On January 23, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada released the much anticipated decision ofHryniak v Mauldin, [2014 SCC 23] in which it interpreted Ontario’s current summary judgment rules, as amended in 2010.
Summary judgment motions are an important tool for enhancing access to justice by providing an inexpensive and quick alternative to a full trial. In Ontario, Rule 20 of theRules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules“) sets out the mechanism whereby a party may move for summary judgment to grant or dismiss all or part of a claim. As stated by Karakatsanis J at paragraph 4 of Hryniak:
“a trial is not required if a summary judgment motion can achieve a fair and just adjudication, if it provides a process that allows the judge to make the necessary findings of fact, apply the law to those facts, and is a proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result than going to trial.”
The Rules stipulate that summary judgment motions must be granted whenever there is no genuine issue requiring a trial with respect to a claim or defence. Justice Karakatsanis stated that there will be no genuine issue requiring a trial where a judge is able to reach a fair and just determination on the merits on a motion for summary judgment. This occurs when the process:
(a) allows the judge is able to make the necessary findings of fact;
(b) allows the judge is able to apply the law to the facts; and
(c) is a proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result.
However, where there is a genuine issue requiring a trial, a summary judgment motion judge should determine whether a trial can be avoiding by invoking fact-finding powers, as set out in Rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2) of the Rules. The fact-finding powers granted to motion judges may be employed unless it is in the interest of justice for them to only be exercised at trial. So long as the powers enable judges to fairly and justly adjudicate a claim, it will not be considered against the interest of justice to do so. While the evidence before the court need not be equivalent to that of a trial, the judge must be made confident that the dispute can be fairly resolved.
There is no question that the decision of Hyrniak has made it easier for litigants to use summary judgment motions. While this can speed-up the litigation process, it is imperative for the moving party to recognize that failed, or even partially successful, summary judgment motions result in additional costs and delays. Although judges can mitigate the risks associated with summary judgment motions by making use of their powers to manage and focus the process and, where possible remain seized of the proceedings, litigants ought to understand all of the risks associated with moving for summary judgment before doing so.