June 22, 2020
On May 8, 2020, Farmers Edge Inc. (“Farmers Edge”) brought a motion for summary judgment to dismiss a patent infringement action brought by Farmobile LLC (“Farmobile”). The trial of the action had previously been set and rescheduled three times, and on April 20, 2020, was adjourned sine die due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Federal Court dismissed the summary judgment motion because it did not comply with Rule 213(1) of the Federal Courts Rules, which requires that any summary judgment motions be brought before a trial date has been fixed (the “Timing Condition”). The Court was not satisfied that it should exercise its discretion under Rule 55 to dispense with compliance with the Timing Condition.
The issues on the motion were as follows: (i) was the Timing Condition engaged; and (ii) if so, should the Court nonetheless allow the summary judgment motion to proceed under Rule 55?
Rule 213(1) states that “[a] party may bring a motion for summary judgment or summary trial on all or some of the issues raised in a pleading at any time after the defendant has filed a defence but before the time and place for trial have been fixed” [emphasis added].
Rule 55 provides that “[i]n special circumstances, in a proceeding, the Court may vary a rule or dispense with compliance with a rule.”
On the first issue, the Court found that the Timing Condition was engaged. Rule 213(1) precludes a party from bringing a motion for summary judgment after the first trial date is fixed, even if the trial date is later adjourned.
The Court noted that Rule 213(1) must be interpreted in light of the Court’s trial scheduling process and the overarching objectives of the Federal Court Rules, one of which is to ensure that cases set down for trial advance towards trial in a timely, efficient, and cost-saving manner. Rule 213(1) ensures that, once a trial date has been set, the parties are not distracted by preparing for a possible summary judgment motion and can instead focus their time and resources on preparing for trial.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented event, the requirement to focus on trial preparation does not disappear simply because the trial is adjourned due to exceptional and unforeseen circumstances.
On the second issue, the Court applied the following factors from Hoffmann-La Roche Limited v. Pfizer Canada Inc, 2018 FC 932 to determine whether the proposed summary judgment motion should still be allowed to proceed:
Whether special circumstances exist;
Whether there will be a significant savings of costs, savings of time and efficiencies from permitting the motion to proceed, including a consideration of whether the motion seeks a determination of all or a portion of the issues raised in the action, whether the motion can reasonably be heard and determined sufficiently in advance of the existing trial date, and which procedural steps and expenses could be avoided if the motion is successful;
Whether any of the parties would be prejudiced by permitting the motion to proceed;
Whether the moving party seeks to bring the motion in a timely manner.
The Court held that this was not a proper case to dispense with compliance with Rule 213(1) through resort to Rule 55, for at least the following reasons:
There are no special circumstances. If the summary judgment motion can be held remotely, then so too can the trial.
The summary judgment motion will not allow for significant savings of costs, time and efficiencies. The parties are already at an advanced stage of trial preparation and the motion will not address every issue.
The motion will result in distraction and duplicate costs and efforts, and Farmobile will suffer prejudice as a result.
Farmers Edge delayed bringing its summary judgment motion, and did not have a satisfactory explanation for the delay.
Authors: Larissa Fulop and Luke Devine