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Hunt v. Carey Canada Inc., [1990] 2 S.C.R. 959

 

Carey Canada Inc., formerly known as Carey‑Canadian

Mines Ltd., National Gypsum Co., Atlas Turner

Inc., Asbestos Corporation Limited, Bell Asbestos

Mines Limited and Lac d'amiante du Québec Ltée,

formerly known as Lake Asbestos Company Ltd.                                                         Appellants

 

v.

 

George Ernest Hunt      Respondent

 

and

 

T & N, P.L.C. and Flintkote Mines Limited                                                                   Respondents

 

and between

 

Flintkote Mines Limited, National

Gypsum Co., Atlas Turner Inc., Asbestos

Corporation Limited, Bell Asbestos Mines

Limited and Lac d'amiante du Québec Ltée,

formerly known as Lake Asbestos Company Ltd.                                                         Appellants

 

v.

 

George Ernest Hunt      Respondent

 

and

 

T & N, P.L.C. and Carey Canada Inc.,

formerly known as Carey‑Canadian Mines Ltd.                                                            Respondents

 

indexed as:  hunt v. carey canada inc.

 

File Nos.:  21508, 21536.

 

1990: February 22; 1990: October 4.

 

Present:  Lamer C.J.* and Wilson, La Forest, L'Heureux‑Dubé, Sopinka, Gonthier and Cory JJ.

 

on appeal from the court of appeal for british columbia

 

    Practice ‑‑ Motion to strike ‑‑ Action brought by person suffering from disease allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos fibres ‑‑ Allegation of conspiracy to withhold information of potential health risks ‑‑ Allegations of other nominate torts ‑‑ Circumstances in which a statement of claim (or portions of it) could be struck out ‑‑ Whether allegations based on the tort of conspiracy should be struck out ‑‑ Rules of Court [British Columbia], Rule 19(24).

 

    Respondent Hunt, a retired electrician, brought an action alleging that he had contracted mesothelioma because of exposure to asbestos fibres over the course of his employment.  The defendants had been involved in the mining of asbestos and the production and supply of a variety of asbestos products between 1940 and 1967.  It was alleged that they knew from 1934 that asbestos fibres could cause disease in those exposed to the fibres.  Atlas Turner, Babcock, Caposite, Holmes, Johns‑Manville and T & N, P.L.C. were sued not only in negligence but also for their alleged conspiracy to withhold information about the dangers associated with asbestos which ultimately resulted in Mr. Hunt's contracting mesothelioma.  Flintkote Mines Limited and T & N, P.L.C. were named as respondents to the appeal in the Court of Appeal by order of the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

 

    Carey Canada Inc. successfully applied to have the action against it struck for want of a reasonable claim.  (The action had been based solely on allegations of conspiracy.)  The Court of Appeal allowed an appeal from that decision.  The issues here dealt with the circumstances in which a statement of claim (or portions of it) could be struck out, and whether the allegations based on the tort of conspiracy should be struck out.

 

    Held:  The appeals should be dismissed.

 

    The test to be applied is whether it is "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's statement of claim discloses no reasonable claim.  Only if the action is certain to fail because it contains a radical defect ranking with the others listed in Rule 19(24) should the relevant portions of a plaintiff's statement of claim be struck out under Rule 19(24)(a).

 

    Here, it was not "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's statement of claim failed to disclose a reasonable claim, given this Court's most recent pronouncement on the circumstances in which the law of torts will recognize such a claim of conspiracy.  Nor was it plain and obvious that allowing this action to proceed would amount to an abuse of process.  Whether or not there is good reason to extend the tort to the present context is for the trial judge to consider in light of the evidence.

 

    It is not for this Court on a motion to strike to reach a decision as to the plaintiff's chances of success.  It is enough that the plaintiff has some chance of success.  Whether or not a predominant purpose had been established and whether or not Quebec's Business Concerns Records Act limited the range of information that the defendants could produce at trial was not relevant to whether the plaintiff's statement of claim disclosed a reasonable claim.  Striking out cannot be justified because a pleading reveals "an arguable, difficult or important point of law".  On the contrary, it may well be critical that the action be allowed to proceed.

 

    Alleging the tort of conspiracy is not precluded by the allegation of another tort.  While it may be arguable that if one succeeds under a distinct nominate tort against an individual defendant, then an action in conspiracy should not be available against that defendant, it is far from clear that the mere fact that a plaintiff alleges that a defendant committed other torts is a bar to pleading the tort of conspiracy.  Whether the plaintiff should be barred from recovery under the tort of conspiracy can only be determined when the question of whether it has established that the defendant did in fact commit the other alleged torts has been decided.

 

Cases Cited

 

    Considered:  Dyson v. Attorney-General, [1911] 1 K.B. 410; Drummond‑Jackson v. British Medical Association, [1970] 1 All E.R. 1094; Ross v. Scottish Union and National Insurance Co. (1920), 47 O.L.R. 308; Attorney General of Canada v. Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, [1980] 2 S.C.R. 735; Lonrho Ltd. v. Shell Petroleum Co. (No. 2), [1982] A.C. 173; Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd. v. British Columbia Lightweight Aggregate Ltd., [1983] 1 S.C.R. 452; distinguished:  Frame v. Smith, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 99; referred to:  Metropolitan Bank, Ltd. v. Pooley, [1881‑85] All E.R. 949; Republic of Peru v. Peruvian Guano Co. (1887), 36 Ch. D. 489; Hubbuck & Sons, Ltd. v. Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark, Ltd., [1899] 1 Q.B. 86; Attorney‑General of the Duchy of Lancaster v. London & North Western Railway Co., [1892] 3 Ch. 274; Evans v. Barclays Bank and Galloway, [1924] W.N. 97; Kemsley v. Foot, [1951] 1 T.L.R. 197; Nagle v. Feilden, [1966] 2 Q.B. 633; Rex ex rel. Tolfree v. Clark, [1943] O.R. 501; Gilbert Surgical Supply Co. v. F. W. Horner Ltd., [1960] O.W.N. 289; Minnes v. Minnes (1962), 39 W.W.R. 112; McNaughton and McNaughton v. Baker (1988), 25 B.C.L.R. (2d) 17; Operation Dismantle Inc. v. The Queen, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 441; Dumont v. Canada (Attorney General), [1990] 1 S.C.R. 279; Metall und Rohstoff A.G. v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., [1989] 3 W.L.R. 563; Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor, Gow & Co. (1889), 23 Q.B.D. 598.

 

Statutes and Regulations Cited

 

Business Concerns Records Act, R.S.Q. 1977, c. D-12.

 

Rules of Civil Procedure, O. Reg. 560/84, Rule 21.01.

 

Rules of Court [British Columbia], Rule 19(24).

 

Rules of the Supreme Court [England], R.S.C. 1883, O. 25, r. 4 [rep. & sub. R.S.C. (Revision) 1962, O. 18, r. 19].

 

Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, (Eng.) 36 & 37 Vict., c. 66.

 

Authors Cited

 

Baker, John Hamilton.  An Introduction to English Legal History, 2nd ed.  London:  Butterworths, 1979.

 

Burns, Peter.  "Civil Conspiracy: An Unwieldy Vessel Rides a Judicial Tempest" (1982), 16 U.B.C. L. Rev. 229.

 

Fridman, G. H. L.  The Law of Torts in Canada, vol. 2.  Toronto:  Carswells, 1990.

 

Halsbury's Laws of England, vol. 36, 4th ed.  London:  Butterworths, 1981.

