Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Case Management May be Preferrable to Summary Disposition

Noco Company, Inc v Guangzhou Unique Electronics Co, Ltd 2023 FC 208 Pallotta J2,916,782 / Portable Vehicle Battery Jump Start Apparatus

Pallotta J’s decision refusing a motion for summary disposition is an interesting contribution to the developing jurisprudence on this issue. There is no new law as such and the decision ultimately turned on the facts, but Pallotta J’s analysis is noteworthy for emphasizing that in some circumstances case management may serve the goal of just and efficient dispute resolution more effectively than summary adjudication.

As an initial point, there was a dispute as to whether the motion was actually a motion for summary judgment under Rule 215, or instead a motion for summary trial under Rule 216 ”[13]. The mere fact of the confusion illustrates that the distinction is fuzzy. While Pallotta J concluded that it was indeed a Rule 216 motion, she pointed out that there is overlap in the factors to be considered [91] and she noted that “judges faced with a motion for summary disposition based on a paper record may be guided by similar factors to decide whether the matter is suitable for summary adjudication, regardless of whether the motion is made under Rule 215 or Rule 216" [93]. On the facts, her decision to dismiss the motion did not turn on the “true nature” of the motion [95]. Her comparison of the requirements under the two Rules is very helpful in clarifying the similarities and differences in requirements for each [91]–[97].

One of the main reasons Pallotta J dismissed the motion is the standard ground that “the Moving Defendants have not presented a sufficiently narrow and well-defined non-infringement issue that is suitable for summary adjudication” [97]. She noted that:

[99] The Moving Defendants’ . . . have not limited their arguments to the claim terms that must be construed in order to make a finding of non-infringement based on a single essential element of claim 1. Instead, they have advanced what appear to be all possible non-infringement arguments for claim 1.

[105] The Moving Defendants presented multiple non-infringement arguments, and a range of possible non-infringement declarations that this Court could make, with the expectation that the Court could decide the motion on a narrower basis or re-define the relief. The issues raised and the expert and fact evidence that was adduced required NOCO to respond to a full-scope non infringement action extending beyond the allegedly infringing products in NOCO’s pleading, before any oral or documentary discovery had taken place. In my view, such an approach is inconsistent with the values underlying summary adjudication as a means for proportionate, cost effective, and timely dispute resolution that fairly balances expediency with a just resolution of the issues in dispute.

It seems that the strategy of “throw mud at the wall and see what sticks” backfired, by broadening the issues beyond what was suitable for summary disposition.

Pollatta J also referred to the importance of trial in cases where there are serious issues with respect to the credibility of the witnesses, which is another well-established factor, recently re-emphasized by the FCA in Gemak 2022 FCA 141 (see here): [122]–[124].

While these are well-established concerns, Pallotta J also noted that summary disposition is not necessarily more efficient. She emphasized that case management can also promote efficient dispute resolution, and may do so more effectively than summary disposition:

[109] Motions for summary judgment or summary trial are time-intensive, and do not necessarily provide an “express route” to resolving a dispute: ViiV at para 41. Proportionality is inevitably comparative; even slow and expensive procedures can be proportionate when they are the fastest and most efficient alternative: Hryniak at para 33.

[110] Procedural steps leading to trial, including documentary and oral discoveries, may also serve to streamline a case, narrow the issues for trial, and promote settlement. The evidence on this motion demonstrates that there are serious issues with respect to the underlying factual basis for deciding infringement, including whether the [exemplary product] is representative of [the Defendants] Products. In my view, allowing the discovery process to unfold is a more proportionate and efficient way to address these issues, particularly under case management.

[111] Restricting judgment to the [exemplary product] alone, without deciding whether it is representative of other products, is not an efficient way to proceed and amounts to litigating in slices. This approach would not narrow the issues for discovery with respect to other products at issue, including the products of defendants who are not parties to this motion. Furthermore, deciding the issues the Moving Defendants have raised without understanding how the findings would affect other products at issue may result in repetition or even complicate the issues to be determined at trial on a more complete factual record.

In concluding, she again emphasized the problem of “litigating in slices” and held that “Allowing the discovery process to unfold provides a more just and proportionate way to streamline the case and narrow the issues for trial” [131].

The entire decision is well worth reading for anyone dealing with a summary disposition motion.

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