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Ido & Rochelle Raam with four of their children, three of whom were enrolled in Gray Academy in 2017-18: Ela (8), Leo (7), Lea (5), & ­Harel (2) (picture printed with Ido & Rochelle Raam's permission)

By BERNIE BELLAN
It was way back in our Dec. 26, 2018 issue that we first reported on a lawsuit which had been filed by the Board of Jewish Education against two parents of children who had attended Gray Academy in the 2017-18 school year. The statement of claim alleged that the defendants, Ido and Rochelle Raam, had failed to pay the amount of tuition that had been agreed upon earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

The original statement of claim filed by the Board of Jewish Education was for $9,383.93. As we noted in our Dec. 26 issue, we wondered why that statement of claim had been filed in Court of Queen’s Bench rather than Small Claims Court (which can deal with claims up to $10,000)?
We sent an email in December to David Borzykowski who, at the time, was Director of Marketing & Communications for Gray Academy, asking that question.
The response we received was: “As this matter is private, we have no comment, and we will have no further comment.”

Subsequently, however, as we noted in our March 20, 2019 issue, on March 5 a new statement of claim was filed by the BJE against the Raams, this time for $11,307.78.
At the time that the new statement of claim was filed, we sent an email to Borzykowski, asking why the amount being sought in March was higher that what was being sought in the statement of claim filed in December. We further asked whether there was any limit as to how much the BJE was prepared to spend in contesting this lawsuit? No response was received.

Since that December 2018 article first appeared, the lawsuit by the BJE has continued to drag on.
On March 15, the Raams, along with the lawyer for the BJE, Alyssa Mariani, appeared before Justice Lori Spivak. Justice Spivak set a date of March 30 for a hearing before Justice Herbert Rempel to see whether the parties could be brought together for a settlement.

No settlement was reached and the parties appeared before Justice Shawn Greenberg on May 14 for a summary judgment conference. At that time Justice Greenberg ordered anyone other than the Raams and the lawyer representing the BJE out of the courtroom, so we are not able to report what was said during that conference.

The parties met again on July 2, evidently with no further progress made toward a settlement between the parties.(Again, Justice Greenberg ordered anyone other than the lawyer representing the plaintiff and the defendants to leave the room, so we are not able to report what was said at that July 2 hearing.)
Justice Greenberg has now scheduled the dates of October 3 and 4 to hear arguments by both sides in this case.

In a memorandum issued by Justic Greenberg subsequent to that July 2 hearing, however, she wrote the following:
“There are two issues for me to decide: 1) Do the defendants owe the plaintiff money for tuition and, if so, how much? and 2) If the plaintiff is successful, what costs is it entitled to?
“In so far as costs are concerned, the plaintiff will rely on a clause of the agreement with the defendant that says it is entitled to collect ‘any expense associated with the recovery...including court and collection costs’ as supporting a claim for solicitor-client costs. I told Ms. Mariani that, in my view, that clause does not entitle the plaintiff to costs that are not reasonable. In particular, in this case, the question is whether the plaintiff is entitled to legal costs for bringing a claim in this court that could have been brought in Small Claims Court. Ms. Mariani indicated that she will be filing cases to support her position...”

Editorial comment:

Our story here about the ongoing dispute between the Board of Jewish Education and two parents of children who were former students at Gray Academy is a classic case of one party finding itself in an unexpected position from which it can’t back down for fear of losing face.
When the BJE first filed a lawsuit against Ido and Rochelle Raam back in December over an unpaid tuition bill, I’m sure that the expectation of whoever thought it would be a good idea to file a lawsuit was that it would quickly induce the Raams to settle their outstanding account with an offer to pay a good portion of what the BJE said was owing – which was originally $8,700, dating back to September 2017.

The statement of claim filed in December 2018 sought $9,383.93 from the defendants. I suppose that amount reflects interest at a compounded rate of 1.5% a month, beginning from September 2017, but because the spokesperson for Gray Academy would only say, in response to an email from me back in December asking how the figure of $9,383.93 was arrived at that, “as this matter is private, we have no comment, and we will have no further comment,” I can only speculate as to how the amount being sought was arrived at.
Now, normally a lawsuit for that amount of money would be handled in Small Claims Court, but in this case the claim was filed in Court of Queen’s Bench. I did ask the spokesperson for Gray Academy why the claim was filed in Court of Queen’s Bench, as opposed to Small Claims Court but, as I just noted, the spokesperson said no comment would be forthcoming.