 

McLachlin, Beverly M. and James P. Taylor.  British Columbia Practice, vol. 1, 2nd ed.  Vancouver:  Butterworths, 1979.

 

Milsom, S. F. C.  Historical Foundations of the Common Law, 2nd ed.  Toronto:  Butterworths, 1981.

 

    APPEALS from a judgment of the British Columbia Court of Appeal reversing the judgment of Hollinrake J. dismissing the action against Carey Canada Inc. on the basis that it disclosed no reasonable claim.  Appeals dismissed.

 

    Jack Giles, Q.C., and Robert McDonell, for Carey Canada Inc.

 

    D. M. M. Goldie, Q.C., for Lac d'amiante du Québec Ltée.

 

    Marvyn Koenigsberg, for National Gypsum Co.

 

    David Martin and Michael P. Maryn, for Atlas Turner Inc., Asbestos Corporation Limited and Bell Asbestos Mines Limited.

 

    James A. Macaulay, c.r., and K. N. Affleck, for T & N, P.L.C.

 

    Robert Ward and S. E. Fraser, for Flintkote Mines Limited.

 

    J. J. Camp, Q.C., and P. G. Foy, for George Ernest Hunt.

 

    The judgment of the Court was delivered by

 

//Wilson J.//

 

  WILSON J. -- The issue raised in these appeals is whether it is open to the respondent to proceed with an action against the appellants for the tort of conspiracy.  In particular, the appeals raise the question whether those portions of the respondent [Hunt's] statement of claim in which he alleges that the appellants conspired to withhold information concerning the effects of asbestos fibres disclose a reasonable claim within the meaning of Rule 19(24)(a) of the British Columbia Rules of Court.

 

1. The Facts

 

    The respondent, George Hunt, is a retired electrician who alleges that he was exposed to asbestos fibres over the course of his employment.  Mr. Hunt has brought an action against Atlas Turner Inc., Asbestos Corporation Limited, The Asbestos Institute, Babcock & Wilcox Industries Ltd., Bell Asbestos Mines Limited, Caposite Insulations Ltd., Carey Canada Inc., Flintkote Mines Limited, Holmes Insulations Ltd., Johns‑Manville Amiante Canada Inc., Lac d'amiante du Québec Ltée., National Asbestos Mines Limited, The Quebec Asbestos Mining Association and T & N, P.L.C. ("the defendants").

 

    Mr. Hunt alleges that the defendants were involved in the mining of asbestos and the production and supply of a variety of asbestos products between 1940 and 1967.  He alleges that after 1934 the defendants knew that asbestos fibres could cause disease in those exposed to the fibres.  In addition to suing Atlas Turner, Babcock, Caposite, Holmes, Johns‑Manville and T & N in negligence, Mr. Hunt alleges that all of the defendants conspired to withhold information about the dangers associated with asbestos and that as a result of that conspiracy he contracted mesothelioma.

 

    The relevant portions of Mr. Hunt's statement of claim read as follows:

 

16.  At various times, the particulars of which are well known to the defendants, including the period between 1940 and 1967, the defendants mined and processed asbestos and designed, manufactured, packaged, advertised, promoted, distributed and sold a variety of products containing asbestos fibres (the "Products"), the particulars of which are also well known to the defendants.

 

17.  After about 1934 the defendants knew or ought to have known that the asbestos fibres contained in the Products could cause diseases, including cancer and asbestosis, in those who worked with or were otherwise exposed to those fibres.

 

18.  After about 1934, some or all of the defendants conspired with each other with the predominant purpose of injuring the plantiff [sic] and others who would be exposed to the asbestos fibres in the Products, by preventing this knowledge becoming public knowledge and, in particular, by preventing it reaching the plaintiff and others who would be exposed to the asbestos fibres in the Products.

 

19.  Alternatively, after about 1934, some or all of the defendants conspired with each other to prevent by unlawful means this knowledge becoming public knowledge and, in particular, to prevent it reaching the plaintiff and others who would be exposed to the asbestos fibres in the Products, in circumstances where the defendants knew or ought to have known that injury to the plaintiff and others who would be exposed to the asbestos fibres in the Products would result from the defendants' acts.

 

20.  The defendants' acts in furtherance of the conspiracy referred to in paragraphs 18 and 19 include:

 

(a)fraudulently, deceitfully or negligently suppressing, distorting and misrepresenting the results of medical and scientific research on the disease‑causing effects of asbestos;

 

(b)fraudulently, deceitfully or negligently misrepresenting the disease‑causing effects of asbestos by disseminating incorrect, incomplete, outdated, misleading and distorted information about those effects;

 

(c)fraudulently, deceitfully or negligently attempting to discredit doctors and scientists who claimed that asbestos caused disease;

 

(d)fraudulently, deceitfully or negligently marketing and promoting the Products without any or adequate warning of the dangers they posed to those exposed to them; and

 

(e)fraudulently, deceitfully or negligently attempting to influence to their benefit government regulation of the use of asbestos and the Products.

 

    Carey Canada Inc. brought an application before the Supreme Court of British Columbia under Rule 19(24)(a) of the British Columbia Rules of Court seeking to have the action against it, which was based solely on the allegations of conspiracy, dismissed on the basis that it disclosed no reasonable claim.  Rule 19(24) provides:

 

    19(24) At any stage of a proceeding the court may order to be struck out or amended the whole or any part of an endorsement, pleading, petition or other document on the ground that

 

(a)it discloses no reasonable claim or defence as the case may be, or

 

(b)it is unnecessary, scandalous, frivolous, or vexatious, or

 

(c)it may prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial or hearing of the proceeding, or

 

(d)it is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court,

 

and may grant judgment or order the proceeding to be stayed or dismissed and may order the costs of the application to be paid as between solicitor and client.

 

2. The Courts Below

 

    (a) Supreme Court of British Columbia

 

    Hollinrake J. accepted Carey Canada's submission that  the only damage that could be the subject of a conspiracy action was "direct damage".  Although counsels' memorandum summarizing Hollinrake J.'s oral reasons for judgment does not explain precisely what he understood the term "direct damage" to mean, it would appear that he meant damage suffered by a plaintiff that flows directly from acts aimed specifically at that plaintiff.  Hollinrake J. stated:

 

Dealing with the issue of direct or indirect damage, in the first kind of conspiracy Estey, J. refers to the "predominant purpose" of the defendants' conduct [see: Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd. v. British Columbia Lightweight Aggregate Ltd., [1983] 1 S.C.R. 452, at p. 471].  I think this does import direct damage.  The second type of conspiracy refers to conduct "directed towards the plaintiff".  I think this imports direct damage.  I think these conclusions are justified by what happened in Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd.

 

Hollinrake J. therefore allowed the motion and dismissed the action against Carey Canada as disclosing no reasonable claim.

 

    (b) British Columbia Court of Appeal

 

    By order of the British Columbia Court of Appeal (dated March 30, 1989), Flintkote Mines Limited and T & N, P.L.C. were named as respondents to the appeal in the Court of Appeal.

 

    Anderson J.A. (Macfarlane and Esson JJ.A. concurring) allowed the appeal and set aside Hollinrake J.'s order.  Anderson J.A. explained his reasons:

 

(1)The cases relied upon by counsel for the respondent Carey Canada Inc. and the learned trial judge to the effect that there is no such tort as a conspiracy to injure by unlawful means where the damage is indirect, all relate to the area of competition in the marketplace and to labour‑management disputes.  They may not be applicable to the very different circumstances alleged in this case and to very different social considerations.

