THE EMPLOYERS' EDGE
Recent Court Decisions Explore When it is Appropriate to Bring a Summary Judgment Motion in a Wrongful Dismissal Action
The decisions of Rutherford v. RBC Dominion Securities Inc., and Adjemian v. Brook Crompton North America highlight when it is appropriate to bring a summary judgment motion to decide issues stemming from an employee’s dismissal. Summary judgment motions allow litigants to resolve legal claims without resorting to an expensive trial process and employees often bring these motions to resolve wrongful dismissal claims. Summary judgment can also be an effective tool for employers in having claims dismissed that do not merit a trial, however, they should only be considered where the chance of success is high since there can be significant costs consequences for bringing an unsuccessful motion.
In Rutherford, the employer brought a summary judgment motion in a regular action under Rule 20 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. The employer argued that there was no genuine issue for trial apart from the wrongful dismissal claim. Rutherford was an investment advisor with RBC who brought an action for wrongful dismissal, other breaches of contract, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, unjust enrichment and aggravated damages. Justice Annis found that the matter involved an assessment of significant factual and legal issues regarding ownership and the relationship between the parties that could only be decided at trial. In fact, Justice Annis agreed with the employee’s submissions that “given the multiple complex issues which require evidence from a large number of witnesses, this case would not prove to be a good candidate for a summary judgment motion.” The employer’s motion was dismissed and the employee was awarded $30,000.00 for the costs associated with defending the motion.
In Adjemian, the employee brought a summary judgment motion in a simplified procedure action under rule 76.07(9) of the Rules of Civil Procedure. Adjemian was not a managerial or supervisory employee and held the position of technology administrator, accounts payable clerk and inventory receiving clerk at Brook Crompton North America, a manufacturer of electronic motors. The employer submitted that there were three genuine issues worthy of trial: 1) the adequacy of the employee’s efforts to mitigate; 2) the characterization or nature of her employment; and 3) the assessment of damages. Justice Perell found that there was overwhelming evidence that the employee continued to make reasonable efforts to mitigate her loss and that mitigation need not be perfect but only reasonable. Secondly, the Justice found that the court could accept the employer’s characterization of the nature of their former employee’s position. These issues were determined to be ones that could be properly resolved on a motion for summary judgment and that once resolved there remained no genuine issues for trial. In addition to the damages awarded to the employee stemming from her dismissal she was awarded nearly $15,000.00 to compensate her for the costs of bringing the motion. Significantly, Justice Perell said the summary judgment motion would also have been granted in a normal action under Rule 20 which applies a more stringent test for summary judgment than under Rule 76.07(9) in simplified procedure.
Judge Annis put it best in Rutherford by stating “parties bringing motions for summary judgment must take a ‘hard look’ before moving to determine whether there exists a reasonable chance that they may achieve success.” The following principles will assist employers in determining if summary judgment is the appropriate course of action:
A summary judgment motion will only be successful if the court is satisfied that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial.
The burden of proof to establish that there is no genuine issue requiring a trial is on the party bringing the motion.
The responding party may not rest solely on the allegations or denials in its pleading and each side is expected to put their best foot forward.
The Rule should be interpreted broadly so as to achieve its objectives: reduction of delay and costs, access to justice, and flexibility, however, the elimination of trials is not an objective. At its core, justice is the ultimate objective. It is not to be sacrificed in the interests of speed and economy.
Summary judgment is not appropriate when it involves an examination of the entire relationship between the parties or where these are multiple complex issues requiring a large number of witnesses.
Summary judgment motions are appropriate for wrongful dismissal claims particularly where reasonable notice and mitigation are the only issues to be determined.
The CCP team has extensive experience successfully bringing and defending against summary judgment motions in wrongful dismissal actions.
Please Note: This blog has been prepared as an informational service for our clients and other interested parties. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, a complete statement of the law or opinion on any subject. Although we endeavour to ensure the accuracy of the content, no one should act upon the information provided without a thorough examination of the law after the facts of a specific situation are fully considered.