Friday, September 28, 2018

Sierra Club Test Governs Protective Orders

Seedlings Life Science Ventures LLC v Pfizer Canada Inc 2018 FC 956 Ahmed J rev’g 2018 FC 443 Tabib J

In the decision under appeal, Tabib J refused to issue a protective order, essentially on the basis that the implied undertaking rule, supplemented by a private agreement between the parties, would provide adequate protection: see here. In so holding, Tabib J held that the test set out in Sierra Club of Canada v Canada (Minister of Finance), 2002 SCC 41 was not applicable. In her view [15], Sierra Club was applicable only to confidentiality orders, which allow parties to file confidential information under seal with the Registry, and not to protective orders, which govern the way parties may designate as confidential, and must thereafter treat, information that they will exchange between themselves in the pre-trial phase of an action. On appeal, Ahmed J held that Tabib J erred in distinguishing Sierra Club, and that the test set out in Sierra Club is applicable to both confidentiality orders and protective orders [26]. He noted that nothing in the text of Sierra Club itself supports the distinction [26]. Further, since the rationale for a protective order, a confidentiality order, or a hybrid order, is the same — namely “the protection of sensitive information – whether from the general public or other business adversaries – from abuse or use in activities collateral to the litigation” — there was no basis for applying different tests to the different types of orders [26].

Aside from the issue of the binding nature of Sierra Club, Ahmed J noted that Tabib J had been motivated by “a desire to respond to a problem in contemporary patent litigation. In her view, routine motions for protective orders do not add substantial protection above and beyond what is already available under the implied undertaking rule or achievable through private agreements, and the judicial processing of these orders constitutes a substantial burden to the Court” [30]. Ahmed J was sympathetic to this concern: “Surely those observations are not without merit and it may well be the time for change” [30]. But in his view, it is not appropriate to implement “a fundamental shift in longstanding practice” through the jurisprudence of “this Court”: “That is the role of the legislature, or perhaps the courts above” [30]. I’m not sure I agree with that observation. The law must evolve to meet changed circumstances, and some of that evolution must come at the hands of the courts, as the legislature simply does not have the capacity to address every desirable change, no matter how minor. The same is true of the Supreme Court. Moreover, even if the Supreme Court could deal with every issue, it is arguably preferable to have some changes initiated by a lower level of court, which may, as in this case, have more practical expertise on the issue. Ahmed J stated that “in my view, it would be unjust to the litigants in the case at bar to have the so-called ‘rules of the game’ changed partway through these proceedings” [30]. That is an important point, but it is not determinative. It is the nature of the common law that the law evolves in light of decisions on the facts of particular cases, and the rules of the game are changed mid-course whenever an appeal to the SCC results in a change in the law. It is no more or less fair to have the rules changed simply because it is the SCC that changes them. To be sure, it is important to respect the settled expectations of the parties, and courts should therefore be more reluctant to change the law or practice, the more firmly it is established. But that is a matter of balancing the need for change against the importance of the settled expectations.

The test set out in Sierra Club [60] has two branches: 1) the information has been treated as confidential and that on a balance of probabilities its proprietary, commercial and scientific interests could reasonably be harmed by the disclosure of the information, and 2) it is of a confidential nature with a reasonable expectation that it be kept confidential [23]. [24]. Ahmed J held that in matter at hand, both criteria were met [28], and he therefore allowed the appeal and order the protective order be issued [29].

No comments:

Post a Comment