Restricting Summary Judgment

Are courts beginning to restrict the use of summary judgment?

Justice Brown took the opportunity to comment on summary judgment in a decision encompassing two cases, George Weston Limited v. Domtar Inc and 1318214 Ontario Limited v. Sobeys Capital Inc., 2012 ONSC 5001 (S.C.J.).  These were two cases from the Commerical List in Toronto where counsel sought to schedule summary judgment motions.  In George Weston, the plaintiff sought to schedule a summary judgment motion prior to examinations for discovery.  In 1318214 Ontario, discoveries were mostly complete and when the plaintiff sought to set the matter down for trial, the defendant advised it intended to bring a motion for partial summary judgment to limit the issues for trial.

Justice Brown laments the motion culture in Toronto and what he sees as a reluctance of counsel, especially counsel who have practiced for less than 15 years, to bring cases to trial.  He suggests that instead of bringing summary judgment motions, counsel should take more cases to trial and that courts should facilitate the process by approving innovative ways of proceeding to trial; for example, evidence could be a hybrid of written and viva voce evidence.

It will be interesting to see if other judges share Justice Brown's concerns and if courts will start restricting the use of summary judgment motions.  Defence counsel and insurers will need to carefully assess each case to determine whether the appropriate way is to proceed by way of summary judgment or whether it might be more beneficial to simply proceed to trial. 

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