Striking Pleadings Under Rule 9-5: The "No Reasonable Prospect of Success" Test


The Supreme Court of Canada recently addressed the legal framework for striking pleadings pursuant to Rule 9-5.  In short, the Court repeated the longstanding test that pleadings will only be dismissed under the BC Supreme Court Rules if they have ‘no reasonable prospect of success‘ and that the parties cannot tender evidence in support of these applications.
In the recent case (R v. Imperial Tobacco Ltd.) the Court was faced with a lawsuit by British Columbia seeking to recover health care costs for tobacco related illnesses.  In the course of defending the lawsuit the tobacco companies issued Third Party Pleadings against the Government of Canada pleading that if they are held liable to the Government of BC the Federal Government should indemnify the Tobacco Companies for damages payable.  The Government of Canada brought an application to dismiss the Third Party Pleadings.
The Supreme Court of Canada granted the application and dismissed the Third Party Pleadings.  In doing so the Court provided the following legal framework for Pleading strike applications:
This Court has reiterated the test on many occasions.  A claim will only be struck if it is plain and obvious, assuming the facts pleaded to be true, that the pleading discloses no reasonable cause of action… Another way of putting the test is that the claim has no reasonable prospect of success.  Where a reasonable prospect of success exists, the matter should be allowed to proceed to trial…

[19] The power to strike out claims that have no reasonable prospect of success is a valuable housekeeping measure essential to effective and fair litigation.  It unclutters the proceedings, weeding out the hopeless claims and ensuring that those that have some chance of success go on to trial.

[20] This promotes two goods — efficiency in the conduct of the litigation and correct results.  Striking out claims that have no reasonable prospect of success promotes litigation efficiency, reducing time and cost.  The litigants can focus on serious claims, without devoting days and sometimes weeks of evidence and argument to claims that are in any event hopeless.  The same applies to judges and juries, whose attention is focused where it should be — on claims that have a reasonable chance of success.  The efficiency gained by weeding out unmeritorious claims in turn contributes to better justice.  The more the evidence and arguments are trained on the real issues, the more likely it is that the trial process will successfully come to grips with the parties’ respective positions on those issues and the merits of the case.

[21] Valuable as it is, the motion to strike is a tool that must be used with care.  The law is not static and unchanging.  Actions that yesterday were deemed hopeless may tomorrow succeed.  Before Donoghue v. Stevenson, [1932] A.C. 562 (H.L.) introduced a general duty of care to one’s neighbour premised on foreseeability, few would have predicted that, absent a contractual relationship, a bottling company could be held liable for physical injury and emotional trauma resulting from a snail in a bottle of ginger beer.  Before Hedley Byrne & Co. v. Heller & Partners Ltd., [1963] 2 All E.R. 575 (H.L.), a tort action for negligent misstatement would have been regarded as incapable of success.  The history of our law reveals that often new developments in the law first surface on motions to strike or similar preliminary motions, like the one at issue in Donoghue v. Stevenson. Therefore, on a motion to strike, it is not determinative that the law has not yet recognized the particular claim.   The court must rather ask whether, assuming the facts pleaded are true, there is a reasonable prospect that the claim will succeed.  The approach must be generous and err on the side of permitting a novel but arguable claim to proceed to trial.

[22] A motion to strike for failure to disclose a reasonable cause of action proceeds on the basis that the facts pleaded are true, unless they are manifestly incapable of being proven: Operation Dismantle Inc. v. The Queen, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 441, at p. 455.  No evidence is admissible on such a motion: r. 19(27) of the Supreme Court Rules (now r. 9-5(2) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules).  It is incumbent on the claimant to clearly plead the facts upon which it relies in making its claim.  A claimant is not entitled to rely on the possibility that new facts may turn up as the case progresses.  The claimant may not be in a position to prove the facts pleaded at the time of the motion.  It may only hope to be able to prove them.  But plead them it must.  The facts pleaded are the firm basis upon which the possibility of success of the claim must be evaluated.  If they are not pleaded, the exercise cannot be properly conducted…

It is not about evidence, but the pleadings.  The facts pleaded are taken as true.  Whether the evidence substantiates the pleaded facts, now or at some future date, is irrelevant to the motion to strike.  The judge on the motion to strike cannot consider what evidence adduced in the future might or might not show.  To require the judge to do so would be to gut the motion to strike of its logic and ultimately render it useless.

[24] This is not unfair to the claimant.  The presumption that the facts pleaded are true operates in the claimant’s favour.  The claimant chooses what facts to plead, with a view to the cause of action it is asserting.  If new developments raise new possibilities — as they sometimes do — the remedy is to amend the pleadings to plead new facts at that time.

[25] Related to the issue of whether the motion should be refused because of the possibility of unknown evidence appearing at a future date is the issue of speculation.  The judge on a motion to strike asks if the claim has any reasonable prospect of success.  In the world of abstract speculation, there is a mathematical chance that any number of things might happen.  That is not what the test on a motion to strike seeks to determine.  Rather, it operates on the assumption that the claim will proceed through the court system in the usual way — in an adversarial system where judges are under a duty to apply the law as set out in (and as it may develop from) statutes and precedent.  The question is whether, considered in the context of the law and the litigation process, the claim has no reasonable chance of succeeding.

This decision is also worth reviewing for the Court’s discussion of the concepts of proximity, forseeability, and private law duties of care which I will address in a separate post.

forseeability, Private Law Duty of Care, Proximity, R v. Imperial Tobacco Ltd., Rule 9, Rule 9-5, Rule 9-5(1), Rule 9-5(2), striking pleadings

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ERIK
MAGRAKEN

Personal Injury Lawyer

When not writing the BC Injury Law Blog, Erik is the managing partner at MacIsaac & Company, based in Victoria, B.C. He is also involved with combative sports regulatory issues and authors the Combat Sports Law Blog.

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