In the first case I have seen addressing this issue, reasons for judgement were released today by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, striking out language in correspondence between lawyers as an abuse of process.
In today’s case (Walker v. Doe) the Plaintiff objected via letter sent to Defence counsel to the admissibility of Defense expert reports, and as part of the “boilerplate” objections Plaintiff’s counsel noted that “we shall seek sanctions personally against [expert’s name], including but not limited to special costs“.
In finding that the Rules of Court allow a Judge to strike out language in such a letter Mr. Justice Butler reasoned as follows:  Letters sent by counsel to provide notice of objection to the admissibility of an expert report are required to be served pursuant to R. 11-6(10). The notice must set out “any objection to the admissibility of the expert’s evidence that the party receiving the report … intends to raise at trial.” The notice required by the Rule is a document mandated by the Rules in which a party must set out their position for trial.  Rule 9-5(1) is not limited to pleadings but also applies to petitions and “other documents”. Document is defined in R. 1-1(1) in broad terms. There is no doubt the notice required under R. 11-6(10) is a document pursuant to that definition. However, the word must be interpreted ejusdem generis in the context of the phrase, “pleading, petition or other document”. Applying that aid to interpretation, I conclude that “other document” refers to documents which are required by the Rules to formally set out a party’s position, claim or defence. The notice under R. 11-6 (10) is such a document.
In finding the costs threat amounted to an abuse of process the Court provided the following reasons:  In conclusion, expert witnesses play an important role in the litigation process. When an expert is properly qualified within an area of expertise and the expert’s opinion evidence, which is not otherwise excluded, meets the essential criteria of relevance and necessity in assisting the trier of fact, it can be admitted to assist the court: R. v. Mohan,  2 S.C.R. 9. The Rules establish a process which provides adequate notice of expert opinions and sets up a way to challenge admissibility. There is no need to introduce into the process, by way of boilerplate language in notices under R. 11-6(10), threats of claims against experts for special costs. As I have already noted, it is entirely unnecessary. Further, it has the potential to frustrate the litigation process because it may discourage the participation of expert witnesses. In addition, and contrary to the intent of the new Rules, it would seem to place the expert in an adversarial position.
Reasons for judgement were released recently by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, discussing whether a government home improvement loan can create a private law duty of care.
In last month’s case (Benoit v. Banfield) the Plaintiff suffered a serious brain injury when falling from a staircase built by the Defendant. The Defendant reportedly built the stair case “without handrails or guards“.
The construction was financed in part by a forgivable loan provided by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (“CMHC”). The loan was part of a program called the Canadian Home Renovation Plan. The money was to be advanced “upon satisfactory completion of the work” by the homeowner and CMHC was to conduct two inspections to ensure the work was “completed satisfactorily“.
The Plaintiff sued the homeowner and also the CMHC. The CMHC applied to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that their limited relationship to the plaintiff did not create a private law duty of care. Madam Justice Wedge disagreed and allowed the lawsuit to proceed. In doing so the Court provided the following reasons:
In the present case, CMHC offered grants of up to $3,000 per applicant for a one-year period. The pool of funds from which to draw was limited in the amount of $30 million. Thus, even were one to consider the possibility of a duty of care to all loan recipients, the number of persons is not indeterminate. In the context of the present case, liability extends only to the class of persons who might reasonably be foreseen as users of the defective staircase in question.
Thus, I conclude that on the facts as pleaded by the infant plaintiff, there is a reasonable prospect of successfully establishing proximity. The plaintiff’s claim is grounded in allegations of specific conduct by CMHC concerning the creation of the defective staircase and its negligent inspections.
As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Imperial Tobacco at para. 47:
… where the asserted basis for proximity is grounded in specific conduct and interactions, ruling a claim out at the proximity stage may be difficult. So long as there is a reasonable prospect that the asserted interactions could, if true, result in a finding of sufficient proximity, and the statute does not exclude that possibility, the matter must be allowed to proceed to trial, subject to any policy considerations that may negate the prima facie duty of care at the second stage of the analysis.
This case falls squarely within the circumstances described in that passage, and accordingly the motion to strike is dismissed.
