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Some Threats OK, Others Not So Much in Settlement Negotiations

In BC the law provides wide protection over confidential settlement discussions to permit parties in a lawsuit to have full and frank resolution attempts.  Typically settlement discussions made on a ‘without prejudice’ basis are protected by the law of settlement privilege and are not admissible in a subsequent trial.
There are exceptions to this general rule, however, and one such exception relates to communications with”threats of an egregious nature“.  Reasons for judgement were released yesterday by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, demonstrating this.
In yesterday’s case (Monument Mining Limited v. Balendran Chong & Bodi) the parties were involved in a defamation lawsuit.  In the course of the lawsuit various settlement offers were exchanged.  The Plaintiff sought to introduce these into evidence.  The Defendants opposed arguing these were protected by settlement privilege.  Mr. Justice Goepel concluded the letters contained egregious threats and therefore privilege was lost.  In admitting the letters into evidence the Court provided the following reasons:

[25] In Evergreen Building Ltd. v. IBI Leaseholds Ltd., 2006 BCSC 1190 at para. 16, 58 B.C.L.R. (4th) 294, Kelleher J. said at para. 16:

[16]      Privilege is lost not by making a threat, but by threatening to do something of an egregious nature. For example, a threat to commence an action or to bring a motion does not destroy the privilege attaching to a settlement communication. On the other hand, a threat to commit perjury is not privileged.

[26] I find that the July 12 Letter does contain threats of an egregious nature. The July 12 Letter warns that if the settlement proposal is not accepted, the Clients may  bring claims against Monument, Avocet and their respective directors alleging fraud and other misdeeds and may inform the AIM, the TSX and Haywood Securities Inc. of the alleged fraudulent conduct. Such actions could be devastating for a publically traded company.

[27] Monument and Avocet were not parties to the D8 Litigation.  The reservation of rights set out in the July 12 Letter served no legitimate settlement purpose. The intent of the reservation of rights was to put improper pressure on entities not involved in the D8 Litigation. The threat is of such character that the public interest in its disclosure outweighs the public interest in protecting settlement communications.  Settlement privilege does not extend to the July 12 Letter.

[28] In the result, the Settlement Letters are admissible and will be marked as exhibits 37, 38 and 39 respectively.

Monument Mining Limited v. Balendran Chong & Bodi, Mr. Justice Goepel, privilege, settlement privilege, without prejudice communications

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