Challenges to administrative decisions not limited by the legislation

By: Shane R. Belbin and Frankie M. Leonard

Outside of the Court process, decisions are regularly made in this province by administrative decision
makers. After a decision is rendered, a party may wish to have that decision challenged in the Supreme
Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada has broadened
the ability to challenge the decision of these administrative bodies.

A challenge to such a decision takes the form of either a judicial review proceeding or a statutory
appeal. While these two processes have similarities, there is an important underlying conceptual
difference.

A statutory right of appeal must be directly provided for in the legislation under which the decision was
made. In contrast, a judicial review proceeding is a function of the inherent and constitutionally
mandated authority of the Supreme Court. This conceptual difference also has practical implications in
terms of the level of deference owed by the Court to the original decision maker.

As a statutory appeal must be authorized by legislation, the scope of its availability is also limited by the
legislation. While some legislation allows for broad appeals on all issues, certain legislation limits the
rights of further appeals to questions of law or jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court of Canada’s recent decision in Yatar v. TD Insurance Meloche Monnex has clarified
that a statutory appeal clause does not eliminate access to judicial review for issues outside the scope of
the appeal provision.

This means that while the legislation may only authorize a statutory appeal on “questions of law”, the
Court retains jurisdiction to hear a challenge to the findings of fact in a judicial review proceeding.
However, it is important to note that the Court’s authority in a judicial review proceeding is
discretionary, and a Court may choose to decline to exercise its discretion, depending on the
circumstances.

This decision clarifies that the scope of a Court challenge following an administrative decision is not
limited to what is prescribed in the legislation.

This case is important to litigants with ongoing proceedings before administrative bodies. The Court’s
ability to review the decisions of these bodies is not limited to what the legislation specifically allows. In
Newfoundland and Labrador, the following are examples of administrative bodies with limited statutory
appeal clauses, all of which have now been practically expanded by the Supreme Court of Canada:

  • An assessment review commissioner under the Assessment Act, 2006;
  • An adjudicator under the Urban and Rural Planning Act, 2000;
  • The Public Utilities Board under the Public Utilities Act;
  • An appeal board under Income and Employment Support Act;
  •  The Embalmers and Funeral Directors Board under the Embalmers and Funeral Directors Act,
    2008;
  • The Mineral Rights Adjudication Board under the Minerals Act;
  • The Minister responsible for the Environmental Protection Act; and
  • The Minister responsible for the Water Resources Act.
Curtis Dawe represents administrative decision makers, parties who appear before administrative
boards, and parties who seek to bring challenges to the resulting administrative decision. To speak to a
member of Curtis Dawe’s administrative law team, contact 709-722-5181 or curtisdawe@curtisdawe.com.

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