 

(2)The arguments as to law and fact are intricate and complex and should be dealt with at trial after all the evidence is adduced.  At this stage of the proceedings it is impossible to reach the conclusion that there is no cause of action in fact or law.  (See Minnes v. Minnes (1962), 39 W.W.R. 112 at 122).

 

    Esson J.A. (Anderson and MacFarlane JJ.A. agreeing) gave additional reasons stressing that the "language of predominant purpose and direct damage" in Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd. had arisen in cases that involved competition and pure economic loss.  In Mr. Hunt's case, however, the context was very different.  Mr. Hunt had suffered personal injury and claimed that by conspiring to suppress information the defendants had created a foreseeable risk of causing him the harm which he in fact suffered.  It was not possible at this stage in the proceedings to determine that the damage was not sufficiently direct to be able to support an action rooted in the tort of conspiracy.  Esson J.A. specifically declined to embark upon a detailed consideration of the law of conspiracy, noting:

 

    It has not generally been part of our tradition and, given the complexity and novelty of some of the issues raised in this case, it would I think be particularly undesirable to render a such decisions [sic], as it were, in a vacuum.  For those reasons, as well as the reasons given by Mr. Justice Anderson, I agree in allowing the appeal.

 

3. The Issues

 

    The issues that arise in this appeal are:

 

    1.In what circumstances may a statement of claim (or portions of it) be struck out?

 

    2.Should Mr. Hunt's allegations based on the tort of conspiracy be struck out?

 

4. Analysis

 

(1)In What Circumstances May a Statement of Claim be Struck Out?

 

    Carey Canada's motion to have the action dismissed was made pursuant to Rule 19(24)(a) of the British Columbia Rules of Court.  This rule stipulates that a court may strike out any part of a statement of claim that "discloses no reasonable claim".  The rules of practice with respect to striking out a statement of claim are similar in other provinces.  In Ontario, for example, Rule 21.01 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, O. Reg. 560/84, states:

 

21.01 (1) A party may move before a judge,

 

(a)for the 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 costs; or

 

(b)to strike out a pleading on the ground that it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defence,

 

and the judge may make an order or grant judgment accordingly.

 

(2) No evidence is admissible on a motion,

 

(a)under clause (1)(a), except with leave of a judge or on consent of the parties;

 

(b) under clause (1)(b). [Emphasis added.]

 

    Rule 19(24) of the British Columbia Rules of Court and analogous provisions in other provinces are the result of a "codification" of the court's power under its inherent jurisdiction to stay actions that are an abuse of process or that disclose no reasonable cause of action: see McLachlin and Taylor, British Columbia Practice (2nd. ed. 1979), vol. 1, pp. 19‑71.  This process of codification first took place in England shortly after the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, (Eng.) 36 & 37 Vict., c. 66, was enacted.  It is therefore of some interest to review the interpretation the courts in England have given to their rules relating to the striking out of a statement of claim.

 

(a)  England:

 

    In Metropolitan Bank, Ltd. v. Pooley, [1881‑85] All E.R. 949 (H.L.), the Lord Chancellor explained at p. 951 that before the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873, courts were prepared to stay a "manifestly vexatious suit which was plainly an abuse of the authority of the court" even although there was no written rule stating that courts could do so.  The Lord Chancellor noted, at p. 951, that "The power seemed to be inherent in the jurisdiction of every court of justice to protect itself from the abuse of its procedure".  That is, it was open to courts to ensure that their process was not used simply to harass parties through the initiation of actions that were obviously without merit.

 

    Before the advent of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873 and the new Rules of the Supreme Court (enacted in 1883) it had been open to parties to use a "demurrer" to challenge a statement of claim.  That is, it had been open to a defendant to admit all the facts that the plaintiff's pleadings alleged and to assert that these facts were not sufficient in law to sustain the plaintiff's case.  When a demurrer was pleaded the question of law that was thereby raised was immediately set down for argument and decision: see Halsbury's Laws of England (4th ed. 1981), vol. 36, para. 2, n. 7 and para. 35, n. 5; Milsom, Historical Foundations of the Common Law (2nd ed. 1981), at p. 72; and Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History (2nd ed. 1979), at p. 69.  But a formal and technical practice eventually grew up around demurrer and judges were notoriously reluctant to provide definitive answers to the points of law that were thereby raised.  As the Lord Chancellor explained in Pooley, it was eventually thought best to replace demurrers with an easier summary process for getting rid of an action that was on its face manifestly groundless. It was with this objective in mind that O. 25, r. 4 of the 1883 Rules of the Supreme Court came into force:

 

4.  The court or a judge may order any pleading to be struck out, on the ground that it discloses no reasonable cause of action or answer, and in any such case or in case of the action or defence being shown by the pleadings to be frivolous or vexatious, the court or a judge may order the action to be stayed or dismissed, or judgment to be entered accordingly, as may be just.

 

Commenting on the relative merits of demurrers and the new rule, Chitty J. observed in Republic of Peru v. Peruvian Guano Co. (1887), 36 Ch. D. 489, at p. 496:

 

Having regard to the terms of rule 4, and to the decisions on it, I think that this rule is more favourable to the pleading objected to than the old procedure by demurrer.  Under the new rule the pleading will not be struck out unless it is demurrable and something worse than demurrable.  If, notwithstanding defects in the pleading, which would have been fatal on a demurrer, the Court sees that a substantial case is presented the Court should, I think, decline to strike out that pleading; but when the pleading discloses a case which the Court is satisfied will not succeed, then it should strike it out and put a summary end to the litigation.

 

    One of the most important points advanced in the early decisions dealing with O. 25, r. 4 was the proposition that the rule was derived from the courts' power to ensure both that they remained a forum in which genuine legal issues were addressed and that they did not become a vehicle for "vexatious" actions without legal merit designed solely to harass another party.  In Pooley, supra, at p. 954, Lord Blackburn asserted that the new rule "considerably extends the power of the court to act in such a manner as I have stated, and enables it to stay an action on further grounds than those on which it could have been stayed at common law."  Nonetheless, as Chitty J. subsequently observed in Peruvian Guano Co., the rule was not intended to prevent a "substantial case" from coming forward.  Its summary procedures were only to be used where it was apparent that allowing the case to go forward would amount to an abuse of the court's process.

 

    In one of the better‑known decisions concerning the circumstances in which resort should be had to the rule Lindley M.R. stated:

 

The second and more summary procedure is only appropriate to cases which are plain and obvious, so that any master or judge can say at once that the statement of claim as it stands is insufficient, even if proved, to entitle the plaintiff to what he asks.  The use of the expression "reasonable cause of action" in rule 4 shews that the summary procedure there introduced is only intended to be had recourse to in plain and obvious cases. [Emphasis added.]

 

[See: Hubbuck & Sons, Ltd. v. Wilkinson, Heywood & Clark, Ltd., [1899] 1 Q.B. 86 (C.A), at p. 91.]

 

Lindley M.R.'s observations made clear that even if the rule expanded the court's power to stay actions, courts were to use the rule only in those exceptional instances where it was "plain and obvious" that, even if one accepted the version of the facts put forward in the statement of claim, the plaintiff's case did not disclose a reasonable cause of action.  The question was not whether the plaintiff could succeed since this was a matter properly left for determination at trial.  The question was simply whether the plaintiff was advancing a "reasonable" argument that could properly form the subject matter of a trial.