Typically it is an abuse of process for an individual to plead guilty to criminal charges and to then deny liability in a subsequent civil lawsuit arising from the same incident. The BC Supreme Court Rules allow judges to strike pleadings denying previous admissions as an ‘abuse of process‘. Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Nelson Registry, demonstrating such a result.
In this week’s case (Plishka-Humphries (Guardian ad litem of) v. Bolen) the Plaintiff was assaulted and battered by the Defendant Bolen. The Defendant plead guilty to aggravated assault as a result of the incident. In a subsequent civil lawsuit the Defendant denied liability. The Plaintiff brought an application for summary judgement which was granted. In finding the Defendant civilly liable for the incident Mr. Justice McEwan provided the following reasons: The present case differs from Franco in that the defendant is not asserting a defence that parallels the position he took before the criminal court. In such circumstances a defendant’s position at least has the virtue of consistency. Here, the defendant seeks to give an exculpatory version of facts he has previously admitted…
Here, however, at the sentencing proceeding, the defendant admitted the facts that the plaintiff alleges in the civil case. He now wishes to contradict those admissions. This is not a case of a careless plea, or a plea to a vague and uncertain set of facts. Nor is it a case where there was a lack of incentive to dispute a minor charge. It is also not a case of new evidence. There was no hint or suggestion of a threat from the plaintiff, at the sentencing proceeding, let alone facts that could be characterized as a form of self-defence. There was, rather, a submission that he was taking responsibility and acknowledging the harm he had done. In the context of that hearing it appears that this was offered as a kind of mitigation.
The transcript also contradicts the defendant’s suggestion that he pled guilty on his lawyer’s advice and not because he considered himself guilty. He stood in court while his lawyer represented variously that he was “deeply remorseful”, “wants to plead guilty”, “wants to announce his guilt” … “recognizes this,” that “[h]is reaction was wrong” or that he wanted to save the young man from going to trial, and “have some lawyer probing on–about ball bearings.”
The material the defendant has presented does not raise a genuine issue to be tried. The Certificate of Conviction tendered in this case is roughly equivalent to proof of a formal admission. There is nothing arising from the circumstances in which the guilty plea was entered that casts doubt upon the defendant’s intention at the time, or his appreciation of what he was doing. There is no ambiguity in the facts that he admitted. The explanation he offers for sitting through the hearing on September 21st, 2005 while the case was, from his present perspective, grossly mischaracterized, is thoroughly unconvincing…
There will therefore be judgment for the plaintiff on the issue of liability and a referral to the trial list on the issue of quantum.
As discussed many times, the BC Supreme Court operates on a “loser pays” system generally requiring a losing litigant to pay the winner’s costs and disbursements. These costs awards can quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars and can easily exceed a litigant’s ability to pay.
Although the BC Supreme Court has the ability to require a Plaintiff to pay security for costs ahead of trial, for the obvious reason of ensuring access to justice this discretion is rarely exercised. This was demonstrated in reasons for judgement released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry.
In this week’s case (Hughes v. Hughes) the Plaintiff sued her parents for various harm she claims she suffered due to their actions many years ago. The Defendant brought a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that it was an abuse of process. The Court dismissed this motion finding that while the allegations may have been somewhat unique they “essentially amount to battery, breach of trust and fraud, all of which are well-recognized causes of action“.
The Defendant further argued that the case was bound to fail due to limitation issues and requested Security for Costs. The Court agreed that while the case may be limitation barred that was an issue for trial. In dismissing the application for costs security Mr. Justice Smith provided the following reasons:
The defendants seek, in the alternative, an order that the plaintiff post security for costs. They say she has no history of steady employment and would not likely be able to pay costs if the action is dismissed. The plaintiff says in an affidavit that she is employed as a pre-school teacher, but gives no particulars of that employment.
The law governing security for costs was summarized by Goepel J. in Bronson v. Hewitt, 2007 BCSC 1751. Although the court has inherent jurisdiction to order an individual resident in the jurisdiction to post security for costs, that jurisdiction should be exercised cautiously, sparingly and only under very special or egregious circumstances.
