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Summary Judgment Overruled by Court of Appeal in Wrongful Dismissal Case

The Court of Appeal recently overturned a summary judgment, finding that the motion judge erred by allowing the dispute to proceed by way of summary judgement due to the fact that the case presented serious evidentiary difficulties which could not be properly addressed in the context of a simplified procedure under rule 76 of the Ontario Rules of Civil Procedure.

Facts

Mr. Gounder and Mr. Singh had been working for Concept Plastics Limited (“Concept”) for 20 and 24 years, respectively, when they had been terminated due to the relocation of Concept. They sued for wrongful dismissal and won on summary judgment. Mr. Gounder was awarded $84,499.77 and Mr. Singh was awarded $82,652. Concept appealed on the following two grounds: (1) that the motion judge erred in adjudicating by way of summary judgment; and (2) that the motion judge erred in concluding that the plaintiffs acted reasonably in mitigating their losses. The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Concept and dismissed the motions for summary judgment.

Huscroft J.A., writing for the court, found that the motion judge failed to properly address the evidentiary issue posed by the conflicting allegations made by both parties and their respective counsel. The plaintiffs, Messrs. Grounder and Singh, alleged that they were not aware of when their employment would end despite the fact that Concept informed them that they would be terminated. The plaintiffs argued that, given the fact that the date of termination was postponed on more than one occasion, they did not know when and if their employment would in fact end. Conversely, Concept argued that they had given the plaintiffs numerous assurances that their employment would in fact terminate, and despite the fact that they postponed the date of termination, the plaintiffs were given ample notice. Further, there had been some conflicting evidence on the issue of whether the plaintiffs fulfilled their duties to mitigate by seeking alternate employment. Almost all other employees in Concept’s plant found employment in a nearby plant. The motion judge did not address these evidentiary discrepancies, and instead found in favour of the plaintiffs on summary judgment. Huscroft J.A. found that these discrepancies could not be properly addressed given the parties’ limited powers to conduct discoveries and cross-examinations in the context of a motion for summary judgment brought under the simplified procedure rule.

Simplified Procedure

Proceeding under rule 76 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Simplified Procedure rule, is fairly common practice in civil litigation in actions where the amount being sought is less than $100,000, excluding costs. It provides a more stream-lined litigation process and often results in a cheaper and faster resolution of legal disputes. However, there are down-sides to dealing with a legal dispute under the simplified procedure. Once it has been initiated, the parties to a simplified procedure are prohibited from conducting cross-examinations regarding affidavits and also from cross-examining witnesses on motions. Further, the discovery process is limited under this rule.

A motion for summary judgment can be brought at any time in the litigation process before the trial has begun.

Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment can be brought under Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. A summary judgment will typically be granted where the court is either: (a) satisfied that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial with respect to a claim or defence; or (b) the parties agree to have all or part of the claim determined by a summary judgment. In determining whether a summary judgment is an appropriate method of resolving a legal dispute, the judge must determine that: (1) s/he can make necessary findings of fact; (2) s/he can apply the law to the facts; and (3) the process is a, proportionate, more expeditious and less expensive means to achieve a just result.   

Our Thoughts

In this case, the motion judge was very limited in assessing the credibility of the plaintiffs and the defendant. Since much of the case turned on the parties’ allegations, and given the fact that these allegations were in conflict on central issues, the motion judge was not in a position to make a final ruling that paid heed to the facts of the case.

The simplified procedure and a motion for summary judgment can both be useful tools if used properly. However, this case serves as a warning that using the two in conjunction can be counter-productive in cases which present substantial evidentiary difficulties. Especially in cases with conflicting affidavit evidence, it is usually more prudent to proceed by way of a normal trial rather than proceeding under the simplified procedure rule. This would leave the door open for bringing a summary judgment later down the road if the case calls for it.

See: Singh v Concept Plastics Limited, 2016 ONCA

The above article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have concerns with regard to the foregoing issues, please make an appointment with one of our lawyers or a qualified legal practitioner elsewhere.