Highest Court Encourages Alternatives to Trial

Highest Court Encourages Alternatives to Trial

The Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Hryniak v. Mauldin (2014 S.C.C. 7, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 87) and encouraged alternative solutions to a trial.

In her decision, Karakatsanis, J. called for “a shift in culture” (para. 20). She recognized that the adjudication of civil disputes by way of a full trial has become illusory for many litigants (para. 24). She encouraged litigants and members of the judiciary to consider alternatives to a trial, including motions for summary judgment.

27      Karakatsanis, J. began her analysis of the issue of access to justice by emphasizing that “Our civil justice system is premised upon the values that the process of adjudication must be fair and just. This cannot be compromised.” (See para. 23.)

28      The principles of fairness and justice, the latter in particular, are reflected in Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, R.R.O. 1990, O. Reg. 194. In determining whether there is a genuine issue requiring a trial, a judge hearing a motion for summary judgment is entitled to exercise fact-finding powers “unless it is in the interest of justice for such powers to be exercised only at a trial” (rule 20.04 (2.1)).

29      With respect to the interest of justice, Karakatsanis, J. concluded that, “What is fair and just turns on the nature of the issues, the nature and the strength of the evidence and what is the proportional procedure” (para. 59). She also emphasized consideration of the litigation as a whole:

The “interest of justice” inquiry goes further, and also considers the consequences of the motion in the context of the litigation as a whole. For example, if some of the claims against some of the parties will proceed to trial in any event, it may not be in the interest of justice to use the new fact-finding powers to grant summary judgment against a single defendant. Such partial summary judgment may run the risk of duplicative proceedings or inconsistent findings of fact and therefore the use of the powers may not be in the interest of justice. On the other hand, the resolution of an important claim against a key party could significantly advance access to justice, and be the most proportionate, timely and cost effective approach. (para. 60)

30      The Ontario Court of Appeal has, in a number of recent decisions, emphasized the obligation on a judge hearing a motion for summary judgment “to assess the advisability of the summary judgment process in the context of the litigation as a whole”. (See: Baywood Homes Partnership v. Haditaghi, 2014 ONCA 450, at para. 35 and Hamilton (City) v. Thier & Curran Architects Inc., 2015 ONCA 64, at para. 22.)

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