The Ontario Court of Justice earlier this month certified a class action against Dell Canada Inc. for alleged damage caused to about 120,000 individuals, corporations, and government agencies by allegedly defective notebook computers. See Griffin v. Dell Canada Inc., Ontario Superior Court of Justice, No. 07-CV-325223D2 (2/3/09). Here at MassTortDefense, we have posted about just how difficult Canada is becoming as a jurisdiction for class actions defendants. Frequently, identical consumer products, drugs, and medical devices are marketed in Canada as well as the U.S.

The court concluded that a class action was the preferred option to address the issues, that it was “fanciful” to think that any claimant could pursue an individual claim in a complex products liability case, and rejected Dell’s arguments that an arbitration clause in its terms and conditions of sale precluded direct litigation by its customers.

The court minimized the importance under the Class Proceedings Act of plaintiffs’ obligation to produce a workable litigation plan. Such a plan is necessary to help the court decide whether a class action is the preferable procedure, and whether the litigation is manageable. The more complex the litigation, the more detailed a plan is needed that indicates how to manage the litigation. The court ruled, however, that the plaintiff is not required to show that there is a fair, efficient, and manageable method of resolving the claim, but only that there is a fair, efficient, and manageable method for advancing the claim. Order at para. 95. Who cares about theoretical advancement if the claim cannot efficiently be resolved?  A class proceeding in this case achieved this lesser goal and met the objective of judicial economy, even though plaintiff’s plan provided no detail of the resources the class law firm has to administer a claims process of this dimension to ensure that the interests of class members are protected, and there was no analysis of the resources that will be required to litigate the class members’ claims to conclusion. Nevertheless, the court went ahead and certified the action conditionally, subject to the plaintiffs producing an acceptable litigation plan. Order at para. 102.

The court rejected Dell Canada’s argument that the significant individual issues involved in each of the potential claims far outweigh the common issues, as merely a “familiar refrain.” Order at para. 90.  Perhaps it is familiar because it is frequently true? The court concluded that the trial judge will be able to fashion efficient and fair trial plan procedures using the extensive powers and discretion conferred on the court by Sec. 25 of Ontario’s Class Proceedings Act. The prospect of individualized mini-trials on whether, and to what extent, other factors contributed to the computer failures did not deter the certification. Nor did potentially difficult issues of causation and damages. Order at para. 90.

Dell did not propose that consumers undertake individual lawsuits, but argued that adjudication through arbitration administered by the National Arbitration Forum, as specified in Dell’s terms and conditions of sale, was preferable to a class action. The court found, however, that arbitration was not the kind of process that would be easy for class members to navigate without legal representation. The multitude of individual issues that Dell says precludes class treatment would also lead to more complex and therefore more costly arbitration hearings, said the court. Order at para. 92-93.

“On the other hand, aggregating similar individual actions in a class proceeding avoids unnecessary duplication of fact-finding and analysis, and distributes fixed litigation costs among class members, making it economical to prosecute this claim, thereby improving access to justice.” Order at para. 93.