Case summary: One, two, three strikes for re-litigating administrative decisions

  • August 26, 2019
  • Jonathan M. Coady and Cullen Mullally

In MacLean v. Workers Compensation (PEI), 2019 PECA 9, the Prince Edward Island Court of Appeal found that the Workers Compensation Appeal Tribunal (WCAT) acted reasonably when it refused to allow a worker to relitigate matters that had been previously decided.


The worker reported an ankle injury to the Workers Compensation Board after delivering furniture. The board accepted the claim, provided compensation to the worker, and closed the claim after concluding that the worker was able to return to work. Months later, the worker reported back pain to the board. The pain resulted from a herniated disk and required surgery.

Over the next six years, the worker repeatedly sought compensation for his back pain. The board found the pain was not related to the original ankle injury and denied the claims for expanded coverage. The worker made two requests to re-open the claim based on new evidence. The board found that the information submitted did not constitute new evidence. The worker sought reconsideration by the board but was not successful. Both appeals to WCAT were ultimately dismissed.

The worker then made a third request to reopen his claim on the basis of new evidence. According to the worker, by focusing on the original report of an ankle injury, the board was taking a narrow and improper view of the new evidence relating to his back pain. The board again denied the request. An appeal to WCAT was dismissed, and the worker appealed to the Court of Appeal.


The Court of Appeal found that the information put forward by the worker did not constitute new evidence as defined in the policy published by the board.1 The Court of Appeal also found the record did not support the worker’s submission that the board took a narrow view of the evidence.2 All of the evidence at the time of the workplace accident described an ankle injury. References to back pain only arose after the claim for the original injury had been closed by the board. According to the Court of Appeal, the theory advanced by the worker as to the cause of his back pain, and the related medical information, had all been considered by the board and WCAT in previous decisions.3

The WCAT decision under review arose from the third request submitted by the worker on the ground of new evidence. The Court of Appeal therefore cautioned that the appeal could not be utilized as a vehicle to relitigate matters which had already been decided by previous decisions. The Court of Appeal reasoned that, absent a timely appeal in accordance with the legislation, an earlier decision was “final” as between the parties and “not subject to collateral challenge by appeal of a subsequent decision.”4 For that reason, the collateral attacks advanced by the worker on appeal were not permitted. According to the Court of Appeal, the administrative justice system is harmed when a party inappropriately circumvents the proper forum for reconsideration or appeal.5


By reminding participants in the administrative justice system about the rules against re-litigation and collateral attack, the Court of Appeal has reinforced the integrity of the system itself. Over time, a variety of statutory mechanisms for reconsideration and appeal have been developed and implemented. Challenges to the correctness or fairness of administrative decisions are therefore properly directed to those forums before intervention is justified by the court. And when those review processes are not pursued in a proper or timely manner, the Court of Appeal has properly confirmed that the room for judicial intervention will be narrowed considerably.

Jonathan Coady is a partner and Cullen Mullally is a summer student with Stewart McKelvey.

1 2019 PECA 9 at para. 19.

2 2019 PECA 9 at para. 20.

3 2019 PECA 9 at para. 21.

4 2019 PECA 9 at para. 23.

5 See generally British Columbia (Workers' Compensation Board) v. Figliola, 2011 SCC 52 at paras. 29-30.