrichment.

Rod Brennan and Julien Gardy became very close friends after Mr. Brennan moved into Mr. Gardy’s basement suite in 2000. Mr. Brennan had no home, and was on social assistance. Mr. Brennan’s sister asked Mr. Gardy if her brother could move into his suite for a few months, and Mr. Gardy, out of kindness agreed. Although originally intended as temporary accommodation, Mr. Brennan lived in the suite until Mr. Gardy’s death in 2009.

Mr. Brennan offered to pay rent, and they agreed that he would pay $200 per month to cover utilities, substantially below the market rental value of the suite. In some months, Mr. Gardy did not collect any rent from Mr. Brennan.

Mr. Gardy was sedentary, obese, extremely untidy, and required dialysis. Mr. Brennan attempted to clean up, persuade Mr. Gardy to eat healthy foods and exercise more. One witness described them as being “like the odd couple.” Mr. Brennan did a considerable amount of work keeping up the yard.

Madam Justice Fenlon found that Mr. Brennan “has met the threshold of establishing a substantial benefit to the deceased. Mr. Brennan functioned as a helper around the house: for eight years he did odd jobs, did all of the yard work, and found and oversaw trades, work which would have cost the deceased money to have done otherwise.”

Although Mr. Brennan established an enrichment and a corresponding deprivation, Madam Justice Fenlon held that Mr. Gardy was not unjustly enriched. Mr. Brennan had a “donative intent” or in other words, his services were gifts in the context a mutual giving friendship, which was a “juristic reason for the enrichment.” She wrote at paragraphs 30-32:

[30] Rather, I find that Mr. Brennan provided the services he did with a donative intent. To be more precise, each friend gave to the other what was in his power to give as an expression of a true and abiding friendship. As time passed and their friendship deepened, so did the extent of their mutual giving. Karen Ann Buckner and Alana Cobza frequently saw the deceased giving rolled up balls of cash to Mr. Brennan. Mr. Brennan admitted that the deceased regularly bought groceries and gas for him and gave him gifts of money. Mr. Gardy never charged rent in December so that Mr. Brennan would have money to buy Christmas presents, and he would often return to Mr. Brennan, by way of gifts of cash, all of the rent paid in a given month.

[31] Mr. Brennan acknowledged that he did not expect to be compensated for the services he provided to the deceased. Nor did he expect to receive a benefit from the deceased’s estate after his death. In his testimony, John Anderson, who is a retired psychologist, described the relationship of Mr. Brennan and Mr. Gardy as one of “mutual caretaking”. He said that it was the most extreme case he had observed, and that he had never seen two people give each other as many gifts, cards and trinkets such as hat pins, “little things that they both treasured”.

[32] Having considered all of the evidence, and in particular the sincere and moving testimony of Mr. Brennan, I have concluded that he gave freely and generously of his time and skills and received in turn gifts of money, reduced rent, meals, entertainment and other financial assistance. In short, this was a case of mutual giving arising out of a close mutual friendship.

Mr. Brennan was successful in part. Madam Justice Fenlon held that he did not owe Mr. Gardy’s estate $10,000 that Mr. Gardy had given to another to invest for Mr. Brennan. Although Mr. Brennan had signed a promissory note for $10,000 plus interest, Madam Justice Fenlon found that Mr. Gardy had forgiven the note, and had not intended to collect the funds.

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