In the latest from Louis v Poitras, which our blog has closely followed, the Ontario Court of Appeal recently released its decision on January 25, 2021 (see 2021 ONCA 49). In the decision, the Court of Appeal has restored the motion judge's order striking the jury notices due to delays arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Facts of the Case
This case arose out of a motor vehicle accident that took place in Ottawa on May 9, 2013. Jury notices were filed by the defendants in both the tort and accident benefits actions. The case was ready to proceed to trial on April 20, 2020. However, the trials of both actions did not proceed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On July 2020, the plaintiff moved for an order striking the jury notices in both actions due to the delay, which the motion judge granted. The defendant insurer appealed the motion judge's order to the Divisional Court. The Divisional Court allowed the appeal and reinstated the jury notices in both actions on the basis that the motion judge's decision to strike the jury notices was "arbitrary." The Divisional Court concluded the decision was arbitrary because it was attributed solely to the presence of delay and lacked sufficient evidence of actual prejudice.
The Court of Appeal
In its recent decision, the Court of Appeal has found that the decision of the Divisional Court was at odds with the current reality of the courts. The Court of Appeal added that it is "only in rare situations that an appellate court should overrule discretionary case management decisions."1 This factored in the Court's decision to restore the motion judge's order.
The Court of Appeal disagreed with the Divisional Court's finding that there needed to be proof of additional prejudice, beyond delay, to justify striking a jury notice. The Court of Appeal agreed with the findings of the lower court that the simple reason of delay in obtaining a date for a civil jury trial can constitute prejudice and therefore justify the striking of a jury notice.
The Court of Appeal found that when looking at the broader interests of justice in considering the request to strike the jury notice, the Divisional Court had ignored the current realities of the situation affecting the courts and had discounted the importance of the administration of justice in its decision. A proper consideration of the administration of justice would have recognized that local judges are best positioned to understand the availability of resources and determine the appropriate approach for each case.2
The Court of Appeal held that the motion judge had in fact done a correct analysis of the situation facing civil jury trials, by turning his mind to the local conditions that existed in Ottawa and the reality that it was not known when jury trials would resume.
The Court of Appeal indicated that judges in a similar position are acutely aware of the local conditions affecting the courts and that they should exercise their discretion to ensure the timely delivery of justice. The Court further stated that only in rare situations should an appellate court overrule discretionary case management decisions.
Having found that the Divisional Court had erred in its analysis, the Court of Appeal restored the order of the motion judge striking the jury notices.
1 Louis v Poitras, 2021 ONCA 49 at para 4.
2 Ibid at para 26.
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