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This is Why we Can’t Have Nice Things – QCCA Pushes Back on Motions to Extend the Delay to Inscribe

This is Why we Can’t Have Nice Things – QCCA Pushes Back on Motions to Extend the Delay to Inscribe

On March 18, 2022, the QCCA overturned the QCCS’s granting of an application to extend the delay to inscribe for trial.

Why should you care? If you’ve come to take for granted applications to extend the delay to inscribe as routine procedural nuisances requiring mere rubber-stamping by the court, the QCCA is telling us to pay closer attention.

The respondents in De Luca v. Carlucci, 2022 QCCA 392 filed their claim in December 2018 for repayment of a loan of an “important sum”. Read: this is a meaningful claim. In the context of the unfolding file and after a first extension of the delay to inscribe, the respondents filed a second motion to extend the delay to inscribe inside the delay for inscription, initially presentable 5 days later but then adjourned sine die. It was finally presented 10 months later, only once the other party wrote to moving counsel advising as to a presumed discontinuance of the action.

At the presentation of the motion, which was contested, no reasons were provided to explain the delay in presenting. The Superior Court granted the extension of the delay. The other party appealed, and the Court of Appeal sided with it: there was a presumed renunciation from the motion (and thus the action).

10 months is certainly not the most egregious delay for presentation of a motion to prolong the delay that I have ever heard of, and it likely isn’t yours either. It is fair to say that the Quebec Court of Appeal has picked up on a practice among practitioners – filing motions to extend the delay as a safeguard of one’s right to extend, only to present that motion months (or years?) later:

[7] Les intimés rétorquent qu’ayant été déposée dans le délai imparti par le Code de procédure civile, la demande de prolongation de délai du 13 janvier 2021, remise sine die plutôt que rayée du rôle d’audience, a survécu jusqu’à ce qu’elle soit notifiée de nouveau plusieurs mois plus tard. En ce sens, ils soumettent que l’article 177 C.p.c. est inapplicable et que la juge a eu raison d’accueillir leur demande.

By the present judgment, the Quebec Court of Appeal quashes that practice. But is that all it is saying? I don’t think so. This is perhaps one of many practices that has slowly and insidiously established itself as practitioners have come to expect that motions to extend the delay (especially the first three such motions) will be granted with little scrutiny, allowing cases to drag on longer and longer. The high threshold for the renunciation of any right, especially one as critical as the ability to continue an action before the Court, suggests the Court has gone the extra mile to make a point.

[8] En vertu de l’article 173 C.p.c., le demandeur dispose d’un délai de six mois afin d’inscrire l’affaire pour instruction et jugement. Il s’agit d’un délai de rigueur. Ce délai peut toutefois être prolongé par le tribunal si le demandeur dépose une demande à cet égard avant l’échéance du délai et le convainc du degré de complexité de l’affaire ou de circonstances spéciales justifiant le délai additionnel requis.

[9] Une telle demande, il est vrai, suspend le délai de rigueur de l’article 173 C.p.c. mais pour combien de temps? En d’autres termes, une demande en prolongation de délai remise sine die peut-elle survivre plusieurs semaines, voire plusieurs mois, sans autre explication, ou les intimés sont-ils plutôt présumés s’être désistés de leur demande initiale compte tenu de leur inaction une fois la demande remise sine die?

[10] La Cour est d’avis qu’il serait contraire non seulement à l’esprit du Code de procédure civile mais aussi à ses principes directeurs de permettre à une partie de se soustraire de manière indéfinie aux délais de rigueur auxquels elle est assujettie, en ne présentant pas promptement sa demande de prolongation de délai. Une telle façon de faire équivaut ni plus ni moins à suspendre le déroulement du dossier judiciaire et à contourner les exigences du Code de procédure civile.

The court is arguably doing more here than simply citing the text of 173 CCP – it reminds us that extensions of the delay are to be granted based on real, verifiable factors like the complexity of the file and other special circumstances. Cases should not by default drag on and on. Justice should be accessible and procedure simple, fair and proportionate. At a minimum, abuses of procedural rights won’t be tolerated.

This decision, which was brought to my attention by my colleague David Grossman, reminds me of a blog post of his published in November 2019. David might call this a “muffin” case, where procedure becomes a proxy for an examination of what’s really going on in the file. Maybe this was just an anomalous decision warranted on the facts of a file where nothing was really happening; the claim wasn’t being taken seriously, and the dismissal of the file aligns with the reality of the case upon a substantive check-in from the court.  

Maybe others of us will think of it this way: one guy pushed it too far and ruined a convenient loophole for the rest of us.

I choose to believe we can do better.

The Court’s decision in 2022 QCCA 392 is already being cited by adjudicators with a warning tone about the Court of Appeal’s stricter approach to the extension of delays in Superior Court matters. Seems like it’s a warning tone that we would all best heed.

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