Supreme Court Sets Out The Test for Summary Judgment

The Supreme Court has overturned the "full appreciation" test used by the Ontario Court of Appeal in summary judgment.  The appeals in Hryniak v. Maudlin, 2014 SCC 7 and Bruno Appliance and Furniture v. Hryniak, 2014 SCC 8 were released January 23, 2014.

The Court 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 Rule 20 represents a significant alternative model of adjudication.

There will be no genuine issue requiring a trial when the judge is able to reach a fair and just determination on the merits on a motion for summary judgment.  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 more proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result (para. 49).

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 (para. 57). The judge may need to compare things such as the cost and speed of a trial versus summary judgment.

At para. 66, the Court set out a roadmap for summary judgment:

There will be no genuine issue requiring a trial if the summary judgment process provides her with the evidence required to fairly and justly adjudicate the dispute and is a timely, affordable and proportionate procedure, under Rule 20.04(2)(a).  If there appears to be a genuine issue requiring a trial, she should then determine if the need for a trial can be avoided by using the new powers under Rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2).  She may, at 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 Supreme Court's interpretation of r. 20 seems to be a firm statement that summary judgment is an appropriate way to resolve cases, rather than the restrictive interpretation taken by the lower courts.  We may see an increase in the number of summary judgment motions in the future.

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