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April 21, 2010

Court Appeal Rules Summary Judgment is not available in Small Claims Court

Van de Vrande vs. Butkowsky, [2010] O.J. No. 1239 (C.A.)

The Court of Appeal has held that summary judgment is not available in Small Claims Court, clarifying an area where there were two separate lines of case law.

In this case, the defendant was retained to perform an assessment in the context of a custody dispute between the plaintiff and his spouse. The plaintiff alleged that instead of simply conducting and submitting an assessment, the defendant took on an additional role of mediator in the dispute. The defendant brought a motion seeking summary judgment and the court granted the motion pursuant to Rules 1.03 (2) and 12.02 of the Small Claims Court Rules, on the basis that in his capacity as a court appointed assessor, the defendant was immune from suit pursuant to the doctrine of expert witness immunity. The deputy judge also found that the action had been commenced outside of the applicable limitation period.

The Court of Appeal held that the absence of a summary judgment procedure in the Small Claims Court Rule is not a gap but rather a deliberate omission. It is not up to the court to read in such provision, since Rule 12.02 specifically addresses the ability to bring a motion similar to that contemplated by Rules 20, 21 & 76 of Rules of Civil Procedure. The court held that Rule 12 is similar to a Rule 21 motion, although it is worded more broadly and does not have the same prohibition on filing affidavit evidence. It involves an analysis of whether a reasonable cause of action has been disclosed or whether the proceeding should be ended at an early stage because its continuation would be inflammatory, a waste of time or a nuisance.

Although the court has now clarified that summary judgment is not available in Small Claims Court, Rule 12 remains a valuable tool that can assist in disposing of cases that are without merit without the need to progress to a full blown trial.

1 comment:

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