Supreme Court Restores Common Sense to Rule 20 – Summary Judgment

The Supreme Court released its decisions yesterday (January 23) in the Hryniak v. Maudlin, 2014 SCC 7 and Bruno Appliance and Furniture v. Hryniak, 2014 SCC 8 appeals. Those appeals were on the issue of interpreting the 2010 amendments to Ontario’s Rule 20 dealing with summary judgment motions. OTLA and the Canadian Bar Association were interveners. In the decision, the “full appreciation” test used by the Ontario Court of Appeal in summary judgments was overturned. In a nutshell, the Court (7 Justices) emphasized that “summary judgment rules must be interpreted broadly, favouring proportionality and fair access to the affordable, timely and just adjudication of claims”. The new fact‑finding powers granted to motion judges in Rule 20.04 may be employed on a motion for summary judgment unless it is in the interest of justice for them to be exercised only at trial. The following are some excerpts from the decisions that I thought you might find helpful: The Rule 20 reforms embody the evolution of summary judgment rules from highly restricted tools used to weed out clearly unmeritorious claims or defences, to their current status as a legitimate alternative means for adjudicating and resolving legal disputes. They offer significant new tools to judges, which allow them to adjudicate more cases through summary judgment motions and attenuate the risks when such motions do not resolve the entire case. The new powers in rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2) expand the number of cases in which there will be no genuine issue requiring a trial by permitting motion judges to weigh evidence, evaluate credibility and draw reasonable inferences. The motion judge should ask whether the matter can be resolved in a fair and just manner on a summary judgment motion. This will be the case when the process: (1) allows the judge to make the necessary findings of fact, (2) allows the judge to apply the law to the facts, and (3) is a proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result. If there appears to be a genuine issue requiring a trial, based only on the record before him/her, the judge should then ask if the need for a trial can be avoided by using the new powers provided under Rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2). The Judge may, at his/her discretion, use those powers, provided that their use is not against the interest of justice. Their use will not be against the interest of justice if they will lead to a fair and just result and will serve the goals of timeliness, affordability and proportionality in light of the litigation as a whole. The standard for fairness is whether it gives the judge confidence s/he can find the necessary facts and apply the relevant legal principles so as to resolve the dispute. The evidence need not be equivalent to a trial. The Court held that a documentary record, particularly when supplemented with the new fact-finding tools such as oral testimony, is often enough to resolve material issues justly and fairly. The judge may need to compare things such as the cost and speed of a trial versus summary judgment.

Blog Archive