Court Tells Bikers its an Abuse of Process Denying Civil Liability Following Criminal Conviction

If you’re charged with a crime and plead guilty, or are found guilty to the criminal standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’, it is generally considered an abuse of process to deny fault when sued for the same underlying conduct based on the lesser civil standard of ‘balance of probabilities’.  Two members of a motorcycle club learned this lesson the hard way.

In the recent case (Thatcher v. Lowe) the Plaintiff sued several defendants for assault, battery, intentional infliction of mental suffering and false imprisonment following a 2016 confrontation.  Prior to this defendants were charged criminally and plead guilty.  The court summarized the following key facts from the guilty plea:

[12]         The Crown then read in the following circumstances:

·       The accused were members of a motorcycle club in the Elk Valley area called the Archrivals which, although not alleged by the Crown to be a criminal organization, was supportive of the Hells Angels.

·       At around 8:20 p.m., on November 1, 2016, Mr. Thatcher was sitting in his vehicle when two to three vehicles parked behind him and a group of eight to ten men got out and surrounded his vehicle.

·       Members of the group opened Mr. Thatcher’s vehicle’s doors and accused him of being seen wearing a Hells Angels vest and patch, which he denied.

·       Mr. Thatcher observed that members of the group were wearing black gloves and holding various weapons, including a collapsible baton, brass knuckles, knives and a baseball bat.

·       One member undid Mr. Thatcher’s seatbelt and smacked a cellphone out of his hand.

·       Members of the group made a number of threats to Mr. Thatcher including:

o   “Let’s just bust his teeth out right here. Let’s teach – let’s just teach this guy a lesson. You know what this is about. If you don’t give us the vest we’re going to fuck you up.”

o   The Edmonton, Calgary and Kelowna Hells Angels all knew who he was and had his picture.

o   The Hells Angels had his name and were coming after him.

o   “We didn’t drive all this way not to do anything to this guy.”

o   “There is cops coming. Let’s do him right here.”

o   “Rip him out of there. We’ll throw him in the van and do him up there.”

o   “Let’s all take a leisurely drive to Trail and pick that up and let’s just go fuck his family up and then he’ll give us the vest.”

·       Members of the group attempted to pull Mr. Thatcher out of his vehicle and “he was punched”. (The Crown did not specify whether Mr. Thatcher was punched once or more than once).

·       The event went on for ten to 15 minutes until Mr. Thatcher was able to start his car, drive away, and call 9-1-1.

·       Later that evening, the police arrested the named defendants. The police found various items on them, including a baton, numerous pairs of black gloves turned inside out, knives, business cards for the Archrivals Club and a balaclava.

[13]          After taking a short break to “confirm a couple things with [his clients]”, counsel for Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield advised the judge that his clients admitted the essential elements of the three counts and the circumstances adduced by the Crown.

Two of the Defendants denied fault in the civil lawsuit but the court found the denial amounted to an abuse of process and by virtue of the criminal conviction civil liability was attached.  In reaching this decision Mr. Justice Marchand provided the following reasons:

[61]         Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield were charged with serious offences. If convicted, they were facing jail time and a substantial restitution order. They carefully and deliberately entered guilty pleas understanding that, in addition to their sentences, they may also be held civilly liable. They explicitly admitted the circumstances alleged by the Crown.

[62]         The criminal proceedings were not tainted by fraud or dishonesty, there is no fresh evidence and the stakes were not so minor as to provide an inadequate incentive for Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield to defend themselves.

[63]         The position now being taken by Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield is the very thing the doctrine of abuse of process is designed to address. It would wholly undermine the administration of justice to permit Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield to derive the substantial benefits of their guilty pleas and then permit them to resile from their unequivocal admissions in these proceedings.

[64]         For all of these reasons, there is no genuine issue for trial with respect to the liability of Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield in assault, battery and false imprisonment. I grant summary judgment on these liability issues to Mr. Thatcher and against Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield. I refer the liability of Mr. Lowe and Mr. Mansfield for intentional infliction of mental suffering and the assessment of damages to the trial list.

Abuse of Process, bc injury law, Mr. Justice Marchand, Thatcher v. Lowe

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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