When the Supreme Court of Canada delivered its landmark judgment in Hryniak v. Mauldin in 2014, it marked a massive shift in the way civil litigation was approached.
“Our civil justice system is premised upon the value that the process of adjudication must be fair and just. This cannot be compromised,” said the ruling. “However, undue process and protracted trials, with unnecessary expense and delay, can prevent the fair and just resolution of disputes. If the process is disproportionate to the nature of the dispute and the interests involved, then it will not achieve a fair and just result.”
Fast-forward four years to an Ontario case, Isaac Estate v. Matuszynska, that centres on the accidental death of a man involved in a parking lot drug deal gone wrong. Two Ontario Court of Appeal justices upheld an earlier ruling through summary judgment dismissing a claim brought by the estate and mother of the deceased man, Glen Isaac. One justice, however, dissented. Justice Sarah Pepall noted that, in her assessment, summary judgment was not the correct fit due to the specific circumstances of the case.
“A major goal of summary judgment is costs savings. However, the goal is not summary judgment at all costs,” she said.
“There will still be some cases that ought to go to trial. Some caution must be used. This is particularly so in a case such as this that involves a largely unexplored area of the law and which would benefit from the full record that a trial provides.”
Pepall has a valid point. In the post-Hryniak rush, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for expediting civil litigation. One lawyer, for example, told Law Times that there was no opportunity to cross-examine witnesses in Isaac. While improving access to justice is an admirable goal, not every case is well suited to summary judgment.