Canada: Ce qui est injuste est injuste : le pouvoir discrétionnaire du juge de reformuler des questions communes établies d'un commun accord a ses limites

Last Updated: November 16 2018
Article by Vlad Calina

Il n'est pas fréquent qu'une plainte pour violation de l'équité procédurale d'une partie soit accueillie. Dans l'arrêt Levac c. James, 2017 ONCA 842, la Cour d'appel de l'Ontario s'est demandé si le droit à l'équité procédurale des défendeurs avait été mis en péril par le tribunal, qui a décidé d'office de s'écarter de la formulation stricte des questions communes établie d'un commun accord, sans demander aux parties de présenter d'autres arguments (écrits ou oraux).

La Cour d'appel a dû décider si et à quelles conditions la reformulation d'une question commune sur laquelle les parties s'étaient entendues constituait une violation de l'équité procédurale.

Questions communes établies d'un commun accord

Le plaignant a présenté une motion en certification et jugement sommaire partiel contre les défendeurs dans le cadre d'un recours collectif. Il était allégué, entre autres, que les défendeurs avaient causé l'éclosion d'une infection bactérienne par leur négligence. Les parties ne s'entendaient pas sur la formulation des questions communes. Pour le plaignant, la question était de savoir si les défendeurs avaient appliqué les pratiques de prévention des infections avec tout le soin nécessaire. Les défendeurs proposaient plutôt les questions suivantes :

  • Quelle est la portée de l'obligation de diligence des défendeurs envers tous les membres du groupe dans la prévention et le contrôle de l'infection?
  • Les défendeurs ont-ils manqué de diligence dans l'emploi de leurs méthodes systématiques de prévention et de contrôle des infections? Dans l'affirmative, de quelle façon ?

Afin de résoudre le différend, le juge de la motion a proposé une troisième formulation de la motion en certification à l'audience :

  • Les défendeurs ont-ils contrevenu à la norme de diligence applicable aux pratiques de prévention et de contrôle des infections ?
  • De quelle façon, le cas échéant, les pratiques systématiques de prévention et de contrôle des infections (PCI) ont-elles contrevenu aux normes de diligence applicables?

Cette reformulation en deux volets a été acceptée par les parties.

Reformulation du juge de la motion

Le juge de la motion a certifié le recours collectif intenté contre tous les défendeurs et a prononcé un jugement sommaire contre l'un d'entre eux. Après la publication des motifs écrits, les défendeurs ont fait valoir que le juge de la motion s'était écarté de la formulation établie d'un commun accord, ce qui avait nui à leur position. Dans les motifs du jugement, c'était la question suivante qui était certifiée :

Les défendeurs ont-ils contrevenu à leur obligation de diligence dans la conception et/ou l'exécution de leurs PCI systématiques?

Les défendeurs se sont opposés à la formulation présentée dans le jugement au motif (i) que la certification d'une question formulée par le juge de la motion lui-même (ii) sans que les avocats aient été entendus sur la formulation proposée (iii) après la conclusion de l'audience sur la motion en jugement sommaire où une question commune certifiée différente était à l'étude est un manquement à l'équité procédurale. Le défendeur a également présenté une série d'exceptions de fond contre la formulation.

Analyse de la Cour d'appel

La Cour statue que le juge de la motion a commis une erreur en n'invitant pas les parties à formuler d'autres observations, et ce, pour trois raisons essentielles. Premièrement, le juge de la motion reconnaît que la nouvelle formulation est sensiblement différente de la formulation acceptée d'un commun accord (par. 41). Deuxièmement, le défendeur n'a pas été autorisé à contester la certification de l'action fondée sur cette formulation (par. 42 à 44). Troisièmement, la Cour d'appel souligne qu'un appel n'est pas un procès de novo (par. 45). C'est pourquoi la possibilité de contester la nouvelle formulation en appel ne suffit pas à remédier à l'absence d'occasion de convaincre le juge de la motion de statuer contre la certification de la question en première instance (par. 45).

La Cour d'appel estime que le juge de la certification peut, dans certaines circonstances, s'écarter du libellé de la question commune proposée par les parties d'un commun accord (par. 45). Pour la Cour d'appel, la question pertinente n'est pas de se demander si le juge de la motion a bel et bien le pouvoir discrétionnaire de reformuler la question commune, mais plutôt de savoir si ce pouvoir discrétionnaire a été convenablement exercé en l'espèce. En définitive, la Cour d'appel décide que le défendeur a droit à une nouvelle audience sur la certification et le jugement sommaire devant un autre juge (par. 46 et 47).

Conclusions

Les défendeurs doivent examiner attentivement, après avoir consenti à une certification fondée sur une formulation particulière des questions communes, si le jugement reflète la formulation approuvée. Toutefois, comme il est indiqué dans l'arrêt Levac, une éventuelle reformulation ne contreviendra pas nécessairement à l'équité procédurale.

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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