The Federal Courts Rules provide a summary judgment procedure that allows a party to prevent claims or defences that have no chance of success from proceeding to trial. Although the summary judgment procedures were amended a year ago, a recent decision of the Federal Court demonstrates that summary judgment is still only granted in the most appropriate cases.
In Concept Developments Ltd. v. Webb, the plaintiff (Concept), a designer and builder of homes, brought a motion for summary judgment against the defendants, Mr. and Mrs. Webb, alleging infringement of its registered copyright in the plans and design of one of its model homes. The Webbs had apparently viewed Concept’s model home, but disliked Concept’s quoted price to build the house, so they subsequently took their business to another home building company (High Grade). According to the facts (which had not been fully established), the Webbs showed Concept’s model home design to High Grade and requested something similar for their house, albeit with some modifications. The Webbs then drew up what they wanted, gave that drawing to High Grade, and the house was subsequently built as desired. Concept claimed $124,000 for its direct loss from not building the home, as well as $40,000 for intangible loss.
The legal issue on Concept’s motion for summary judgment was whether the Webbs’ case was so flawed that it did not deserve consideration by a Court. After evaluating and applying the applicable principles as set out in Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada v. Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, 2010 FC 731, the Court denied Concept’s motion.
The threshold question of actual infringement and that of how substantial the Webbs’ changes to Concept’s model design were could not be determined on the evidence. There were also serious issues of credibility involving the Webbs’ explanation of how things transpired, the role of High Grade, and whether any assurances of non-infringement were given by High Grade. In addition, the measure of damages could not be established on the evidence before the Court. As a result, the Court concluded that these were issues that were better left to a trial judge to weigh in the context of all the evidence.
This decision should serve as a reminder to counsel that summary judgment will still only be granted in the clearest of cases. As the court quoted: “It is essential to justice that claims disclosing real issues that may be successful proceed to trial.”