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CIVIL PROCEDURE - Summary judgments - To dismiss action

Wednesday, March 13, 2019 @ 6:09 AM  

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Appeal by the plaintiff from summary judgment dismissing his action against the respondent University for loss of income, pain and suffering, and out of pocket expenses resulting from his having been deprived of the opportunity to complete a Ph.D. degree. The appellant’s thesis supervisor died resulting in a new supervisory committee being formed. After various meetings and discussions with the new supervisory committee, the appellant transferred out of the Ph.D. program into a Master’s program. He alleged that the supervisory committee lacked, and were unwilling to acquire, the necessary expertise in his area of research, and misled and provided knowingly incorrect information to him about the availability and security of his funding and pressured him to move into a Master’s program. While the motion judge found there were genuine issues of fact as to why the supervisory committee recommended the appellant transfer out of the Ph.D. program and what the appellant was told about funding that would require a trial to resolve, he found that it was not necessary for those issues to proceed to trial, because as a matter of law the appellant’s action should have been brought as a complaint to the University.

HELD: Appeal allowed. The genuine issues of fact the motion judge identified as requiring a trial could, if resolved in favour of the appellant, result in a breach of contract claim. There was nothing in law that required the Superior Court to decline to deal with such a claim or to refuse remedies such as damages, in favour of an internal University complaint process in which such remedies would not be available. The appellant’s allegations could result in a finding that the appellant was knowingly misled as to the details, amount and duration of his financial support, in breach of the Handbook’s requirement to communicate those matters to the appellant and in violation of the duty of honest performance. If that were the resolution of the genuine issue requiring a trial regarding funding, the appellant’s claim could not be rebutted by reference to the University’s broad discretion.

Lam v. University of Western Ontario Board of Governors, [2019] O.J. No. 611, Ontario Court of Appeal, G.R. Strathy C.J.O., P.D. Lauwers and B. Zarnett JJ.A., February 6, 2019. Digest No. TLD-March112019006