In our November 2015 Blakes Bulletin: De Minimis Rule is Back in the Context of Class Actions, we analyzed the Sofio c. Organisme canadien de réglementation du commerce des valeurs mobilières (Sofio) decision of the Court of Appeal of Quebec (Court), which applied the legal maxim de minimis non curat praetor, according to which courts should not concern themselves with trifles, in the context of a class action. This principle has been recognized again by the Court in the recent  Fortin c. Mazda Canada Inc. (Fortin) decision.

CONTEXT

The class action in Fortin results from a latent defect that affected the locking system of a car model marketed in 2004. According to the Court, a push, a kick or a punch strategically directed above the handle of the driver’s door was enough to neutralize the vehicle’s locking system. Based on the provisions of Quebec’s Consumer Protection Act, the Court found that the owners of this car model who have been victims of theft were entitled to compensation for the cost of the required repairs, the value of the stolen items and the cost of related insurance deductibles.

Non-monetary damages were also claimed by class members respecting the risk of having their car vandalized and the continual search for safe parking spaces, as well as the troubles, damages and inconvenience resulting from visits to their car dealership to repair the locking system.

REASONS

The Court rejected the claims for non-monetary damages based on the Sofio decision and the de minimis maxim.

Regarding the class members’ concerns of the risk of having their car vandalized and the continual search for safe parking spaces, the Court first noted that the application was silent on this aspect. It added that the evidence was tenuous in this respect, to the point where the damages claimed seemed hardly provable.

With respect to the trouble, damages and inconvenience resulting from visits to the car dealership to repair the locking system, the Court shared the view of the trial judge, who rejected these damages on the ground that they were ordinary life inconveniences. First, according to the Court, because of its highly individual aspect, this part of the claim does not lend itself to collective compensation. Second, even assuming that the class members have experienced such inconveniences, the Court concluded that [translation] “obviously, they do not exceed the normal inconveniences that all vehicle owners face from time to time in the course of a normal year”, and adopted the following proposition [translation]:

[171]    “The law of civil liability does not aim to compensate a party for all frustrations and sensitivities related to any failure on the part of those with whom he or she interacts, if only because of the great degree of subjectivity that comes with requests of this nature. Also, it is not appropriate to seize the courts for individual claims based on trivial consequences […], rules often expressed contained in the form of the Latin maxim de minimis non curat lex.”

CONCLUSION

In two recent decisions, the Court of Appeal of Quebec has upheld the application of the de minimis principle in class action matters to reject claims based on “troubles, damages and inconvenience” that do not exceeded normal inconveniences in the circumstances. The Court also confirmed that the rule is, notably, based on the principle of proportionality, now a guiding principle of Quebec civil procedure, under which it is not appropriate to monopolize judicial resources for individual claims based on trivial consequences. Thus, it can safely be said that the de minimisprinciple has made a comeback in the Quebec law of class actions.