Legal fencing duel concludes in Labrador

·4 min read

A four-year court case between the Town of North West River and a resident that started over a fence ended in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in Happy Valley-Goose Bay on April 6.

Bobbi Jo Campbell had made two applications to the court: to extend the time period for an appeal of a small claims judgment against her and to have a hold placed on the costs she was ordered to pay by the courts. Both applications were denied.

According to a written decision filed by Justice Frances Knickle, the matter began when the central Labrador town removed a fence Campbell had built on property the municipality asserted did not belong to her. The town sent her a removal order and when she did not comply, it had the fence removed.

Campbell filed a statement of claim against the town, alleging it had wrongly removed the fence. She did not deny the fence was on town property, but said she had been given permission to build it.

Knickle said no less than four separate trial dates were set during the next 18 months, but the case did not proceed to trial.

The first date in March 2018 was rescheduled when Campbell said she needed to retain counsel. The next scheduled trial in May of that year was postponed so Campbell could provide her lawyer with more documentation. It was then set to November 2018, but before that trial date, the lawyer withdrew as counsel of record. Unaware the applicant’s counsel had withdrawn, Knickle said, counsel for the town flew to Happy Valley-Goose Bay to attend the trial as scheduled.

“When he attended the next day, the applicant (Campbell) was not present,” Knickle said. “Counsel was advised by the court the applicant was unable to attend for trial. According to the applicant, the court staff telephoned her, and a new date was set.”

Knickle said although Campbell gave no reason why she could not attend trial at the time, in the hearing for this application she said it was due to a family emergency.

A fourth trial date was set for April 17, 2019. Campbell did not appear, and a judgment was entered against her. She was ordered to pay the costs of the town, which amounted to $3,296.96, beginning in May 2019.

In the application to extend the time for her to file an appeal, Campbell said she could not attend the trial because she required surgery.

Knickle pointed out in her decision that Campbell did not inform the court she was not available until nine minutes before the trial was scheduled to start. A fax was received by the court at 9:21 a.m. that included a page entitled "Disability Certificate" and dated the day before the scheduled trial.

“It does not state that the applicant could not attend court because of required surgery, but states that the applicant was seen on the 15th and 16th of April, 2020 by a physician and ‘has a medical reason for being absent from work,’” Knickle wrote.

According to the written decision, Campbell told the court she had been advised a further date for trial would be set and that she was not aware her initial claim against the town had been dismissed or that she was ordered to pay the costs. She said she discovered the latter when $3,296.96 was taken from her bank account in February 2021. On learning that, she filed these applications.

Knickle said Campbell had not established she had a bona fide intention to appeal or provided the courts with any legal merit to her claim. Accepting Campbell’s claim she was not aware of the order, Knickle said, still doesn’t provide a reasonable excuse for why she didn’t appeal it in the prescribed time.

“I accept that once the applicant learned of the order, she took steps to pursue an appeal, but I cannot ignore the 10 months in between where she failed to even make a simple phone call to the court to find out the status of the proceedings.”

In that time, Knickle said, the town had reasonably assumed the matter was concluded and the “conduct is evidence of a lack of concern about her claim and the proceedings.”

Evan Careen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Telegram