 

    The Master of the Rolls had made this very point some six years earlier:

 

    Then the Vice‑Chancellor says: "The questions raised upon this application are of such importance and such difficulty that I cannot say that this pleading discloses no reasonable cause of action, or that there is anything frivolous or vexatious; therefore, I should let the parties plead in the usual way".  It appears to me that this is perfectly right.  To what extent is the Court to go on inquiring into difficult questions of fact or law in the exercise of the power which is given it under Order XXV., rule 4?  It appears to me that the object of the rule is to stop cases which ought not to be launched -- cases which are obviously frivolous or vexatious, or obviously unsustainable; and if it will take a long time, as is suggested, to satisfy the Court by historical research or otherwise that the County Palatine has no jurisdiction, I am clearly of opinion that such a motion as this ought not to be made.  There may be an application in Chambers to get rid of vexatious actions; but to apply the rule to a case like this appears to me to misapply it altogether. [Emphasis added.]

 

[See: Attorney‑General of the Duchy of Lancaster v. London and North Western Railway Co., [1892] 3 Ch. 274 (C.A.), at pp. 276‑77.]

 

Thus, the fact that the plaintiff's case was a complicated one could not justify striking out the statement of claim.  Complex matters that disclosed substantive questions of law were most appropriately addressed at trial where evidence concerning the facts could be led and where arguments about the merits of a plaintiff's case could be made.

 

    The requirement that it be "plain and obvious" that some or all of the statement of claim discloses no reasonable cause of action before it can be struck out, as well as the proposition that it is singularly inappropriate to use the rule's summary procedure to prevent a party from proceeding to trial on the grounds that the action raises difficult questions, has been affirmed repeatedly in the last century: see Dyson v. Attorney-General, [1911] 1 K.B. 410 (C.A.); Evans v. Barclays Bank and Galloway, [1924] W.N. 97 (C.A.); Kemsley v. Foot, [1951] 1 T.L.R. 197 (C.A.); and Nagle v. Feilden, [1966] 2 Q.B. 633 (C.A.).  Lord Justice Fletcher Moulton's observations in Dyson, supra, at pp. 418‑19, are particularly instructive:

 

    Now it is unquestionable that, both under the inherent power of the Court and also under a specific rule to that effect made under the Judicature Act, the Court has a right to stop an action at this stage if it is wantonly brought without the shadow of an excuse, so that to permit the action to go through its ordinary stages up to trial would be to allow the defendant to be vexed under the form of legal process when there could not at any stage be any doubt that the action was baseless.  But from this to the summary dismissal of actions because the judge in chambers does not think they will be successful in the end lies a wide region, and the Courts have properly considered that this power of arresting an action and deciding it without trial is one to be very sparingly used, and rarely, if ever, excepting in cases where the action is an abuse of legal procedure.  They have laid down again and again that this process is not intended to take the place of the old demurrer by which the defendant challenged the validity of the plaintiff's claim as a matter of law.  Differences of law, just as differences of fact, are normally to be decided by trial after hearing in Court, and not to be refused a hearing in Court by an order of the judge in chambers.  Nothing more clearly indicates this to be the intention of the rule than the fact that the plaintiff has no appeal as of right from the decision of the judge at chambers in the case of such an order as this.  So far as the rules are concerned an action may be stopped by this procedure without the question of its justifiability ever being brought before a Court.  To my mind it is evident that our judicial system would never permit a plaintiff to be "driven from the judgment seat" in this way without any Court having considered his right to be heard, excepting in cases where the cause of action was obviously and almost incontestably bad. [Emphasis added.]

 

    A more recent and no less instructive discussion of these principles may be found in Lord Pearson's reasons in Drummond‑Jackson v. British Medical Association, [1970] 1 All E.R. 1094 (C.A.).  I note that in Drummond‑Jackson the Court of Appeal dealt with Rules of the Supreme Court, O. 18, r. 19 (the provision that replaced R.S.C. O. 25, r. 4 in 1962), a provision very similar to the rules that now govern the striking out of pleadings in Canada:

 

    19. -- (1) The Court may at any stage of the proceedings order to be struck out or amended any pleading or the indorsement of any writ in the action, or anything in any pleading or in the indorsement, on the ground that --

 

(a)it discloses no reasonable cause of action or defence, as the case may be; or

 

(b)it is scandalous, frivolous or vexatious; or

 

(c)it may prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial of the action; or

 

(d)it is otherwise an abuse of the process of the court;

 

and may order the action to be stayed or dismissed or judgment to be entered accordingly, as the case may be.

 

    (2) No evidence shall be admissible on an application under paragraph (1)(a).

 

    Responding to Lord Denning's suggestion that the potential length and complexity of a trial should be taken into account when considering whether to strike out a statement of claim, Lord Pearson (with whom Sir Gordon Willmer concurred in separate reasons) reaffirmed the proposition that Lord Justice Lindley had advanced some eighty years earlier in Attorney‑General of the Duchy of Lancaster: length and complexity were not appropriate factors to consider when deciding whether a statement of claim should be struck out.  Lord Pearson said at pp. 1101‑02:

 

    Over a long period of years it has been firmly established by many authorities that the power to strike out a statement of claim as disclosing no reasonable cause of action is a summary power which should be exercised only in plain and obvious cases.

 

                                                                         ...

 

    In my opinion the traditional and hitherto accepted view -- that the power should only be used in plain and obvious cases -- is correct according to the evident intention of the rule for several reasons.  First, there is in r 19 (1) (a) the expression `reasonable cause of action' to which Sir Nathaniel Lindley MR called attention in Hubbuck & Sons Ltd v. Wilkinson, Heywood and Clark Ltd.  No exact paraphrase can be given, but I think `reasonable cause of action' means a cause of action with some chance of success, when (as required by r 19 (2)) only the allegations in the pleading are considered.  If when those allegations are examined it is found that the alleged cause of action is certain to fail, the statement of claim should be struck out.  In Nagle v Feilden Danckwerts LJ said:

 

    `The summary remedy which has been applied to this action is one which is only to be applied in plain and obvious cases, when the action is one which cannot succeed or is in some way an abuse of the process of the court'.

 

Salmon LJ said:

 

    `It is well settled that a statement of claim should not be struck out and the plaintiff driven from the judgment seat unless the case is unarguable'.

 

Secondly, r 19 (1) (a) takes some colour from its context in r 19 (1) (b) -- `scandalous, frivolous and vexatious' -- r 19 (1) (c) -- `prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial of the action' -- and r. 19 (1) (d) -- otherwise an abuse of the process of the court'.  The defect referred to in r 19 (1) (a) is a radical defect ranking with those referred to in the other paragraphs.  Thirdly, an application for the statement of claim to be struck out under this rule is made at a very early stage of the action when there is only the statement of claim without any other pleadings and without any evidence at all.  The plaintiff should not be `driven from the judgment seat' at this very early stage unless it is quite plain that his alleged cause of action has no chance of success. [Emphasis added.]

 

Lord Pearson concluded at p. 1102:

 

That is the basis of the rule and practice on which one has to approach the question whether the plaintiff's statement of claim in the present case discloses any reasonable cause of action.  It is not permissible to anticipate the defence or defences -- possibly some very strong ones -- which the defendants may plead and be able to prove at the trial, nor anything which the plaintiff may plead in reply and seek to rely on at the trial. [Emphasis added.]

