Archive for the ‘litigation’ Category

A Judicial Do-Over

January 2, 2014

I have long thought that an appeal court is more than merely a forum of last resort , a venue for judicial review, or a chamber of sober second thought.

The intrinsic value of appellate review lies within an appellate court’s power to correct errors of law: lower courts are best suited to be triers of fact. Let the evidentiary chips fall onto the table of justice, where they may.

Many trial lawyers appreciate the difference between the conduct of a trial and that of an appeal. Preserving the record on appeal is vitally important: objections must be stated clearly and unequivocally, but ultimately silence is an admission when it comes to raising grounds for appeal. Equally important is the fact that all cases are framed by the pleadings. If a trier of fact decides a case outside the bounds of the causes of action and defences pleaded, this constitutes a denial of natural justice and procedural fairness and strikes at the very root of the adversarial system: both the plaintiff and the defendants are entitled to know what the dispute is about and raise all arguments and adduce any evidence in support of their respective legal positions.

However, no one likes legal “technicalities”, not even lawyers. Depending on your views of the judicial decision-making process as deductive, inductive or reductive; a court must fairly, impartially and rationally use the process of judicial reasoning to resolve a dispute on its merits.

There is an “escape clause” built into the civil justice system: the fusion of law and equity that reflects the historical compromise of the exercise of judicial power over individuals (jurisdiction in the traditional sense of “juris” (the law”) and diction (“speaks) and that justice not only be done, but also be seen to be done. Consider section 96 of the Courts of Justice Act R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43 (as am) which reads:

Common Law and Equity

Rules of law and equity

96.(1)Courts shall administer concurrently all rules of equity and the common law. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43, s. 96 (1); 1993, c. 27, Sched.

Rules of equity to prevail

(2)Where a rule of equity conflicts with a rule of the common law, the rule of equity prevails. R.S.O. 1990, c. C.43, s. 96 (2); 1993, c. 27, Sched.

Jurisdiction for equitable relief

(3)Only the Court of Appeal and the Superior Court of Justice, exclusive of the Small Claims Court, may grant equitable relief, unless otherwise provided. 1994, c. 12, s. 38; 1996, c. 25, s. 9 (17).

 Section 96 of the CJA is what I like to call the “judicial do-over”.

Let’s say you’re plaintiff’s counsel and you’ve persuaded the trial judge of the defendant’s liability, but proving the plaintiff’s damages poses to be a problem. Do you take your chances and hope the trial judge will award the plaintiff damages based upon a theory without expert evidence, or much evidence, for that matter? What do you do? Do you take your chances and hope the Court of Appeal will uphold the the trial judge’s assessment of damages, or will only nominal damages be awarded?  Is the fair and just result to order a new trial on the assessment of damages?

Read today’s decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario in TMS Lighting Ltd. v. KJS Transport Inc., 2014 ONCA 1, per Cronk J.A. (Blair and Strathy JJ.A. concurring).and you be the judge:

(f) The question of remedy

[81] The appellants argue that any award of damages for TMS’s lost productivity should be nominal, at best. They submit that because the respondents’ nuisance-based damages theory was justifiably rejected at trial, and the trial judge’s substituted approach for the quantification of lost productivity damages is fatally flawed, the respondents must bear the consequences for their failure to lead the necessary evidence to establish the quantum of their damages. They rely, in this regard, on the trial judge’s findings that the respondents failed to adduce available evidence at trial that bore on their theory of lost productivity damages and that, as a result, an adverse inference should be drawn against the respondents regarding the utility of any such evidence. As a result of these factors, the appellants say, an award of only nominal damages is mandated.

[82] In the particular circumstances of this case, I would not accede to this argument.

[83] It is well-established that where the absence of evidence renders it impossible to assess damages, a plaintiff may be entitled to only nominal damages. Goldfarb, for example, says so. But this is not invariably the case. Where a plaintiff proves a substantial loss and the trial judge errs in the assessment of damages arising from that loss, the interests of justice may necessitate a new trial on damages. Although the quantification of damages flowing from the established loss may prove difficult, nonetheless the injured plaintiff is entitled to compensation.

[84] Goldfarb itself is a case in point. Goldfarb involved a claim for damages for breach of fiduciary duty advanced by the client of a law firm against the firm and the involved firm lawyer. This court held that there was inadequate cogent evidence to support the substantial award of damages made by the trial judge. Justice Finlayson explained, at para. 67:

[The plaintiff/client] failed to prove the losses through appropriate evidence. The trial judge’s award of damage is speculative at best, and does not reflect with much precision real losses flowing from the breach, notwithstanding that the plaintiff bore the burden of proving the losses in the normal course.

