Case Report – BCCA says implied undertaking rule does not have a necessary disclosure component

11 Sep

On September 10th, the British Columbia Court of Appeal dismissed an application for leave to appeal in a novel application for contempt based on an alleged breach of the implied undertaking rule.

The plaintiffs alleged that the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia unnecessarily disclosed obtained information in materials served on third parties in support of a production order. They relied on an ICBC internal policy that recommended (in part) that such information only be disclosed in third-party production motion materials as “absolutely necessary.” The application was dismissed and the Court of Appeal dismissed the application for leave to appeal, holding that the appeal was not prima facie meritorious.

The Court of Appeal quoted the following passage from the application judge’s decision:

It is a matter of judgment to be exercised by counsel what information obtained by parties through the litigation discovery process needs to be disclosed to non parties in furtherance of the litigation in which that information has been obtained.

Any court-imposed constraint on that judgment is antithetical to the underlying rationale of court compelled disclosure, with its necessary intrusion on a litigant’s general right to privacy. That rationale is the need to do justice between the parties.

Implicit in the law and Rules governing disclosure is the proposition that justice between the parties is best assured when disclosure of all relevant evidence from whatever source may be compelled by the court, subject to claims of privilege.

Imposition of constraints on the parties’ use of information obtained through the discovery process in the litigation in which it is obtained, by expanding the scope of the implied undertaking, could inhibit counsel in their investigation of the case and undermine the rationale for court compelled disclosure.

***

The law delineating the scope of the implied undertaking of confidentiality respecting use of information obtained through the litigation discovery process draws a bright line. Use of that information within the litigation is permitted use. Use outside the litigation for an “alien” or “collateral” purpose is not permitted without the consent of the affected party or an order of the court.

That bright line tends to expedite litigation, which is the goal of all recent reforms of civil litigation procedure in various jurisdictions. An obscure line would tend to promote procedural controversy, which is antithetical to that goal. The current bright line sacrifices litigants’ privacy for more procedural certainty. Its ultimate goal is to achieve a just result in the litigation.

The plaintiffs’ applications seek to have the court impose the policy reflected in s. 8.3.2 of the Manual as a constraint on the use of information obtained through the litigation discovery process within the litigation. If the court were to impose that policy by expanding the scope of the implied undertaking of confidentiality to limit use of information obtained through the litigation discovery process within the litigation in which it was obtained, the bright line would become an obscure line. There is no precedent for imposing such a policy. For the reasons stated, I decline to do so.

Jampolsky v. Shattler, 2007 BCCA 439.

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