 

    In England, then, the test that governs an application under R.S.C. O. 18, r. 19 has always been and remains a simple one: assuming that the facts as stated in the statement of claim can be proved, is it "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's statement of claim discloses no reasonable cause of action? Is there a defect in the statement of claim that can properly be characterized as a "radical defect" ranking with the others listed in O. 18, r. 19?  If it is plain and obvious that the action is certain to fail because it contains some such radical defect, then the relevant portions of the statement of claim may properly be struck out.  To allow such an action to proceed, even although it was certain to fail, would be to permit the defendant to be "vexed" and would therefore amount to the very kind of abuse of the court's process that the rule was meant to prevent.  But if there is a chance that the plaintiff might succeed, then that plaintiff should not be "driven from the judgment seat".  Neither the length and complexity of the issues of law and fact that might have to be addressed nor the potential for the defendant to present a strong defence should prevent a plaintiff from proceeding with his or her case.  Provided that the plaintiff can present a "substantive" case, that case should be heard.

 

(b)  Canada

 

(i) Ontario and British Columbia Courts of Appeal

 

    In Canada, provincial courts of appeal have long had to grapple with the very same issues concerning the rules with respect to statements of claim that courts in England have dealt with for over a century.  As noted earlier, the rules of practice in this country are to a large extent modelled on England's rules of practice.  It comes as no surprise, therefore, that the test Canadian courts of appeal have adopted is in essence the same one that the courts in England favour.

 

Ontario

 

    In Ontario, for example, the Court of Appeal dealt with Rule 124 (the predecessor to Rule 21.01) in Ross v. Scottish Union and National Insurance Co. (1920), 47 O.L.R. 308 (C.A.).  The rule followed closely the wording of England's R.S.C. 1883, O. 25, r. 4 and read as follows:

 

124. A judge may order any pleading to be struck out on the ground that it discloses no reasonable cause of action or answer, and in any such case, or in case of the action or defence being shown to be frivolous or vexatious, may order the action to be stayed or dismissed, or judgment to be entered accordingly.

 

    In Ross, Magee J.A. embraced the "plain and obvious" test developed in England, stating at p. 316:

 

That inherent jurisdiction is partly embodied in our Rule 124, which allows pleadings to be struck out if disclosing no reasonable cause of action or defence, and thereby, in such case, or if the action or defence is shewn to be vexatious or frivolous, the action may be stayed or dismissed or judgment be entered accordingly. The Rule has only been acted upon in plain and obvious cases, and it should only be so when the Court is satisfied that the case is one beyond doubt, and that there is no reasonable cause of action or defence. [Emphasis added.]

 

Magee J.A. went on to note at p. 317:

 

To justify the use of Rule 124, a statement of claim should not be merely demurrable, but it should be manifest that it is something worse, so that it will not be curable by amendment: Dadswell v. Jacobs (1887), 34 Ch. D. 278, 281; Republic of Peru v. Peruvian Guano Co. (1887), 36 Ch. D. 489; and it is not sufficient that the plaintiff is not likely to succeed at the trial: Boaler v. Holder (1886), 54 L.T.R. 298.

 

    At an early date, then, the Ontario Court of Appeal had modelled its approach to Rule 124 on the approach that had been consistently favoured in England.  And over time the Ontario Court of Appeal has gone on to show the same concern that statements of claim not be struck out in anything other than the clearest of cases.  As Laidlaw J.A. put it in Rex ex rel. Tolfree v. Clark, [1943] O.R. 501 (C.A.), at p. 515:

 

    The power to strike out proceedings should be exercised with great care and reluctance.  Proceedings should not be arrested and a claim for relief determined without trial, except in cases where the Court is well satisfied that a continuation of them would be an abuse of procedure: Evans v. Barclay's Bank et al., [1924] W.N. 97.  But if it be made clear to the Court that an action is frivolous or vexatious, or that no reasonable cause of action is disclosed, it would be improper to permit the proceedings to be maintained.

 

    More recently, in Gilbert Surgical Supply Co. v. F. W. Horner Ltd., [1960] O.W.N. 289 (C.A.), at pp. 289‑90, Aylesworth J.A. observed that the fact that an action might be novel was no justification for striking out a statement of claim.  The court would still have to conclude that "the plaintiff's action could not possibly succeed or that clearly and beyond all doubt, no reasonable cause of action had been shown".

 

    Thus, the Ontario Court of Appeal has firmly embraced the "plain and obvious" test and has made clear that it too is of the view that the test is rooted in the need for courts to ensure that their process is not abused.  The fact that the case the plaintiff wishes to present may involve complex issues of fact and law or may raise a novel legal proposition should not prevent a plaintiff from proceeding with his action.

 

British Columbia

 

    In British Columbia the Court of Appeal has approached the matter in a similar way.  The predecessor to the rule that Carey Canada invokes in this appeal was worded in exactly the same way as England's R.S.C. 1883, O. 25, r. 4.  Not surprisingly the British Columbia Court of Appeal's treatment of that rule has been similar to that taken in England and Ontario. For example, in Minnes v. Minnes (1962), 39 W.W.R. 112 (B.C.C.A.), Tysoe J.A. observed at p. 122:

 

    In my respectful view it is only in plain and obvious cases that recourse should be had to the summary process under O. 25, R. 4, and the power given by the Rule should be exercised only where the case is absolutely beyond doubt.  So long as the statement of claim, as it stands or as it may be amended, discloses some question fit to be tried by a judge or jury, the mere fact that the case is weak or not likely to succeed is no ground for striking it out. If the action involves investigation of serious questions of law or questions of general importance, or if facts are to be known before rights are definitely decided, the Rule ought not to be applied. [Emphasis added.]

 

For his part Norris J.A. noted at p. 116 (agreeing with Tysoe J.A.):

 

    I might add that upon the motion, with respect, it was not for the learned trial judge as it is not for this court to consider the issues between the parties as they would be considered on trial. All that was required of the plaintiff on the motion was that she should show that on the statement of claim, accepting the allegations therein made as true, there was disclosed from that pleading with such amendments as might reasonably be made, a proper case to be tried. [Emphasis added.]

 

The law as stated in Minnes v. Minnes was recently reaffirmed in McNaughton and McNaughton v. Baker (1988), 25 B.C.L.R. (2d) 17 (C.A.), at p. 23, per McLachlin J.A.  Similarly, Anderson and Esson JJ.A. relied on Minnes v. Minnes in this appeal.

 

    Once again then the "plain and obvious" test has been firmly embraced. The British Columbia Court of Appeal has confirmed that the  summary proceedings available under the rule in question do not afford an appropriate forum in which to engage in a detailed examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the plaintiff's case.  The sole question is whether, assuming that all the facts the plaintiff alleges are true, the plaintiff can present a question "fit to be tried".  The complexity or novelty of the question that the plaintiff wishes to bring to trial should not act as a bar to that trial taking place.

 

(ii)  Supreme Court of Canada

 

    While this Court has had a somewhat limited opportunity to consider how the rules regarding the striking out of a statement of claim are to be applied, it has nonetheless consistently upheld the "plain and obvious" test.  Justice Estey, speaking for the Court in Attorney General of Canada v. Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, [1980] 2 S.C.R. 735, stated at p. 740:

 

    As I have said, all the facts pleaded in the statement of claim must be deemed to have been proven. On a motion such as this a court should, of course, dismiss the action or strike out any claim made by the plaintiff only in plain and obvious cases and where the court is satisfied that "the case is beyond doubt": Ross v. Scottish Union and National Insurance Co.

 

    I had occasion to affirm this proposition in Operation Dismantle Inc. v. The Queen, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 441.  At pages 486‑87 I provided the following summary of the law in this area (with which the rest of the Court concurred):

 

    The law then would appear to be clear.  The facts pleaded are to be taken as proved.  When so taken, the question is do they disclose a reasonable cause of action, i.e. a cause of action "with some chance of success" (Drummond‑Jackson v. British Medical Association, [1970] 1 All E.R. 1094) or, as Le Dain J. put it in Dowson v. Government of Canada (1981), 37 N.R. 127 (F.C.A.), at p. 138, is it "plain and obvious that the action cannot succeed?"

