Substantial changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure come into effect January 1, 2010. This is part 5 of our review of the amendments.
Rule 20 governs summary judgment. The amendments to this rule are substantial and have the potential to make it a more valuable tool than it currently is. The changes to rule 20 will permit judges expansive powers; they will be able to weigh evidence, make inferences and evaluate credibility. Judges will also be able to hear oral evidence on a summary judgment motion to order to assist them in making decisions, rather than relying on affidavit evidence.
These changes have the potential to assist in disposing of claims at an early stage, rather than waiting until a full trial occurs, with its associated time and expense. What remains to be seen is whether judges are prepared to utilize the new rule to its full potential.
If a judges declines to grant summary judgment or grants summary judgment in part, judges have a wide variety of powers. One of the more interesting powers is the ability to order that each party's expert meet to discuss areas of agreement and disagreement. This power appears contradictory to the intent of the amendments, which focuses on reducing costs and increasing access to justice, as well as proportionality. Requiring experts to meet will increase costs to litigants and adds a level of administration because it requires coordination of the experts' schedules. Practically speaking, one would think that this would be an exceptional remedy due to the costs considerations and that where experts are diametrically opposed, there is no real use in having them try to persuade each other.
Another substantial change to summary judgment is that the costs consequences of a failed summary judgment motion have been relaxed. The current rule imposes substantial indemnity costs against the unsuccessful party; the new rule eliminates the presumption of substantial indemnity costs. The current rule has served as a deterrent to bringing summary judgment motions for fear of the costs consequences. The new rule may encourage its use as even if a party is not successful, the consequences are not as severe as in the past.