A recent decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Straus Estate v. Decaire, 2011 ONSC 1157 (“Straus”) serves to reiterate the importance of ensuring that compliance policies and proper training of sales representatives are practiced at the branch level. This is yet another cautionary tale for dealers of the importance of providing oversight and ensuring compliance policies not only exist, but are functionally implemented throughout the organization. A full copy of the case is available here.

In Straus, the plaintiffs sought damages for losses sustained from an “off-book” investment opportunity recommended by the advisor that was neither part of the dealers’ registered mutual fund financial products, nor suitable for the plaintiffs.1

The dealers argued that the terms of their contract with the advisor was limited to the sale of the dealers’ mutual funds and that the plaintiffs knew that the investment opportunity was not a mutual fund and beyond the authority of the advisor as mutual fund representative of the dealers.

Despite finding that the plaintiffs were aware that the investment opportunity was not a mutual fund investment, the trial judge denied the dealers’ defence and found them vicariously liable for the plaintiffs’ losses. The conduct of the dealers in failing to maintain proper compliance practices played an important role in the trial judge’s reasons for finding the dealers vicariously liable. According to the trial judge, even a “superficial inquiry” by the governance officer would have revealed that the advisor was actively engaged in off-book activity.

While the plaintiffs’ request for punitive damages was denied, the trial judge took the rare step of awarding the plaintiffs substantially all of their costs (full indemnity costs) to restore the plaintiffs to their original financial position, in effect punishing the defendants for being motivated by profit through the exploitation of trust and for the defendants’ assertion at trial that the plaintiffs were the authors of their own misfortune.