Ontario Superior Court upholds BMW's right to redact documents in class action lawsuit

The lawsuit alleged that certain Mini Cooper models contained defective power steering systems

Ontario Superior Court upholds BMW's right to redact documents in class action lawsuit

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice recently upheld an order allowing Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft (BMW-AG) to redact personal information in documents required for a class action lawsuit.

The lawsuit, led by Peter Scott Harris, alleges that certain Mini Cooper models manufactured between 2002 and 2008 contained defective power steering systems prone to dangerous malfunctions and fires.

BMW-AG sought a declaratory order to use a "two-step" approach for document production. They argued that European privacy laws, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the German Federal Data Protection Act (BDSG), prevented them from disclosing personal data. Harris opposed this, claiming that redacting information made the documents unusable in litigation.

The court issued an order requiring BMW-AG to provide a new affidavit of documents, allowing redactions of personal data only if it was irrelevant or privileged. The order also gave Harris the right to challenge specific redactions. BMW-AG could only redact information if it could prove that the data served no legitimate purpose in the case and that disclosing it would cause significant harm or violate public interests.

Harris appealed, arguing that the court exceeded his jurisdiction and denied procedural fairness by allowing the redactions. He also claimed that the judge erred in ordering BMW-AG to redact personal data and imposing a leave requirement to file an affidavit of documents. However, the appellate court determined that the judge acted within his jurisdiction, finding that rule 37.13(1) gave him the discretion to impose terms ensuring a fair determination. The court also confirmed that the order aligned with legal principles balancing relevancy and potential harm.

Despite this, the court overturned the requirement for leave to file an affidavit of documents, concluding that it lacked a legal basis. Rule 30.03(5) already requires affidavits to be filed only if relevant to a pending motion or trial.

In its decision, the court highlighted the balance between foreign privacy laws and Ontario’s disclosure rules. While courts consider international comity to avoid breaching foreign laws, they cannot allow these laws to dictate Canadian legal procedures.

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