Putting Your Best Foot Forward in Summary Judgment Applications

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In P. Burns Resources Limited v. Honourable Patrick Burns Memorial Trust, 2015 ABCA 390, the Court of Appeal of Alberta confirmed that there is no “default position” that document production and questioning procedures should be put on hold pending an application for summary judgment or summary dismissal.

The Respondent trustee brought an action for oppression against the Appellants and sought document production. The Appellants then applied for summary dismissal of a part of the action, and the Respondent sought to cross-examine on the Appellants’ affidavit of records and to conduct questioning in accordance with Part 5 of the Alberta Rules of Court, AR 124/2010. The Master set aside the appointments for questioning and cross examination, and in so doing, stated that:

… one might as well remove the summary judgment provisions of the Rules of Court if a respondent is entitled, as of right, to insist on the usual production of documents and questioning (discoveries) prior to the hearing of a summary judgment application. [3]

Subsequently, the Respondent trustee issued appointments for questioning on the Appellants’ corporate representative related to the balance of the claim which was not part of the summary dismissal application. In response the Appellants expanded their application for summary judgment to the entire claim and refused to attend the appointments. The Respondents then sought an order compelling attendance before the same Master. Again, the Master declined to grant the order, stating that there should not be document production or discoveries when a summary judgment hearing is pending.

The Court of Queen’s Bench disagreed, and after hearing the appeal, overturned both of the Master’s orders. In overturning the Master, the chambers judge noted that the Master made:

… no inquiry into the nature of the action, or the nature of the application, but proceeded on the basis that, in the face of a summary dismissal application or an application for summary judgment, the rules related to questioning and document production should be put on hold. [5]

The Court explained that while parties are required to “put one’s best foot forward in summary applications”, and cannot oppose an application for summary dismissal by arguing that some evidence supporting its claim may arise through discovery or document production, there are instances where “the Defendants have all of the knowledge and all of the documents related to the Plaintiff’s claim [and] the situation cries out for an analysis of what disclosure is necessary or reasonable before the summary judgment application goes ahead”.

The Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the Queen’s Bench judge, and noted that the decision to allow document production and questioning prior to summary judgment applications is discretionary. In all circumstances, the discretion to allow discovery must be in compliance with the purpose of Part 5 of the Rules, and in particular, Rule 5.1(1), which discourages “conduct that unnecessarily or improperly delays proceedings or unnecessarily increases their costs”. In situations where a great deal of the supporting evidence is in the possession of the opposing party, then it is more likely that an applicant will require disclosure of documents and discoveries to be able to put their best foot forward in a summary judgment application.