 

And at p. 477 I observed:

 

    It would seem then that as a general principle the Courts will be hesitant to strike out a statement of claim as disclosing no reasonable cause of action. The fact that reaching a conclusion on this preliminary issue requires lengthy argument will not be determinative of the matter nor will the novelty of the cause of action militate against the plaintiffs. [Emphasis added.]

 

    Most recently, in Dumont v. Canada (Attorney General), [1990] 1 S.C.R. 279, I made clear at p. 280 that it was my view that the test set out in Inuit Tapirisat was the correct test.  The test remained whether the outcome of the case was "plain and obvious" or "beyond reasonable doubt".

 

    Thus, the test in Canada governing the application of provisions like Rule 19(24)(a) of the British Columbia Rules of Court is the same as the one that governs an application under R.S.C. O. 18, r. 19: assuming that the facts as stated in the statement of claim can be proved, is it "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's statement of claim discloses no reasonable cause of action?  As in England, if there is a chance that the plaintiff might succeed, then the plaintiff should not be "driven from the judgment seat".  Neither the length and complexity of the issues, the novelty of the cause of action, nor the potential for the defendant to present a strong defence should prevent the plaintiff from proceeding with his or her case.  Only if the action is certain to fail because it contains a radical defect ranking with the others listed in Rule 19(24) of the British Columbia Rules of Court should the relevant portions of a plaintiff's statement of claim be struck out under Rule 19(24)(a).

 

    The question therefore to which we must now turn in this appeal is whether it is "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's claims in the tort of conspiracy disclose no reasonable cause of action or whether the plaintiff has presented a case that is "fit to be tried", even although it may call for a complex or novel application of the tort of conspiracy.

 

(2)Should Mr. Hunt's Allegations Based on the Tort of Conspiracy Be Struck from his Statement of Claim?

 

    In the last decade the tort of conspiracy has received a considerable amount of attention.  In England, for example, both the House of Lords and the Court of Appeal have recently had occasion to review the tort in some detail.  These decisions have made clear that the tort of conspiracy may apply in at least two situations: (i) where the defendants agree to use lawful means to harm the plaintiff and (ii) where the defendants use unlawful means to harm the plaintiff.  The law with respect to the first situation is not in doubt:

 

    If A and B agree to commit acts which would be lawful if done by either of them alone but which are done in combination and cause damage to C, no tortious conspiracy actionable at the suit of C exists unless the predominant purpose of A and B in making the agreement and carrying out the acts which cause the damage is to injure C and not to protect the lawful commercial interests of A and B. This proposition is established by five decisions at the highest level: Mogul Steamship Co. Ltd. v. McGregor, Gow & Co. [1892] A.C. 25; Quinn v. Leathem, [1901] A.C. 495; Sorrell v. Smith, [1925] A.C. 700; Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co. Ltd. v. Veitch, [1942] A.C. 435 and Lonrho Ltd. v. Shell Petroleum Co. Ltd. (No. 2), [1982] A.C. 173. [See: Metall und Rohstoff A.G. v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., [1989] 3 W.L.R. 563, at p. 593, per Slade L.J.] [Emphasis added.]

 

Courts in England have, however, encountered greater difficulty in stating with precision the applicable principles governing situations in which unlawful means are employed. In particular, they have struggled to decide whether the plaintiff must establish, not just that the defendants used means that were unlawful and resulted in harm to the plaintiff, but also that the defendants actually intended to harm the plaintiff.

 

    In Lonrho Ltd. v. Shell Petroleum Co. (No. 2), [1982] A.C. 173, the House of Lords dealt with a consultative case stated by arbitrators in which it was asked to consider whether the tort of conspiracy could be extended to embrace a situation where the agreement in question resulted in a contravention of penal law (unlawful means) but did not include an intention to injure the plaintiff.  In the process of deciding whether the tort should be so extended Lord Diplock noted at pp. 188‑89:

 

    My Lords, conspiracy as a criminal offence has a long history. It consists of "the agreement of two or more persons to effect any unlawful purpose, whether as their ultimate aim, or only as a means to it, and the crime is complete if there is such agreement, even though nothing is done in pursuance of it."  I cite from Viscount Simon L.C.'s now classic speech in Crofter Hand Woven Harris Tweed Co. Ltd. v. Veitch, [1942] A.C. 435, 439. Regarded as a civil tort, however, conspiracy is a highly anomalous cause of action. The gist of the cause of action is damage to the plaintiff; so long as it remains unexecuted the agreement which alone constitutes the crime of conspiracy, causes no damage; it is only acts done in execution of the agreement that are capable of doing that. So the tort, unlike the crime, consists not of agreement but of concerted action taken pursuant to agreement.

 

    Lord Diplock went on to observe that he was of the view that the rationale that had apparently fuelled the development of the tort in the late‑nineteenth and early‑twentieth centuries, namely that "a combination may make oppressive or dangerous that which if proceeded only from a single person would be otherwise" (see: Mogul Steamship Co. v. McGregor, Gow & Co. (1889), 23 Q.B.D. 598, at p. 616, per Bowen L.J.) was somewhat anachronistic in light of modern commercial developments.  Nevertheless he did not feel that this meant that the tort could now be dispensed with.  He said at p. 189:

 

    But to suggest today that acts done by one street‑corner grocer in concert with a second are more oppressive and dangerous to a competitor than the same acts done by a string of supermarkets under a single ownership or that a multinational conglomerate such as Lonrho or oil company such as Shell or B.P. does not exercise greater economic power than any combination of small businesses, is to shut one's eyes to what has been happening in the business and industrial world since the turn of the century and, in particular, since the end of World War II.  The civil tort of conspiracy to injure the plaintiff's commercial interests where that is the predominant purpose of the agreement between the defendants and of the acts done in execution of it which caused damage to the plaintiff, must I think be accepted by this House as too well‑established to be discarded however anomalous it may seem today.  It was applied by this House 80 years ago in Quinn v. Leathem, [1901] A.C. 495, and accepted as good law in the Crofter case [1942] A.C. 435, where it was made clear that injury to the plaintiff and not the self‑interest of the defendants must be the predominant purpose of the agreement in execution of which the damage‑causing acts were done.

 

    Having set out this groundwork and having thereby confirmed that the tort of conspiracy was applicable in circumstances where the defendants entered into an agreement the predominant purpose of which was to injure the plaintiff, Lord Diplock turned to the question whether the tort should be extended beyond these confines.  He concluded at p. 189:

 

This House, in my view, has an unfettered choice whether to confine the civil action of conspiracy to the narrow field to which alone it has an established claim or whether to extend this already anomalous tort beyond those narrow limits that are all that common sense and the application of the legal logic of the decided cases require.

 

    My Lords, my choice is unhesitatingly the same as that of Parker J. and all three members of the Court of Appeal.  I am against extending the scope of the civil tort of conspiracy beyond acts done in execution of an agreement entered into by two or more persons for the purpose not of protecting their own interests but of injuring the interests of the plaintiff.

 

    Lord Diplock's observations made clear that in order to succeed with the tort of conspiracy in England a plaintiff would have to demonstrate that the purpose for which parties acted in accordance with their agreement was to harm the plaintiff. The English Court of Appeal has recently had an opportunity to consider Lord Diplock's judgment in Lonrho (see: Metall und Rohstoff A.G. v. Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Inc., supra) and has confirmed at p. 604 that "the House plainly intended the presence of a predominant intention to injure to be the touchstone of an actionable conspiracy".   The Court of Appeal continued:

 

Where the predominant intention to injure is absent but the defendants pursuant to agreement commit torts against the plaintiff, the House held, we conclude, that common sense and the legal logic of the decided cases are satisfied if the plaintiff is denied a remedy in conspiracy and left to sue on the substantive torts.

