Farris Litigators Secure $30 Million Win at BCCA
Farris Partners, Robert Anderson, K.C., Mike Wagner, and Kevin Smith, recently secured a major win at the British Columbia Court of Appeal. In De Angelis v. Siermy, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal from a trial decision in favour of Farris clients, Annie Siermy and her company J&A Properties Ltd. The trial and appeal decisions brought to an end, in Annie’s favour, a complex, high-value dispute spanning six years and involving multiple litigation matters.
Annie’s niece, Barbara De Angelis, alleged that Annie had entered into a binding agreement to leave Barbara the bulk of Annie’s wealth, but that Annie then changed her Will in breach of that agreement. Barbara claimed specific performance of the alleged agreement, and in the alternative sought compensation for unjust enrichment for “services rendered” to Annie over the years.
The larger context was a multigenerational family business, of which Annie represented the second generation, and Barbara the third generation.
Central to Barbara’s claim against Annie were three so-called “letters from the grave”, which Barbara claimed had been written and signed by Ms. Siermy and proved the existence of the contract. Duelling summary trial applications, which were initially set for four days and ultimately consumed a total of 19 days, were described by the trial judge in his reasons for judgment as “perhaps the longest summary trial on record”. The trial evolved to include extensive cross-examination and six expert witnesses from three different disciplines, along with 48 witness affidavits comprising many thousands of pages. The trial judge found that the alleged agreement never existed and that Barbara had forged the “letters from the grave”. He dismissed both the contract claim and the unjust enrichment claim on several independent grounds, including that Barbara lacked clean hands and that she had received significant remuneration from the larger family business.
Barbara appealed. The Court of Appeal upheld the trial judge’s decision and dismissed the appeal. This case stands as a significant milestone case in the areas of testamentary contracts, forged or fraudulently obtained documents, and unjust enrichment.
Farris represented the successful parties at both trial and on appeal.