[85] Notwithstanding that the proffer of relevant evidence was “fully within the control of [the plaintiff]”, the Goldfarb court rejected the remedy of nominal damages and concluded that a new assessment of damages was necessary because the plaintiff had demonstrated a substantial personal loss although evidence proving the quantum of that loss was lacking: Goldfarb at paras. 80, 83 and 84. See also Rosenhek v. Windsor Regional Hospital, 2010 ONCA 13, 257 O.A.C. 283, at paras. 37-38, leave to appeal to S.C.C. refused, [2010] S.C.C.A. No. 89.

[86] This reasoning is apposite here. On the trial judge’s findings, the respondents suffered a substantial and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of their lands, as well as trespass to those lands. The appellants’ nuisance and trespass were neither trivial nor transitory. To the contrary, they occurred over a sustained period and interfered, to a significant extent, with the respondents’ use and enjoyment of their lands for the purpose of TMS’s manufacturing operations. For approximately five years, disruption of TMS’s manufacturing operations led to reduced business productivity. This is a real wrong, which caused real loss.

[87] Damages, including damages for loss of revenues or profits, may be measured in various ways including, where appropriate, based on expert opinion evidence. That the manner of proof of lost productivity damages posited by the respondents at trial failed, does not mean that no proof is available. In all the circumstances, in my view, a new assessment of TMS’s lost productivity damages arising from the appellants’ proven nuisance and trespass is required in the interests of justice.

(Access to) Justice Delayed, (Access to) Justice Denied

September 17, 2013

Access To Justice Problem Solved

Yamri Taddese at Law Times reports on some welcome, albeit late, efforts to resolve the interminable motion delays in Toronto:

Acknowledging there are “real delays” with scheduling long motions in Toronto, Smith said she and regional senior Justice Edward Then “have already begun to review scheduling efficiencies and how the court’s judicial resources can be maximized.”

Then has asked Superior Court Justice Geoffrey Morawetz to lead a motions effort to identify ways of maximizing both facilities and judicial resources for a more efficient system, Smith said, noting the review will also consider the issue of better case management.

The Law Times article adds,

Superior Court Justice Mary Vallee called the delays “shameful” and decided against moving the case to Toronto.

A case, of course, would need some connection to Toronto for counsel to bring up the idea of moving it there, says Oatley. But his firm has decided that even when there’s some connection to Toronto, it will challenge such motions on access to justice grounds.

“The government is simply going to have to accept the fact that if we’re going to have a viable justice system in Ontario, they need to provide the administration of justice the resources to do the job,” he says.

Whenever he can, lawyer John McLeish says he’ll book cases outside of Toronto. “It’s a shame because the judges here are great,” he says.

In my opinion, the causes of the systemic delay are easily identifiable:

1. The revision of the Rule 77 case management rule has hoisted onto plaintiff’s counsel’s shoulders the sole burden to move a case along to trial. Defence counsel are prone to bringing superfluous motions to tie up the litigation, armed with the knowledge of institutional delay of 6-7 months to secure a motion date in Master’s court;

2. The concept of a Litigation Timetable and Discovery Plan is great in theory; however, the failure to abide or comply with a consent or court-ordered timetable rarely results in any tangible consequences for non-compliance, such as substantial indemnity costs or striking of a defence. Having to wait half a year to bring a motion to force an opposing party to comply is quixotic;

 

3.  The Rules of Civil Procedure are skewed towards procedural inefficiency. For example, while any Superior Court judge has jurisdiction to hear all motions, many motions are implicitly designated to be brought “to the court” (i.e. Masters), leaving an access to justice vacuum.

4.  There are simply not enough Masters appointed to hear motions based upon the sheer volume of court files in Toronto. This is a function of chronic underfunding of the civil justice system in Ontario.  What is the Ministry of Attorney General’s response?

Brendan Crawley, spokesman for the Attorney General of Ontario, said the ministry isn’t planning on appointing new masters.

The ministry, he said, has worked with the legal community “to improve and modernize Ontario’s civil justice system, making it more accessible and affordable for the public.”