 

Thus, regardless of whether the alleged conspirators used lawful or unlawful means, the law in England required the plaintiff to establish that the defendants entered into the agreement with the predominant purpose of injuring the plaintiff.

 

    Although Canadian jurisprudence has taken note of the developments in England, the law governing the tort of conspiracy in Canada is not in all respects the same as the law set out in Lonrho. Indeed, this Court had occasion to consider both the tort of conspiracy and Lord Diplock's observations in Lonrho in Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd. v. British Columbia Lightweight Aggregate Ltd., [1983] 1 S.C.R. 452.  Justice Estey stated at p. 468:

 

The question which must now be considered is whether the scope of the tort of conspiracy in this country extends beyond situations in which the defendants' predominant purpose is to cause injury to the plaintiff, and includes cases in which this intention to injure is absent but the conduct of the defendants is by itself unlawful, and in fact causes damage to the plaintiff.

 

    This passage made clear that this Court agreed with the House of Lords that where a plaintiff alleges that the defendants entered into an agreement whose predominant purpose was to injure the plaintiff and where the plaintiff alleges that he or she has in fact suffered damage as a result of the agreement, then regardless of the lawfulness of the means that the defendants are alleged to have used to implement the agreement the plaintiff will have made out a cognizable claim in the tort of conspiracy.

 

    But what of situations in which the plaintiff alleges that there was an agreement that involved the use of unlawful means and that resulted in the plaintiff's suffering damage?  Must the plaintiff also establish that the predominant purpose of the agreement was to injure him or her?  It is in answering this question that Estey J. chose to follow a somewhat different path from Lord Diplock.  Estey J. was of the view that it was not appropriate to go as far as the House of Lords had gone in precluding the action.  He said at pp. 471‑72:

 

    Although the law concerning the scope of the tort of conspiracy is far from clear, I am of the opinion that whereas the law of tort does not permit an action against an individual defendant who has caused injury to the plaintiff, the law of torts does recognize a claim against them in combination as the tort of conspiracy if:

 

(1)whether the means used by the defendants are lawful or unlawful, the predominant purpose of the defendants' conduct is to cause injury to the plaintiff; or,

 

(2)where the conduct of the defendants is unlawful, the conduct is directed towards the plaintiff (alone or together with others), and the defendants should know in the circumstances that injury to the plaintiff is likely to and does result.

 

In situation (2) it is not necessary that the predominant purpose of the defendants' conduct be to cause injury to the plaintiff but, in the prevailing circumstances, it must be a constructive intent derived from the fact that the defendants should have known that injury to the plaintiff would ensue.  In both situations, however, there must be actual damage suffered by the plaintiff. [Emphasis added.]

 

    Estey J.'s summary of the law in Canada suggests that in cases falling into the second category it may not be necessary to prove actual intent. As Fridman has noted in The Law of Torts in Canada, vol. 2, at p. 265:

 

    The difference between the English and Canadian formulations of the tort of conspiracy lies in the way the intent of the defendants is expressed.  The language of Lord Diplock seems to indicate that the necessary intent should be actual.  That of Estey J. suggests that it may be possible for a court to infer an intent to injure from the circumstances even if the defendants deny they acted with any such intent.

 

Fridman goes on to observe at pp. 265‑66

 

    In modern Canada, therefore, conspiracy as a tort comprehends three distinct situations.  In the first place there will be an actionable conspiracy if two or more persons agree and combine to act unlawfully with the predominating purpose of injuring the plaintiff.  Second, there will be an actionable conspiracy if the defendants combine to act lawfully with the predominating purpose of injuring the plaintiff.  Third, an actionable conspiracy will exist if defendants combine to act unlawfully, their conduct is directed towards the plaintiff (or the plaintiff and others), and the likelihood of injury to the plaintiff is known to the defendants or should have been known to them in the circumstances.

 

In my view, this passage provides a useful summary of the current state of the law in Canada with respect to the tort of conspiracy. Whether it is "good law", it seems to me, it is not for the Court to consider in this proceeding where the issue is simply whether the plaintiff's pleadings disclose a reasonable cause of action.  I agree completely with Esson J.A. that it is not appropriate at this stage to engage in a detailed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Canadian law on the tort of conspiracy.

 

    I note that in this appeal Mr. Hunt was clearly fully aware of Estey J.'s observation in Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd. when he prepared paragraphs 18 and 19 of his statement of claim.  Paragraph 18 of his statement of claim follows faithfully the first proposition that Estey J. put forward at p. 471, alleging that some or all of the defendants "conspired with each other with the predominant purpose of injuring" Mr. Hunt.  Paragraph 19 of the statement of claim presents an alternative argument that is faithful to the wording of Estey J.'s second proposition, alleging that "some or all of the defendants conspired with each other to prevent by unlawful means this knowledge becoming public knowledge and, in particular, to prevent it reaching the plaintiff and others who would be exposed to the asbestos fibres in the Products, in circumstances where the defendants knew or ought to have known that injury to the plaintiff" would result.  If there is a defect in Mr. Hunt's statement of claim, it is certainly not that paragraphs 18 or 19 fail to follow the language of this Court's most recent pronouncement on the conditions that must be met in order to ground a claim in the tort of conspiracy.  In other words, given this Court's most recent pronouncement on the circumstances in which the law of torts will recognize such a claim, it is not "plain and obvious" that the plaintiff's statement of claim fails to disclose a reasonable claim.

 

    The defendants contend, however, that this Court's recent pronouncements, as well as those of courts in England, make clear that the tort of conspiracy cannot be invoked outside a commercial law context and that it certainly cannot be invoked in personal injury litigation.  They point out that in Lonrho, supra, at p. 189, Lord Diplock was not prepared to extend the tort to cover the facts of the case before him.  They emphasize that Estey J. displayed a measure of sympathy for Lord Diplock's reluctance to extend the scope of the tort when he stated at p. 473 of Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd.:

 

    The tort of conspiracy to injure, even without the extension to include a conspiracy to perform unlawful acts where there is a constructive intent to injure, has been the target of much criticism throughout the common law world.  It is indeed a commercial anachronism as so aptly illustrated by Lord Diplock in Lonrho, supra, at pp. 188‑89.  In fact, the action may have lost much of its usefulness in our commercial world, and survives in our law as an anomaly.  Whether that be so or not, it is now too late in the day to uproot the tort of conspiracy to injure from the common law world.  No doubt the reaction of the courts in the future will be to restrict its application for the very reasons that some now advocate its demise.

 

    Finally, the defendants point to my observations in Frame v. Smith, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 99, where I had occasion to consider whether the tort of conspiracy might be extended to cover a case in which a father was suing his former wife for denying him access to his children.  Although I was in dissent in the final result, the Court agreed with my observations about the tort of conspiracy (see La Forest J. at p. 109).  The defendants place a good deal of weight on my suggestion, at p. 124, that "the criticisms which have been levelled at the tort give good reason to pause before extending it beyond the commercial context".  I concluded that even although the tort could in theory be extended to the facts of Frame, it was not desirable to extend the tort to the custody and access context.

