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'Frivolous and baseless': Court dismisses $210M lawsuit launched against City of Vaughan by former employee

Plaintiff ordered to pay significant damages that could total up to $1.1M
May 2, 2022
Heidi Riedner

The City of Vaughan says a recent court ruling in its favour over a $210 million lawsuit launched by a former city commissioner upholds its integrity and should deter future similar "meritless" lawsuits.

In addition to dismissing the action in his decision issued April 4, Justice F.L. Myers of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice awarded plaintiff Frank Miele to pay costs, including $813,101.99 to the city, and total aggregate fees for council members named in the suit of $312,000.

Miele, the city's former commissioner of economic development, who also ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor in 2018, launched the lawsuit in 2019 alleging Vaughan council misdirected ratepayer funds to pay deficits between 2014 and 2017.

The statement of claim alleged that during that time, Vaughan's council was operating with annual budget deficits ranging from $1.5 million to $41 million, "contrary to law" and that the city and its council "failed to disclose" those deficits to residents in each of those years.

At the same time, he alleged the city collected surplus funds in its water levies and stormwater charges, and used money from those accounts to reduce the "illegal" deficits.

Alongside the city itself, sitting council members were also named in the lawsuit, including Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua, Deputy Mayor Mario Ferri and councillors Gino Rosati, Marilyn Iafrate, Tony Carella, Rosanna DeFrancesca, Sandra Yeung Racco and Alan Shefman.

Coun. Linda Jackson was not named in the suit, as she wasn't on council during the period in question.

According to court documents and the city's solicitor, Miele later acknowledged the suit was baseless and approached the city about discontinuing the claim.

Wendy Law, Vaughan's deputy city manager, legal and administrative services and city solicitor, said a public and broader apology was subsequently negotiated by Miele's lawyer with the city’s legal counsel.

That, however, was not delivered until it appeared in supplementary motion materials the day before the most recent court proceedings regarding costs on March 25.

In its decision issued April 4, the court determined the claim was "frivolous and abusive", adding there was no basis for the lawsuit.

Myers determined the cost award of roughly $1 million was "fair and reasonable", saying the plaintiff’s litigation tactics were "reprehensible".

"Costs awards that dissuade frivolous or meritless claims do not impair access to justice. Rather, they properly allocate responsibility for abuse."

In a report to council, Law said the court decision will serve as precedent and hopefully deter future similar meritless lawsuits against not just the city, but other municipalities and public office holders in Ontario.

"The Court has clearly signalled its disapproval for baseless and unsupported claims," she said. "One cannot simply hide behind the suggestion that s/he is acting in the public interest in calling out actions undertaken by public office holders and municipalities without some basis to support their allegations."

Transparency, accountability and responsibility are the principles that guide the City of Vaughan in everything the organization does, a statement issued by the city April 28 reads.

"The recent case regarding Mr. Miele questioned some of these values, however, the court’s verdict ruled in the city’s favour, finding the lawsuit to be frivolous and meritless," it continues.

"This successful outcome marks another important step forward in strengthening Vaughan's commitment to good governance and demonstrates the city’s proven integrity ... With this case now concluded, the City of Vaughan will move forward knowing that justice is being served.