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When is it Appropriate to Determine Questions of Law on a Rule 21 motion?


By Melissa Sonneman-Samuel

In Taylor v. Hanley Hospitality Inc. (“Taylor”) the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that the test for whether to determine a question of law brought under a rule 21.01(1)(a) motion turns on whether the determination is plain and obvious. The decision, written by Justice Roberts, also clarifies the appropriate circumstances in which to make rule 21.01(1)(a) determinations by methodically applying the court’s finding in Beaudoin Estate v. Campbellford Memorial Hospital (“Beaudoin”).

Rule 21.01(1)(a) states that a party may move for a determination, before trial, of a question of law raised by a pleading in an action where the determination of the question may dispose of all or part of the action, substantially shorten the trial, or result in a substantial saving of cost. Additionally, the common law has evolved to include the following stipulations:

  • That the facts pleaded in the statement of claim are assumed to be true unless they are patently ridiculous or manifestly incapable of proof; and
  • That the statement of claim, itself, be read as generously as possible to accommodate any drafting inadequacies in the pleading.

In Beaudoin, the court found that it is not appropriate to weigh evidence or make findings of fact on a motion under rule 21.01(1)(a). Rather, and as emphasized in Taylor, the rule is intended to be used only in circumstances where the facts are undisputed. Accordingly, the standard of review is that of correctness.

The rationale for prohibiting findings of fact from a rule 21.01(1)(a) determination stems from the limiting language of its Rule 21.01(2)(a). That rule states that no evidence is admissible on a motion under rule 21.01(1)(a), except with leave of a judge or on consent of the parties. Without the ability to lead evidence, it would therefore be unfair to a plaintiff to allow a claim to be dismissed based on facts neither admitted to nor corroborated.

In Taylor, the court was asked to determine whether the motion judge erred in their approach to the respondent’s rule 21.01(1)(a) motion. Writing for the court, Justice Roberts found that the motion could not serve its stated purpose of disposing of all or part of the action, substantially shortening the trial, or resulting in a substantial saving of cost because there remained a significant amount factual disputes between the parties. The operative question for the motion judge to answer, therefore, should have been whether the pleadings raised a factual dispute. Because the respondent pled a different version of facts in their statement of defence than the appellant did in their statement of claim, this question should have been answered in the affirmative and the respondent’s motion should have been dismissed.

Instead, the motion judge proceeded to misapply the provisions of rule 25.08 based on an erroneous application of rule 21.01(1)(a). In doing so, the judge made additional errors that prevented them from realizing the safeguards that would have nonetheless resulted in the motion being dismissed. For example, the motion judge treated facts alleged in the statement of defence as true, despite rule 21.01(1)(a) entitling them only to accept the facts alleged in the statement of claim as true.

In any case, a motion under rule 21.01(1)(a) is generally reserved for circumstances that require a determination of a question of law. By reaffirming its decision in Beaudoin, the Court of Appeal in Taylor has strengthened this logical application of the rule going forward.


Melissa Sonneman-Samuel is a summer student in GP’s Toronto office.