…For good reason, individual and corporate plaintiffs have always been treated differently. Absent special circumstances, corporate shareholders are entitled to avail themselves of the protection of a limited liability company to avoid personal exposure for costs: P.G. Restaurant Ltd. v. Northern Interior Regional Health Board et al., 2006 BCSC 1680. An order for security for costs prevents the principals of a corporate plaintiff from hiding behind the corporate veil and, as noted by McGarry V.C. in Pearson, protects “the community against litigious abuses by artificial persons manipulated by natural persons.”
 With individuals, the fundamental concern has always been access to the courts. Access to justice is as important today as it was in 1885 when Lord Bowen declared in Cowell that “the general rule is that poverty is no bar to a litigant”. Individuals, no matter how poor, have always been granted access to our courts regardless of their ability to pay a successful defendant’s costs. Only in egregious circumstances have individuals been ordered to post security for costs.
Examples of such special or egregious circumstances include situations where the plaintiff is or has been a party in multiple other actions (Louie v. Louie,  B.C.J. No. 2097), or where the plaintiff has been unable to produce any evidence in support of his claim many years after commencing the action (Rotvold v. Rocky Mountain Diesel Ltd.,  B.C.J. No. 1758). No comparable special circumstances have been shown to exist here and the evidence as to the plaintiff’s alleged impecuniosity is entirely speculative.
The application for security for costs must therefore be dismissed.
The plaintiff seeks an order striking out the statement of defence because the defendants failed to attend an examination for discovery. At the time, the defendants were requesting production of certain documents. Those documents had not been received and, until shortly before the scheduled examination for discovery, counsel for the defendants understood that the former counsel for the plaintiff was still assembling them.
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…
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.
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.
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,  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.,  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.
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,  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.
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.
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.
Useful reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, New Westminster Registry, finding that it is an ‘abuse of process‘ pursuant to Rule 9-5(1)(d) for a Defendant to deny the issue of liability in a personal injury lawsuit after they have been convicted of careless driving as a result of the same collision.
In this week’s case (Ulmer v. Weidmann) the Plaintiff’s husband was killed when his motorcycle was struck by a vehicle operated by the Defendant. The Plaintiff sued for damages pursuant to the Family Compensation Act.
Following the collision the Defendant was charged with “driving without due care and attention” under section 144(1)(a) of the BC Motor Vehicle Act. He contested this charge but ultimately was found guilty following trial in the BC Provincial Court.
The Defendant then denied fault for the crash in the Wrongful Death lawsuit and claimed the Plaintiff was partly responsible. Mr. Justice Truscott rejected this argument and found the Defendant solely responsible for the fatal collision. The Court went further and found that while a party convicted under s. 144(1)(a) of the Motor Vehicle Act can argue an opposing motorist is partly to blame for a crash, it is an abuse of process for the convicted party to outright deny the issue of fault. The Court provided the following useful reasons:
 In my opinion the finding of driving without due care and attention in Provincial Court was akin to a finding of negligence against Mr. Weidmann, because his manner of driving was found to have departed from the standard of a reasonable man and he failed to avoid liability by proving he took all reasonable care in the circumstances.
 I agree with plaintiff’s counsel that it was an abuse of process for the defendants to deny full liability in their statement of defence as this constituted an attempt to re-litigate the findings of the Provincial Court that were necessary for Steven Weidmann’s conviction of driving without due care and attention. This was an attempt to undermine the integrity of the adjudicative process which is not to be allowed.
 I do not conclude however that the findings essential to Mr. Weidmann’s conviction in Provincial Court prevented Mr. Weidmann from alleging contributory negligence against Mr. Ulmer in this action…
 While I have decided that there was no negligence on Mr. Ulmer contributing to the collision, based upon the evidence that I have accepted, I cannot say that this was a defence advanced in bad faith for the ulterior purpose of emotionally disturbing the plaintiff and putting pressure on her to settle at a figure favourable to the defendants.
 Although I have concluded that it was an abuse of process by the defendants to deny liability completely, they were not guilty of an abuse of process in maintaining the defence of contributory negligence of Mr. Ulmer at all times.
The Plaintiff was ultimately awarded damages for her accident related losses and these included $10,000 for ‘nervous shock’. Paragraphs 97-215 of the Reasons for Judgement are worth reviewing for Mr. Justice Truscott’s thorough review of the law of nervous shock claims.
If you would like further information or require assistance, please get in touch.
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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