When a new statement of claim by the BJE was filed in March of this year, the amount being sought was now $11,307.78. Again, I asked the spokesperson for Gray Academy why the amount being sought was now almost $2,000 more than the original statement of claim, but no response was received to my query.
As this case has dragged on, however one can only wonder about the costs being incurred by the BJE over the amount of time the lawyer for the BJE has been putting into this case.
(By the way, can someone please explain to me why there is still something called a “Board of Jewish Education” when the only school that would be under its jurisdiction would be Gray Academy? There used to be several schools that fell under the aegis of the BJE, including Peretz School, Talmud Torah, Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, and Ramah Hebrew School, but now there’s only Gray Academy. Why not just change the name of the board to the Board of Gray Academy?)

In any event, as Justice Shawn Greenberg noted in a memorandum issued to both the plaintiff and defendants, and from which we quote in our story, there are two issues at stake in this case: The first is whether the plaintiff is owed any money by the defendants, but the second issue – and one that is bound to be extremely worrisome to the BJE, is what amount of costs it might be awarded, should it prove successful in this lawsuit.
As the judge notes in her memorandum, “In so far as costs are concerned, the plaintiff will rely on a clause of the agreement with the defendant that says it is entitled to collect ‘any expense associated with the recovery...including court and collection costs’ as supporting a claim for solicitor-client costs. I told Ms. Mariani (the lawyer for the BJE) that, in my view, that clause does not entitle the plaintiff to costs that are not reasonable. In particular, in this case, the question is whether the plaintiff is entitled to legal costs for bringing a claim in this court that could have been brought in Small Claims Court.”

Justice Greenberg has given the lawyer representing the BJE until August 30 to present cases in support of her position that the plaintiff in this case should be entitled to substantial costs should the plaintiff’s case against the defendants be accepted by the judge.
While we have no way of knowing how much the bill for lawyer for the BJE will eventually come to, it seems more than likely that the bill will be far in excess of the amount for which the BJE is suing the parents of the former students of Gray Academy. I wonder whether, if whoever thought this lawsuit was a good idea in the first place, had known that it might end up costing the BJE far more in legal fees than it could ever hope to recoup from the defendants in damages, that individual or individuals would still have wanted to proceed with this lawsuit.

But, as Tom Petty sang, “Don’t back down”. What can the BJE do now? I suppose that all that the individuals who thought it was a good idea to proceed with a lawsuit can do is wait for the lawyer representing the BJE to present her arguments by August 30 and hope that they’re convincing enough that Justice Greenberg will agree that, despite her writing that this is a case that really should have been heard in Small Claims Court, the plaintiff should be entitled to substantial legal costs, should the plaintiff prove successful in making its case.
What a gamble to take, however. Can you imagine the uproar in the community if it is shown that the BJE incurred a huge legal bill in pursuing this lawsuit even if it should win the suit? But, what do you do now? Drop the lawsuit because it’s now become a hugely risky proposition for the BJE to continue pursuing it? Or continue fighting it in the hope that, not only will you win, you’ll be awarded substantial costs as well? (And, if the defendants in this case weren’t willing to pay the $8,700 the BJE claims it is owed in tuition, what are the odds the defendants would ever pay substantial costs they might be assessed?)

There are other aspects to this case as well. As I’ve noted before, it doesn’t look good for the Board of Jewish Education to be pursuing parents for non-payment of tuition. While it may be a stretch to think that Gray Academy would say that its goal is “no child left behind”, the generous system of bursary assistance which the Jewish Federation funds for parents of Gray Academy students is presumably intended to insure that almost any parent who would want to be able to send his or her child to Gray Academy would be able to do so.
A problem can arise though, as it apparently did in this case, when the parents who are being sued allegedly ran into financial difficulty. Gray Academy bases its tuition assessments upon the previous year’s tax returns of either an individual or couple – as the case may be. But, if someone suddenly suffers a financial reversal, which is what we are told happened in the case of the parents in this case, they’re still stuck with a tuition bill based on their previous year’s tax returns.

Yet, as I’ve also pointed out in a previous issue, Gray Academy does receive substantial financial support – not only from the Jewish Federation, but far more so from the Province of Manitoba. Provincial funding of parochial schools is set at a rate of 50% of the amount it provides for public schools.
In the final analysis, what Gray Academy (or the BJE or whoever makes these decisions) should have done, at most, is simply say to the parents in this case that their children will not be able to attend Gray Academy until their tuition bill is paid. Instead, what has happened gives the appearance of vindictiveness: Pursuing parents in a court where costs are bound to be higher than the court where a case of this type would normally be heard – and where costs that might be awarded to the winning side are quite limited.
What kind of message is being sent to other parents of children in Gray Academy – or, even more important, to parents who may be considering sending their children to Gray Academy? Unfortunately, that message is: “Don’t mess with us!”

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