Hryniak v. Mauldin: The Latest Word on Summary Judgment

One of the most useful tools in a litigator’s toolkit is the summary judgment motion.  For the benefit of non-lawyers reading this, a motion for summary judgment provides an opportunity to bring a case to a conclusion without the need for a trial.  This kind of motion involves asking the court for an order granting judgment on the basis that the other side’s case fails to disclose a genuine issue requiring a trial.

In 2010, the rule governing summary judgment motions in Ontario, Rule 20, was amended.  The test for granting summary judgment was changed from “a genuine issue for trial” to “a genuine issue requiring a trial”.  The amendment also gave motions judges new fact-finding powers to hear witness testimony under Rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2).  Although the change in wording was subtle, the impact in practice was important.

Until recently, litigators relied on the jurisprudence in Combined Air Mechanical Services Inc. v. Flesch, 2011 CarswellOnt 13515 (“Combined Air“), an Ontario Court of Appeal decision that provided guidance on how the new test should be applied.  On January 23, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada released its decision in Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7 (“Hryniak“), the latest word on the application of the test under Rule 20.  Writing for the court, Madam Justice Karakatsanis offers clarification of the test in a manner that is not difficult to follow and understand.  The following provides an overview of some of the key points in this decision.

At paragraph 49 of her decision, Madam Justice Karakatsanis writes:

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 proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result.

At paragraphs 57 and 58, she points out that:

On a summary judgment motion, the evidence need not be equivalent to that at trial, but must be such that the judge is confident that she can fairly resolve the dispute… It may require the motion judge to assess the relative efficiencies of proceeding by way of summary judgment, as opposed to trial.

Madam Justice Karakatsanis provides litigators with the following roadmap for summary judgment motions at paragraph 66:

On a motion for summary judgment under Rule 20.04, the judge should first determine if there is a genuine issue requiring trial based only on the evidence before her, without using the new fact-finding powers.  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…  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.

Litigation is lengthy and expensive.  Sometimes the other side has a case that lacks merit.  A summary judgment motion is an invaluable tool to resolve such cases at an early stage and at less cost.  It is a tactical move and, as can be seen from the decision in Hryniak, requires careful consideration in consultation with knowledgeable counsel.

This article is intended only to provide general information and does not constitute legal advice.  Should you require advice specific to your situation, please feel free to contact me to discuss the matter further.

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