I am cautiously optimistic that Mr. Justice Morawetz —who is among the leading jurists in Ontario and fully conversant with judicial efficiency on the Commercial List Court — will find a practical and practicable solution to this motion court boondoggle.  The following are my unsolicited solutions:

1.  Restore the procedural balance under the Rules of Civil Procedure by imposing an equal obligaiton between plaintiffs and defendants and counsel of record to ensure that a case moves efficiently and speedily towards trial;

2.  Consider revising Rule 77 case management screening when an action is commenced by allowing the plaintiff or defendant to request case management as an option, rather than an exception to litigation management;

3. The Ministry of the Attorney General  must appoint at least 3 additional full-time Masters and loosen the requirement of Regional Senior Justice judicial oversight for case management transfers;

4. When all else fails, amend the mechanism of administrative dismissal by the Registrar, by allowing Status Hearing judges or Masters to transfer matters to case management sua sponte, or upon request of one or more of the parties; rather than slavish reliance on consent litigation timetables;

5. Allow Masters or Judges to schedule case conferences via telephone or email ,rather than requiring in person attendances, where available.

Access to Justice is inchoate unless it is equal, timely, effective and efficient:  Justice delayed is justice denied.

Two Important Ontario Attornment Decisions

September 16, 2013

The first decision is from the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Van Damme v. Gelber2013 ONCA 388  (Ont. C.A.) per  Doherty, J.A. (Cronk and Lauwers JJ.A. concurring). In Van Damme, the plaintiff, a successful businessman and philanthropist obtained judgment in the Supreme Court of New York against the defendant, Nahum Gelber (“Gelber”), relating to Van Damme’s purchase of a painting from Gelber. The painting was being held in Ontario pursuant to an Ontario court order.  Van Damme successfully moved in the Ontario proceeding for an order of recognition and enforcement New York judgment in Ontario and a variation of the earlier Ontario order directing that the painting be released to him, with costs on a substantial indemnity basis. (more…)

Matthew J. Wilson, “Improving the Process: Transnational Litigation and the Application of Private Foreign Law in U.S. Courts”

January 8, 2013

Matthew J. Wilson (University of Wyoming – College of Law) has posted “Improving the Process: Transnational Litigation and the Application of Private Foreign Law in U.S. Courts”, New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Vol. 45, 2013, forthcoming. The abstract reads:

Due to the current and anticipated stream of foreign law issues in U.S. courts and arbitration proceedings, it is necessary to explore additional ways to ensure accuracy and improve current procedures in applying foreign law. At the same time, it is also important to understand the issues and concerns underlying the application of foreign law in U.S. courts. In recent years, foreign law has increasingly gained greater public attention and political discourse has progressively focused on the use of foreign law by U.S. courts. Some of this attention has been politically charged and quite unfavorable. In fact, policymakers across the U.S. have advocated measures that would prohibit courts from using or relying on foreign law in certain instances. In many respects, much of the negative sentiment towards foreign law has been misdirected resulting in public confusion. Accordingly, an examination of the boundaries of the ongoing debate is necessary to clarify those areas in which foreign law can and should be applied without issue. To accomplish the above objectives, this article focuses on the legal requirements, practical aspects, and possible improvements of proving the law of a foreign country in U.S. courts. Before delving into these areas though, it is worthwhile to breakdown the opposition to the use and application of foreign law in U.S. courts to gain a better understanding of the attendant issues.

 A pdf copy of the paper is available for download on SSRN here.

When One Lawyer Makes Us All Look Bad

December 5, 2012

Embarrassing.

Shameful.

Greedy.

Pull out your Roget’s Thesaurus and take your pick of a panoply of adjectives to describe this story by the CBC’s Kathy Tomlinson:  B.C. woman may lose home over huge lawyer bill:

A B.C. woman stands to lose her home to her lawyer, who is moving to foreclose on her to pay his six-figure bill.

“My friends and family say this can’t be happening. There’s got to be a mistake,” Dale Fotsch said.

Fotsch got into the predicament after being sued by her former common-law husband, even though she won the case and the court ordered him to pay her costs.

“I won, but I lost,” Fotsch said. “I defended myself and now I’m losing my place.”

Fotsch, 54, lives near Pemberton with her disabled son and earns a modest income. Her only asset is her home and the 12 hectares of land it sits on.

“I’ve worked two jobs, and I have for the last 25 years,” Fotsch said. “When I was hit with this, it was just like a bomb went off in my life.”

The divorce proceedings were brought by Ms. Fotsch’s common law ex-husband Leigh Wilson who claimed a share of her home (presumably as a matrimonial home) following their break-up. Nine years later, the case resolved, but not in any way she expected. (more…)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,834 other followers

%d bloggers like this: