A recent article, Procedure Trumps Substance: Alberta Court of Appeal Grants Certification in Warner v Smith & Nephew Inc, 2016 ABCA 223 (“Warner”), published on McCarthy Tétrault’s Canadian Class Actions Monitor blog may be of interest to readers of the Canadian Appeals Monitor blog. Kelli McAllister and Renee Reichelt explore the ongoing tension in certification motions where courts are to provide a meaningful screening device but refrain from assessing the merits of the claim.
In Warner, the Alberta Court of Appeal disagreed on whether to consider if a plaintiff can prove her claims at the certification stage. Justice Slatter, in dissent, noted at paragraph 112 that neither side could prove certain allegations relating to long-term effects of a hip-resurfacing device – neither science nor medicine had resolved the issue: “[i]f the scientists and doctors have been not been able to resolve this issue using the usual scientific methods (lab experiments, long term blind studies, etc.) how is it realistic to think that a trial judge is going to find the answer in a civil trial? A trial judge has no laboratory.” The majority was unmoved. The plaintiff did not need to establish the strength of her claim or whether expert evidence could prove it. Certification is a procedural motion only. Whether leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada will be sought in Warner remains to be seen. However, in Pro-Sys Consultants Ltd v Microsoft Corporation, 2013 SCC 57 the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that certification is a meaningful screening device. How a court can meaningfully screen propose class actions without some consideration of the merits remains a divisive issue in class actions and a fertile ground for further appellate consideration.