 

    Not surprisingly, the defendants contend that it would be equally inappropriate to extend the tort of conspiracy to cover the facts of this case.  The difficulty I have, however, is that in this appeal we are asked to consider whether the allegations of conspiracy should be struck from the plaintiff's statement of claim, not whether the plaintiff will be successful in convincing a court that the tort of conspiracy should extend to cover the facts of this case.  In other words, the question  before us is simply whether it is "plain and obvious" that the statement of claim contains a radical defect.

 

    Is it plain and obvious that allowing this action to proceed amounts to an abuse of process?  I do not think so.  While there has clearly been judicial reluctance to extend the scope of the tort beyond the commercial context, I do not think this Court has ever suggested that the tort could not have application in other contexts.  While Estey J. expressed the view in Canada Cement LaFarge Ltd., supra, at p. 473, that the action had lost much of its usefulness, and while I noted in Frame v. Smith, supra, at pp. 124‑25, that some have even suggested that consideration should be given to abolishing the tort entirely (see: Burns, "Civil Conspiracy: An Unwieldy Vessel Rides a Judicial Tempest" (1982), 16 U.B.C. L. Rev. 229, at p. 254), we both affirmed the ongoing existence of the tort at the date of these judgments.  In my view, it would be highly inappropriate for this Court to deny a litigant who is capable of fitting his allegations into Estey J.'s two‑pronged summary of the law on civil conspiracy the opportunity to persuade a court that the facts are as alleged and that the tort of conspiracy should be held to apply on these facts.  While courts should pause before extending the tort beyond its existing confines, careful consideration might conceivably lead to the conclusion that the tort has a useful role to play in new contexts.

 

    I note that in Frame v. Smith, supra, at p. 125, I was not prepared to extend the tort of conspiracy to the custody and access context both because such an extension was not in the best interests of children and because such an extension would not have been consistent with the rationale that underlies the tort of conspiracy: "namely that the tort be available where the fact of combination creates an evil which does not exist in the absence of combination".  But in the appeal now before us it seems to me much less obvious that a similar conclusion would necessarily be reached.  If the facts as alleged by the plaintiff are true, and for the purposes of this appeal we must assume that they are, then it may well be that an agreement between corporations to withhold information about a toxic product might give rise to harm of a magnitude that could not have arisen from the decision of just one company to withhold such information.  There may, accordingly, be good reason to extend the tort to this context. However, this is precisely the kind of question that it is for the trial judge to consider in light of the evidence.  It is not for this Court on a motion to strike out portions of a statement of claim to reach a decision one way or the other as to the plaintiff's chances of success. As the law that spawned the "plain and obvious" test makes clear, it is enough that the plaintiff has some chance of success.

 

    The issues that will arise at the trial of the plaintiff's action in conspiracy will unquestionably be difficult.  The plaintiff may have to make complex submissions about whether the evidence establishes that the defendants conspired either with a view to causing him harm or in circumstances where they should have known that their actions would cause him harm. He may well have to make novel arguments concerning whether it is enough that the defendants knew or ought to have known that a class of which the plaintiff was a member would suffer harm.  The trial judge might conclude, as some of the defendants have submitted, that the plaintiff should have sued the defendants as joint tortfeasors rather than alleging the tort of conspiracy.  But this Court's statements in Inuit Tapirisat of Canada and Operation Dismantle Inc., as well as decisions such as Dyson and Drummond‑Jackson, make clear that none of these considerations may be taken into account on an application brought under Rule 19(24) of the British Columbia Rules of Court.

 

    In my view, Anderson and Esson JJ.A. were entirely correct in suggesting that it should be left to the trial judge to ascertain whether the plaintiff can establish that the predominant purpose of the alleged conspiracy was to injure the plaintiff.  It seems to me that they were also correct in suggesting that it should be left to the trial judge to consider the merits of any arguments that may be advanced to the effect that the "predominant purpose" test should be modified in the context of this case.  Similarly, it seems to me that the argument that some of the defendants advanced, to the effect that Quebec's Business Concerns Records Act, R.S.Q. 1977, c. D‑12, might limit the range of information that the defendants could produce at trial, is a matter that is not relevant to the question whether the plaintiff's statement of claim discloses a reasonable claim.

 

    The fact that a pleading reveals "an arguable, difficult or important point of law" cannot justify striking out part of the statement of claim.  Indeed, I would go so far as to suggest that where a statement of claim reveals a difficult and important point of law, it may well be critical that the action be allowed to proceed.  Only in this way can we be sure that the common law in general, and the law of torts in particular, will continue to evolve to meet the legal challenges that arise in our modern industrial society.

 

    Finally, the defendants also submit that a cause of action in conspiracy is not available when a plaintiff has available another cause of action.  Since the plaintiff has alleged in paragraph 20 of his statement of claim that the defendants engaged in various tortious acts, the defendants contend that it is not open to the plaintiff to proceed with his claim in conspiracy.

 

    In my view, there are at least two problems with this submission.  First, while it may be arguable that if one succeeds under a distinct nominate tort against an individual defendant, then an action in conspiracy should not be available against that defendant, it is far from clear that the mere fact that a plaintiff alleges that a defendant committed other torts is a bar to pleading the tort of conspiracy.  It seems to me that one can only determine whether the plaintiff should be barred from recovery under the tort of conspiracy once one ascertains whether he has established that the defendant did in fact commit the other alleged torts.  And while on a motion to strike we are required to assume that the facts as pleaded are true, I do not think that it is open to us to assume that the plaintiff will necessarily succeed in persuading the court that these facts establish the commission of the other alleged nominate torts.  Thus, even if one were to accept the appellants' (defendants) submission that "upon proof of the commission of the tortious acts alleged" in paragraph 20 of the plaintiff's statement of claim "the conspiracy merges with the tort", one simply could not decide whether this "merger" had taken place without first deciding whether the plaintiff had proved that the other tortious acts had been committed.

 

    This brings me to the second difficulty I have with the defendants' submission.  It seems to me totally inappropriate on a motion to strike out a statement of claim to get into the question whether the plaintiff's allegations concerning other nominate torts will be successful.  This a matter that should be considered at trial where evidence with respect to the other torts can be led and where a fully informed decision about the applicability of the tort of conspiracy can be made in light of that evidence and the submissions of counsel.  If the plaintiff is successful with respect to the other nominate torts, then the trial judge can consider the defendants' arguments about the unavailability of the tort of conspiracy.  If the plaintiff is unsuccessful with respect to the other nominate torts, then the trial judge can consider whether he might still succeed in conspiracy.  Regardless of the outcome, it seems to me inappropriate at this stage in the proceedings to reach a conclusion about the validity of the defendants' claims about merger.  I believe that this matter is also properly left for the consideration of the trial judge.

 

    In the result the appellants have not demonstrated that those portions of the respondent's statement of claim which allege the tort of conspiracy fail to disclose a reasonable claim.  They should not therefore be struck out under Rule 19(24)(a) of the British Columbia Rules of Court.

 

5. Disposition

 

    The appeal should be dismissed with costs.

 

    Appeals dismissed with costs.

 

    Solicitors for Carey Canada Inc.:  Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy, Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for Lac d'amiante du Québec Ltée:  Davis & Co., Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for National Gypsum Co.:  Koenigsberg & Russell, Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for Atlas Turner Inc., Asbestos Corporation Limited and Bell Asbestos Mines Limited:  Douglas, Symes & Brissenden, Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for T & N, P.L.C.:  Macaulay & Company, Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for Flintkote Mines Limited:  Edwards, Kenny & Bray, Vancouver.

 

    Solicitors for George Ernest Hunt:  Ladner Downs, Vancouver.

 

 



     *    Chief Justice at the time of judgment.

 

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