This memorandum is provided for instructional purposes. It is not to be relied on as legal advice.
|DATE:||December 13, 1995|
|RE:||Security documents executed and registered using debtor's common law name|
An individual (the "Debtor") executed security documents on his own behalf using a name which was not his legal name. He signed using the name David Black, which he was using generally as his name at the time he executed the documents. However, his legal name is David Brown, and he has more recently begun using that name instead of David Black.
Our client (the "Bank") is the security holder. The security documents were registered against the Debtor's personal property in British Columbia in favour of the Bank, with the registration listing the Debtor as David Black.
The Bank is now concerned about whether its security is enforceable.
Will personal property security documents granted in favour of the Bank, signed and registered in British Columbia using the Debtor's common law name David Black, be enforceable against the Debtor and the Debtor's creditors now that the Debtor has changed to using his legal name David Brown?
The law is clear that the security documents will be enforceable by the Bank as against the Debtor. However, there is a significant risk that the security documents, which have been registered under the name David Black in public registries, will not be enforceable against other creditors of the Debtor. If the Debtor had continued to consistently use David Black as his common law name, the registration would protect the Bank's security. The switch from Black to Brown brings the protection afforded by registration into question.
The Bank should take the following steps to protect its security. The entire transaction does not need to be re-executed, because the contracts signed by the Debtor are valid as against the Debtor. However, the security registration should be updated by a new filing reflecting the different name. One way would be to file notice of a change of name. Given the uncertainty as to when the Debtor goes by Black, and when he goes by Brown, the better route is to file under both names.
General principles concerning names
At common law, a person could adopt any name in the community, provided that this was not done with any intention to defraud others. A person's legal name was the name the person was known by, determined merely as a question of common usage within the community. Although occasionally private Acts were used to formally establish changes of name, the most common pattern was for the name change to be effected by adoption, use and recognition in the community. CED (West. 3rd), Vol. 34, "Vital Statistics", at para. 47.
Legislation now governs legal name changes. However, the courts have held that the use of a name different from one's legal name is still not illegal, so long as there is no intention to defraud or mislead. CED (West. 3rd), Vol. 34, "Vital Statistics", at para. 50.
The Privy Council considered the effect of signing a deed using a name different from one's legal name in Fung Ping Shan v. Tong Shun,  A.C. 403 (P.C., on appeal from the Supreme Court of Hong Kong). At page 407 their Lordships stated:
A person who signs, seals, and delivers a deed of covenant cannot avoid liability under the deed by signing a name which he represents as, but which is not in fact, his own, nor can he saddle such liability on the person whose name he uses, unless he is the duly constituted attorney of such person.
Their Lordships held that although the defendant had signed his uncle's name to the conveyance document when he had no authority to do so, the vendor thought it was dealing with the defendant rather than his uncle, and the defendant was therefore liable under the deed of conveyance. This case is cited as authority in both Halsbury's Laws of England (4th ed.), Vol. 12, "Deeds and other Instruments", at para. 1365, note 1, and CED (West. 3rd), Vol. 11A, "Deeds and Documents", at para. 25.
In summary, at common law one was entitled to use a name by which one was commonly known in the community. If one used a different name to sign a legal document, one would still be bound under that document.
Applying this rule to our facts, the Debtor is bound to the Bank under the security documents, even though he did not sign them using his legal name.
Difficulties with the common law rule have arisen in modern times because of registration regimes that are name-dependent. There are several recent cases debating this issue in the context of PPSA registrations. Most of these cases deal with minor differences between the legal name and the registered name, such as an incorrect or missing middle initial, or a misspelled first name. I have not dealt with these cases. A small body of cases discusses the problems that arise with a significantly different given name. An even smaller body of cases deals with differences in surnames.
The tendency in the more recent cases has been to afford a generous interpretation of the word "name" in the registration requirements, where the legislation does not specify that the name used in the documentation must be the individual's legal name. However, this is balanced against the problems caused to third parties trying to search the registry under the legal name and finding no security documentation registered under that name.
The leading British Columbia case is Re Lazarchuk (1994), 7 P.P.S.A.C. (2d) 155 (B.C.S.C.), per Master Powers. The debtor had granted a chattel mortgage on a motor vehicle to the bank in the name of "Lazarchuk". The debtor subsequently filed an assignment into bankruptcy under the name of "Lazarchuk". The debtor's birth certificate read "Lazarczuk" and as a result the assignment was changed to read "Lazarczuk". However, all other identification of the debtor, including his driver's licence and vehicle ownership, contained the spelling "Lazarchuk". The debtor also stated in an affidavit that he always knew himself to be "Lazarchuk" and held himself to be such to the public. He was not aware that his birth certificate contained a different spelling of his surname.
The bank had registered its security interest under the name of "Lazarchuk" and under the correct serial number of the vehicle. The trustee in bankruptcy disallowed the bank's claim as a secured creditor on the grounds that a name search would not reveal the bank's interest and hence the error was seriously misleading. The trustee argued that section 9(1) of the Personal Property Security Act, S.B.C. 1989, c. 36 ("PPSA") required that the debtor's legal, true or right name, as indicated on some official document, should be recorded on the financing statement, and that strict compliance is necessary to preserve the integrity of the registration system under the Act. Hence, the trustee argued that the bank's security interest was unperfected at the time of bankruptcy and was invalid as against the trustee.
The bank argued that additions should not be read into the PPSA and its regulations. Furthermore, the bank argued that name changes can occur without registration under the Name Act and under common law, and there is nothing to invalidate these changes. The bank therefore argued that its registration and security interest should be valid as against the trustee.
