On March 6, 2013, the Québec Court of Appeal in
Montréal (Ville de) c. Biondi, 2013 QCCA 404
("Biondi"), rendered a long-awaited decision in
the field of class action lawsuits. The decision was based on an
appeal from a judgment of the Superior Court of Québec that
ordered the City of Montréal and one of its unions (the
"Union") to pay damages to the members of a class
resulting from the delay in de-icing roads and sidewalks in
downtown Montréal, and ordering the liquidation of the class
action members' individual claims. In its judgment, the
Superior Court had, among other things, ordered the Union to pay
$2,000,000 in punitive damages to the class members before the
individual claims were liquidated, which involves a long and
complex process that would likely result in a multitude of
The Court of Appeal unanimously overturned this part of the
judgment and unanimously held that the liquidation of punitive
damages was premature. Article 1621 of the Civil Code of
Québec provides that an award of punitive damages is to
be assessed by taking into account, among other things, the
"extent of the reparation for which [the defendant] is already
liable to the creditor". Therefore, it was necessary to wait
for the individual claims for compensatory damages to be liquidated
prior to determining the quantum of punitive damages.
This decision is of particular importance in the context of
jurisprudential developments in the field of class actions in
recent years, which have encouraged the filing of claims primarily
seeking an award for punitive damages. These developments are of
Firstly, the Court of Appeal confirmed the independent nature
of punitive damages in Brault & Martineau c. Riendeau,
2010 QCCA 366, thereby ending a controversy dating from the case of
Béliveau St-Jacques v. Fédération des
employées et employés de services publics inc.,
 2 S.C.R. 345. It held that it was possible, in the context
of a class action, to award punitive damages even in the absence of
a finding of compensatory damages. The Supreme Court of Canada
subsequently confirmed this rule in de Montigny v. Brossard
(Succession), 2010 SCC 51.
Secondly, the Court of Appeal also confirmed in Collectif
de défense des droits de la Montérégie (CDDM)
c. Centre hospitalier régional du Suroît du Centre de
santé et de services sociaux du Suroît, 2011 QCCA
826 and in Dell'Aniello c. Vivendi Canada inc., 2012 QCCA 384,
that the existence of a single common question of law was
sufficient to authorize a class action. In other words, it is
possible that the determination of common issues will not provide a
complete resolution of the dispute, but rather give rise to
numerous "mini-trials" at the stage of resolving
individual claims, which does not pose an obstacle to a class
These two trends paved the way for a new type of class action,
in which it was possible to show on a collective basis that a
person had contravened a law that stipulates an award of punitive
damages, such as the Consumer Protection Act or the
Québec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, even
if it was subsequently difficult or even impossible to prove on a
collective basis that any actual injury resulted from the
contravention. This type of claim essentially enabled individuals
to become akin to private prosecutors, essentially punishing
illegal conduct through the collection of punitive damages, rather
than obtaining compensation for any injury actually suffered.
The Biondi case will necessarily mitigate this type of
practice given that the liquidation of punitive damages will not
occur until after the long, complex (and therefore costly) step of
liquidating individual claims. It remains to be seen whether
claimants and their attorneys will completely cease pursuing awards
for compensatory damages, which could slow the award of punitive
damages, as a means of avoiding the consequences of the Biondi
decision. It will be equally interesting to see whether courts will
permit this type of strategy or whether they will conclude instead
that it is not in the interest of class members to authorize the
waiver of claims to compensatory damages, even in cases where these
may only be liquidated on an individual basis.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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