Written by Mike Eizenga, Justin Lambert, Ashley Paterson and Keely Cameron
In the wake of COVID-19, which has strained already limited judicial resources, the Alberta Court of Appeal has issued a decision addressing the need for judicial economy and the avoidance of duplicative and overlapping proceedings in multijurisdictional class actions.
On November 27, 2020, the Alberta Court of Appeal in Ravvin v Canada Bread Company, Limited, 2020 ABCA 424, confirmed the jurisdiction of a case management judge to grant a stay of proceedings pursuant to section 5 of the Class Proceedings Act prior to hearing the certification application. In support of its decision, the Court emphasized the importance of judicial economy, one of the three public policy objectives of class proceedings.
The actions underlying the appeal were two of twelve proposed class proceedings across Canada commenced against a group of retailers alleging a price-fixing conspiracy involving packaged bread. At the time of the hearing, stays had been granted in the Federal Court, Alberta, and Manitoba in favour of permitting an Ontario action, which had been filed earlier, to proceed. Ravvin appealed on 13 grounds that the Court grouped into two issues:
- whether the case management judge had jurisdiction to issue the stay order without hearing the certification application under the Class Proceedings Act; and
- whether the case management judge erred in assessing the stay factors and reaching a conclusion that the stay was warranted in these circumstances.
The Court dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision of the case management judge to stay the Ravvin matter before hearing the certification application. The Court determined that there is no hard and fast rule as to when an application for a stay can be brought and each decision will turn on its specific circumstances. The panel noted that “multiple overlapping class proceedings continue to impose unnecessary costs and burdens on courts across the country.” While measures have been adopted in an attempt to coordinate multijurisdictional class proceedings, inconsistencies in provincial class proceedings legislation, among other factors, has led to the proliferation of parallel actions filed by competing law firms to “guard jurisdiction”. Counsel then turn to the courts to sort out the overlapping litigation through carriage and stay applications.
The panel further noted that where there is no reason in law or fact to support multiple proceedings, courts should favour avoiding duplication. In rejecting the argument that regional market differences require separate proceedings, the Court found that the national proceeding could consider regional differences, failing which the parties could return to the case management judge.
This decision reinforces the need for a case-by-case assessment when determining whether hearing and deciding a stay is appropriate in advance of certification. However, it is clear that stays in advance of certification are appropriate where the case management judge has a sufficient understanding of the nature and particulars of the proposed class proceeding, and where doing so would advance the objective of judicial economy.
Similar issues arose recently in litigation against Marriott hotels and its affiliates, where multiple duplicative and overlapping proposed class actions were filed across Canada. In those matters, simultaneous multijurisdictional stay motions were scheduled in which five judges (from British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Québec, and Nova Scotia) came together in one hearing to assess how five proposed class actions should proceed. Class counsel in those matters entered into a Consortium on the eve of the simultaneous motions absolving the five judges of the need to decide which action(s), if any, would be stayed. However, the willingness of Canada’s class actions judiciary to work together across provincial lines in the cases against Marriott, coupled with the Court of Appeal’s decision in Ravvin, illustrates an important step toward national coordination and efficiency in Canadian multijurisdictional class proceedings.
Note that Bennett Jones is counsel in the class actions against Marriott and its affiliates referred to above. If you would like further information about the issues discussed herein or other matters pertaining to Canadian class proceedings, please contact a member of our Class Action Litigation group.