Case Summary by Erik Magrakan

Re: Rule 7-2(2) and (18)
Case: More Marine Ltd. v. Shearwater Marine Ltd.

Scope of Discovery Under the New Rules of Court

Reasons for judgement were released this week by the BC Supreme Court, Vancouver Registry, addressing the scope of both discovery of documents and examinations for discovery under the new Rules of Court.

In today’s case (More Marine Ltd. v. Shearwater Marine Ltd) the Plaintiff companies sued the Defendant alleging the breach of marine insurance policies.  The Plaintiff was self represented.  He examined an insurance adjuster that worked for the Defendant.  At discovery the Defendant raised numerous objections including an objection to questions addressing “general practices in the insurance industry“.  A motion was brought seeking guidance addressing whether these questions were permissible.

Mr. Justice Smith held that this line of questioning was appropriate and ordered that a further discovery take place.  In doing so the Court provided perhaps the most extensive judicial feedback to date about the changes with respect to discovery obligations under the New Rules of Court.  Mr. Justice Smith gave the following useful reasons:

[3]             The scope of proper questioning on an examination for discovery is set out in Rule 7-2 (18) of the Supreme Court Civil Rules, B.C. Reg. 168/2009 [Rules]:

Unless the court otherwise orders, a person being examined for discovery

(a)        must answer any question within his or her knowledge or means of knowledge regarding any matter, not privileged, relating to a matter in question in the action, and

(b)        is compellable to give the names and addresses of all persons who reasonably might be expected to have knowledge relating to any matter in question in the action.

[4]             The new Rules came into effect on July 1, 2010, but the language in rule 7-2 (18) is identical to the former rule 27 (22).  As Griffin J. said in Kendall v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, 2010 BCSC 1556 [Kendall] at para. 7 “the scope of examination for discovery has remained unchanged and is very broad.”  In Cominco Ltd. v. Westinghouse Can Ltd. (1979), 11 B.C.L.R. 142 (C.A.) [Cominco], an early and leading case under the former rule, the Court of Appeal said at 151 that “rigid limitations rigidly applied can destroy the right to a proper examination for discovery.”  The court in Cominco also adopted the following statement from Hopper v. Dunsmuir No. 2 (1903), 10 B.C.R. 23 (C.A.) at 29:

It is also obvious that useful or effective cross-examination would be impossible if counsel could only ask such questions as plainly revealed their purpose, and it is needless to labour the proposition that in many cases much preliminary skirmishing is necessary to make possible a successful assault upon the citadel, especially where the adversary is the chief repository of the information required.

[5]             In Day v. Hume, 2009 BCSC 587 this court said at para. 20:

The principles emerging from the authorities are clear. An examination for discovery is in the nature of cross-examination and counsel for the party being examined should not interfere except where it is clearly necessary to resolve ambiguity in a question or to prevent injustice.

[6]               While Rule 7-2 (18) is the same as its predecessor, the new Rules create a distinction that did not previously exist between oral examination for discovery and discovery of documents.  The former rule 26 (1) required a party to list all documents “relating to every matter in question in the action.”  Although disclosure in those terms may still be ordered by the court under Rule 7-1 (14), the initial disclosure obligation is set out more narrowly in Rule 7-1(1):

(1)        Unless all parties of record consent or the court otherwise orders, each party of record to an action must, within 35 days after the end of the pleading period,

(a)        prepare a list of documents in Form 22 that lists

(i)         all documents that are or have been in the party’s possession or control and that could, if available, be used by any party of record at trial to prove or disprove a material fact, and

(ii)        all other documents to which the party intends to refer at trial, and

(b)        serve the list on all parties of record.

[7]             Under the former rules, the duty to disclose documents and the duty to answer questions on oral examination were therefore controlled by the same test for relevance.  Under the newRules, different tests apply, with the duty to answer questions on discovery being apparently broader than the duty to disclose documents.

[8]             Although that may appear to be an anomaly, there are at least two good reasons for the difference.  One reason is that if the court is to be persuaded that the broader document discovery made possible by rule 7-1(14) is appropriate in a particular case, some evidence of the existence and potential relevance of those additional documents will be required.  The examination for discovery is the most likely source of such evidence.

[9]             The second reason relates to the introduction of proportionality as a governing concept in the new Rules.  Rule 1-3 (2) states:

(2)        Securing the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of a proceeding on its merits includes, so far as is practicable, conducting the proceeding in ways that are proportionate to

(a)        the amount involved in the proceeding,

(b)        the importance of the issues in dispute, and

(c)        the complexity of the proceeding.

[10]         The  former rule governing discovery of documents was interpreted according to the long-established test in Compagnie Financière du Pacifique v. Peruvian Guano Company (1882), 11 Q.B.D. 55 at 63 (C.A.):

It seems to me that every document relates to the matters in question in the action, which not only would be evidence upon any issue, but also which, it is reasonable to suppose, contains information which may – not which must – either directly or indirectly enable the party … either to advance his own case or to damage the case of his adversary. I have put in the words “either directly or indirectly,” because, as it seems to me, a document can properly be said to contain information which may enable the party … either to advance his own case or to damage the case of his adversary, if it is a document which may fairly lead him to a train of inquiry, which may have either of these two consequences…

[11]         The new Rules recognize that application of a 19th century test to the vast quantity of paper and electronic documents produced and stored by 21st century technology had made document discovery an unduly onerous and costly task in many cases.  Some reasonable limitations had become necessary and Rule 7-1 (1) is intended to provide them.

[12]         The new Rules also impose limitations on oral examination for discovery, but do so through a different mechanism.  Rule 7-2 (2) now limits an examination for discovery to seven hours or to any longer period to which the person being examined consents.  Although the test for relevance of a particular question or group of questions remains very broad, examining parties who ask too many questions about marginally relevant matters, who spend too much time pursuing unproductive trains of inquiry or who elicit too much evidence that will not be admissible at trial risk leaving themselves with insufficient time for obtaining more important evidence and admissions.

[13]          As Griffin J. said in Kendall, the time limit imposes a “self-policing incentive” on the party conducting the examination: at para. 14.  At the same time, the existence of the time limit creates a greater obligation on counsel for the party being examined to avoid unduly objecting or interfering in a way that wastes the time available. This interplay was described in Kendall at para. 18:

A largely “hands off” approach to examinations for discovery, except in the clearest of circumstances, is in accord with the object of the Rules of Court, particularly the newly stated object of proportionality, effective July 1, 2010.  Allowing wide-ranging cross-examination on examination for discovery is far more cost-effective than a practice that encourages objections, which will undoubtedly result in subsequent chambers applications to require judges or masters to rule on the objections.  It is far more efficient for counsel for the examinee to raise objections to the admissibility of evidence at trial, rather than on examination for discovery.