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North Vancouver wine broker off the hook for $85,000 sour deal

Wine broker off the hook

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has corked a lawsuit following an $85,000 wine deal gone sour.

In November 2020, Moez Kassam agreed to purchase 138 bottles of wine from Brian Gunsten, then vice-president of Dream Wines Corporation, a North Vancouver-headquartered broker of wines. But the wine shipment was “damaged and sent back,” according to a B.C. Supreme Court ruling released Monday (June 27).

Kassam sued Gunsten and Dream Wines for damages plus interest, alleging that Dream Wines was responsible for fulfilling the contract, either because Gunsten was acting on the company’s behalf, or because the company should be vicariously liable for his conduct.

Gunsten had worked for Dream Wines from 2011 to 2021, when he was terminated for “moonlighting” by selling wine as a side hustle, the court documents state.

In their response to the claim, Dream Wines asserted they had no involvement with the contract, and that, even if they had, it was “tainted with illegality” because it contemplated the delivery of wine to Ontario, which violates the province’s liquor control legislation.

Gunsten never filed a response to the suit, the ruling notes, and he is now bankrupt.

Dream Wines sells wines to businesses in B.C. and Alberta through liquor distribution agencies, though the company doesn’t actually handle any of the wine it sells. That is done via government-controlled warehouses.

When Gunsten and Kassam first communicated in Sept. 2020, it was via Gunstem’s Dream Wines email address. Kassam agreed to buy 18 bottles of Burgundy wine for $50,000. The invoice Gunsten prepared, however, was done personally and didn’t include any reference to Dream Wines. The deal closed and Kassam’s company wired the money directly to Gunsten’s Royal Bank of Canada account.

In November that year, Gunsten emailed Kassam, again from his Dream Wines account, offering to sell 138 bottles of wine for $85,000, the ones that were the subject of the lawsuit. Kassam agreed. The ruling doesn't specify what kind of wine it was.

“[o]kay deal … Hahah … I am still making a couple k. Better [than] nothing. Can you wire the funds today and I can secure the deal,” Gunstun wrote in an email cited in the ruling.

Again, the invoice Gunsten sent from his work email did not contain any references to the company and it did not include any amounts of GST or PST.

The ruling doesn't detail what happened to the wine or when, but in March 2021, Kassam learned that Gunsten had been fired from Dream Wines. For the next two months, Kassam texted Gunsten seeking repayment of the $85,000 paid by his company. Gunsten wrote back, agreeing to send $10,000 every Friday, along with a list of wines, though over the weeks, he made excuses, saying he was waiting for funds to be arriving in his account via his bank. He did wire $1,500 on April 5, 2021, and another $200 10 days later.

Because Kassam believed he was dealing with Gunsten in his capacity as vice-president of Dream Wines and via a dreamwines.ca email account, Kassam argued the company should be responsible for the repayment.

B.C Supreme Court Justice Andrew Mayer disagreed. Dream Wines was not in the business of selling to individuals, and the bottles included in the deals were not listed on the company’s website, he noted. Gunsten’s messages to Kassam suggested he was working on his own behalf to earn a commission and the invoices contained no reference to Dream Wines and no sales taxes, indicating they were “off the books,” Mayer added. And after Gunsten was fired, Kassam pursued him for repayment, not Dream Wines.

“Mr. Kassam’s subjective belief that he was entering into the contract with Dream Wines is not relevant. Parties must intend to be legally bound by their agreement for it to bind them,” Mayer wrote. “In my view, a reasonable objective bystander considering all of the circumstances before and after the contract was formed would not find that Mr. Kassam had entered into the contract with Dream Wines.”

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