Master Powers noted that this was a case of first impression in British Columbia. He made the following general comments about name changes at pages 162 and 163:
A person may have more than one name, or may be known by more than one name, or may change their name without going through a formal process which results in a record of that change. The person's birth certificate may contain the name under which their birth was registered, or be issued in a different name if that change has been officially recorded with Vital Statistics. A person may use a surname of their spouse, the name they obtained by adoption, or at birth or their surname immediately before marriage, if they are a married person. The Name Act, s 2.1, does not appear to place any restriction on when a person begins using a particular surname or any restriction that prevents them from using one particular surname and then another and reverting to the original or, in fact, to what may be a third surname. The Name Act does not appear to require any formal registration of such an election or use.
In addition, there does not appear to be anything which invalidates a change of name by common-law even though that change might be an offence under the Name Act.
Master Powers then reviewed the PPSA and its regulations, and concluded that the references to "name" in that legislation were not restricted to the "legal name" of the debtor:
I conclude that the regulations should not be interpreted to deprive the bank of its security in a case of this nature. The regulations do not say which name the security must be registered in and I would also find from the evidence that the bankrupt's name is Lazarchuk, not Lazarczuk as shown on his birth certificate. The name Lazarchuk is the name which he has acquired at common-law. I am not making any determination as to whether or not his name may not also be Lazarczuk as registered by his birth. This may simply be a case where he had, in fact, two names and the regulations of the PPSA do not specify which name is to be used. Therefore, I conclude the bank has properly registered its security as required by the PPSA and that its security is valid as against the trustee.
This case comes out strongly in favour of the bank and therefore supports the position our client wants to take with respect to the Brown financing. However, there are several problems with relying on this case. It was decided only at the level of a Master. It is the only British Columbia case on this issue. The two surnames in our case are completely different, rather than having a slightly different spelling. Furthermore, the Debtor has now started using Brown, his legal name, as his surname. This confuses the issue and would enable a court to distinguish our case from that of Mr. Lazarchuk.
The Alberta Court of Appeal took a similar approach in Miller, McClelland Ltd. v. Barrhead Savings & Credit Union Ltd.,  5 W.W.R. 170 (Alta. C.A.). The bankrupt in that case had three given names, but was commonly known and referred to by only the second of the names. His driver's licence, income tax returns, personal resume and professional certificates, presented when he applied for a loan with the credit union, all identified him by the second name. The credit union registered financing statements under the PPSA (Alta) showing only the second given name. Bankruptcy proceedings were later commenced using the bankrupt's first given name, under which no PPSA registrations were shown. The registrar in bankruptcy disallowed the credit union's claim, and the disallowance was upheld by the bankruptcy judge. These rulings were overturned on appeal.
The Alberta Court of Appeal held that neither the Personal Property Security Act, S.A. 1988, c. P-4.05 nor the regulations under it prescribed unequivocal identification criteria. They merely provide that the debtor is to be identified by his or her last name, followed by his or her first name and middle name, if any. The term "first name" is not defined in the Alberta PPSA or regulations and should not be presumed to refer to a precise term such as "given name". The Alberta Court of Appeal held that even though registry guidelines published by the Attorney General directed that the birth certificate name be used in registering securities, those guidelines did not have binding legal effect. Accordingly, the registration using only the second given name and the surname was held to be in compliance with PPSA requirements.
The key in both the Alberta and British Columbia cases is that the name used by the debtor on the security documents was the debtor's common law name, in the sense that the debtor consistently used that name and was known by that name in the community. A different result may arise where the debtor does not consistently use the same name, as in our case.
In Re Grisenthwaite (1987), 43 R.P.R. 304 (Ont. Sup. Ct.) the borrower used different last names. Her maiden name was J.C. Smith. She adopted her first husband's name, Gullins, on marriage. After his death and her remarriage to W. Grisenthwaite, she used various last names, including "Gullins", "Gullins Grisenthwaite", and "Grisenthwaite". A security document and financing statement in favour of the chattel mortgagee with respect to a motor home described the debtor as "J.C. Gullins". The trustee in bankruptcy of the debtor sought directions as to whether this security was valid.
Master Browne noted that the Ontario legislation did not define what is the proper surname for use in a PPSA financing statement. He noted that the Change of Name Act, R.S.O. 1980, c. 62 placed some restrictions on common-law rights with respect to name changes, but did not necessarily change those rights. In particular, he held that at common law the debtor was entitled to use the various names she was using. However, he held that her true name and surname for purposes of compliance with the regulations under the Personal Property Security Act, R.S.O. 1980, c. 375 was "Grisenthwaite", as she had adopted by usage her new husband's name. That adoption had the effect of an election. Such an adoption was acknowledged to cause a change of name under the Change of Name Act.
This case implies that the only name that is valid for PPSA registration is the name that is the legal name under the Change of Name Act. In this respect, it is narrower than the later case law summarized above. However, this case was decided several years prior to those cases. The recent Alberta and British Columbia case law takes a more liberal approach.
When considered together and analyzed, the combined effect of this case law appears to be as follows. Where the debtor uses more than one name, then the name to be used for PPSA registration must be the debtor's legal name. On the other hand, if the debtor consistently uses the same name and has therefore adopted it at common law, registration in that name will be valid for PPSA purposes. Thus, in this case, if David Black was continuing to use that name, even though his birth certificate name is David Brown, then registration under David Black should be valid because it would be his common law name. However, if he is using both names, or has abandoned Black in favour of Brown, then the documentation should be registered in his legal name.
As a result of this analysis, the Bank should take the following steps to protect its security. The entire transaction does not need to be re-executed, because the contracts signed by the Debtor will be valid as against him. However, the security registration should be updated by a new filing reflecting the different name. One way would be to file notice of a change of name. Given the uncertainty as to when the Debtor goes by Black, and when he goes by Brown, the better route is to file under both names.