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June 11, 2014

The “Curtain” of Asserted Claims of Privilege Lifted to Permit a Full Examination of all Available Evidence

In Tomasone v. Capo, Sgro LLP, 2014 ONSC 2922 (CanLII) the defendant had provided two legal opinions to the plaintiffs which the plaintiffs claimed failed to meet the requisite standard of care. The plaintiffs sued the defendant in negligence. The defendant brought a motion for summary judgment asserting that the plaintiffs’ claim was statute barred by the Limitations Act, 2002.

In defence to the summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs put forward affidavit evidence suggesting they discovered their claims against the defendant after retaining counsel. Their counsel also swore affidavits but during cross-examinations they refused to answer any questions about when or how they discovered those claims.

In advance of the summary judgment motion, the defendant moved for answers to refusals with respect to discoverability, particularly dealing with information and documentation the plaintiffs claimed privilege over.

Master Short considered whether the plaintiffs could rely on privilege in these circumstances and concluded at paragraph 48 as follows:
The plaintiff ought not to be allowed to rely on discoverability arguments to seek to avoid a limitations defence, without making full disclosure with respect to all relevant facts relating to what knowledge was acquired and when.

Master Short also considered the defendant’s argument that even if privilege applied, the plaintiffs waived privilege. Master Short agreed, taking into account the following factors inter alia:
1) the plaintiffs undertook to prove their action was not statue-barred and they put their state of mind and their lawyer’s mind in issue to argue that the action was not statute-barred;

2) the plaintiffs relied upon the affidavit evidence of their lawyer; and

3) the plaintiffs subpoenaed former counsel to give evidence.

Master Short went on to review the guidance provided by the Supreme Court of Canada in Hryniak v. Mauldin, 2014 SCC 7 regarding the importance of full disclosure in light of the court’s power on the hearing of summary judgment motions to assess the quality and sufficiency of the evidence and the requirement that the parties "put their best foot forward".
The plaintiffs were ordered to answer the questions they refused related to the timing of receipt and review of relevant documents and the timing of investigations into possible claims against the defendant.

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