The Supreme Court of Canada has expanded the ability of Ontario
litigants to obtain a final judgment without the need for a full
trial. In two companion appeals released on January 23, 2014
(Hyrniak v. Mauldin and Bruno Appliance and Furniture
Inc. v. Hryniak), the Court unanimously endorsed a more
expansive interpretation of Rule 20 of Ontario's Rules of Civil
Procedure, which permits the granting of summary judgment. In
calling for a "culture shift", the decisions encourage
both summary judgment motions in appropriate cases and tailored
summary trials where summary judgment is not granted.
By 2010, there was consensus in the Ontario legal community that
summary judgment was not working effectively to provide access to
justice, or to reduce the number of cases overloading the civil
justice system. Amendments to Rule 20 were therefore introduced,
which sought to resolve these problems by giving motions judges the
power to (a) assess credibility, weigh evidence and draw inferences
from the evidence on a motion for summary judgment (rule 20.04
(2.1)), (b) hear oral evidence for the purpose of exercising their
fact-finding powers (rule 20.04(2.2)), and (c) issue orders and
directions to streamline the action going forward, in cases where
summary judgment is denied or granted in part—recognizing
that a full plenary trial may not be required to determine the
issues (rule 20.05).
Judicial history of the Hryniak and Bruno
In both appeals, the motions judge had granted summary judgment.
The Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed the appeal in Hryniak
v. Mauldin, and reversed in Bruno Appliance and Furniture
v. Hryniak, ordering the matter to proceed to trial. Despite
the amendments to Rule 20, the decisions of the Court of Appeal
reflected a continued preference for the "forensic
machinery" of the trial, minimizing the impact of the 2010
amendments to summary judgment.
While dismissing both appeals, the Supreme Court applied a
significantly more expansive interpretation of the summary judgment
Rule 20 must be interpreted broadly – summary judgment
must be granted whenever there is no genuine issue requiring a
The Supreme Court held that Rule 20 must be interpreted broadly,
taking into account the culture shift toward promoting timely and
affordable access to the civil justice system. The balance between
procedure and access struck by our justice system must come to
reflect modern reality, and must recognize that new models of
adjudication, such as summary judgment, can be fair and just.
The Court offered the following guidance on the application and
interpretation of Rule 20. The motions judge should ask herself
whether the matter can be resolved in a fair and just manner on a
summary judgment motion. 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. If there appears to be a genuine issue requiring a
trial, based only on the record before her, the judge should then
ask if the need for a trial can be avoided by using the new powers
provided under rules 20.04(2.1) and (2.2). The use of those powers
is at the discretion of the motions judge, provided that their use
is not against the interest of justice.
In the case of unsuccessful motions for summary judgment, the
motions judge should make use of the trial management powers under
rule 20.05, and should remain seized of the matter as the trial
judge, in the absence of reasons to the contrary.
Standard of review of summary judgment decisions
The Court held that the exercise of powers under the new summary
judgment rule attracts deference; the decision of the motions judge
should not be overturned absent palpable and overriding error.
Similarly, the motions judge's discretionary decision to
exercise the new fact-finding powers also attracts deference.
Significance of the decisions
The Supreme Court's decisions in these two cases provide
important guidance on the interpretation and application of the
summary judgment rule in Ontario. Further, the decisions harmonize
the summary judgment case law with the goals of the legislature to
improve access to justice and afford all litigants the opportunity
to have adjudication in court.
Trisha Jackson and Crawford Smith acted for the intervener, the
Advocates' Society, in the Bruno appeal, with David
Scott Q.C. of Borden, Ladner, Gervais LLP.
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