Appeal from decision of chambers judge upholding decision striking claim on jurisdictional basis.

[2015] A.J. No. 216

2015 ABCA 78

Alberta Court of Appeal

P.W.L. Martin, R.S. Brown JJ.A. and E.A. Hughes J.

February 27, 2015

The appellant was employed as Chief Engineer of Telecommunications for the respondent, SNC Lavalin ATP Inc. He commenced an action against his former employer for stress and related disabling physical injuries allegedly resulting from harassment and bullying that led to him leaving his employment. Upon service of the originating process, the respondent applied to strike the claim on the basis the court was without jurisdiction to hear the matter as it was exclusively within the jurisdiction of the Workers’ Compensation Board.

On an application to a master, the master held the action was barred under the Workers’ Compensation Act. At that time, the appellant had not claimed constructive dismissal. On appeal to a chambers judge, the appellant applied to amend his statement of claim to include a claim for constructive dismissal and to set aside the master’s order. The chambers judge permitted the amendment but concluded that, notwithstanding the amendment, the “essential character” of the dispute arose from an “accident” as defined in the Workers’ Compensation Act. On that basis, the chambers judge concluded the Workers’ Compensation Board had exclusive jurisdiction. The chambers judge dismissed the appeal and struck the claim for constructive dismissal.

On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the court held the chambers judge erred in striking the claim for constructive dismissal and dismissing the action. The court held in cases dealing with competing jurisdictional claims between an administrative body and the courts, the key question is whether the essential character of the dispute, in its factual context, arises either expressly or inferentially from a statutory scheme. In determining this question, a liberal interpretation of the legislation is required to ensure that a scheme is not offended by the conferral of jurisdiction on a forum not intended by the legislature. The court characterized the appellant’s claim as twofold: i) a cause of action for physical and psychological injuries sustained in the workplace, and ii) constructive dismissal. The Workers’ Compensation Act is a statutory scheme with jurisdiction to address the first cause of action; however, the Workers’ Compensation Act asserts no jurisdiction to compensate claims for constructive dismissal. If the chambers judge’s order were permitted to stand, the appellant would be left without a forum to advance the constructive dismissal claim. On that basis, the Court of Appeal concluded the chambers judge erred in striking the claim for constructive dismissal. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal to the extent of restoring the claim for constructive dismissal.