Class actions are the litigation trend of the 21st century. They provide Plaintiffs who have similar claims with a powerful new tool to band together. They pose new challenges for Defendants who must now face novel claims seeking large payouts, sometimes in the billions of dollars. Both sides need expert legal counsel to guide them through this new landscape. That’s where we come in.
Field Law has plenty of experience in complex and mass tort litigation where the stakes are high. We have defended billion dollar construction suits, pursued claims against governments for injury to hundreds, even thousands, of plaintiffs, and handled some of the longest and most complicated trials in Alberta and Canada. We enjoy helping clients with their challenges.
So class actions are a natural for us. Field Law is the Alberta firm on the team that negotiated the $5 billion Indian Residential School class action settlement. Field Law is the firm Alberta hospitals turned to when news stories about improperly-sterilized medical equipment became class action lawsuits. We believe you will get better service from a law firm that knows what it’s like to have been on both sides of a class action.
Class Actions – A Primer
Any individual who is prepared to act as a representative plaintiff can commence a class action. The power of the procedure is that the lawsuit commenced by a representative plaintiff exposes the defendant to the multiplied risk of many claims in a single process. Class actions are a substitute for multiple plaintiff – similar claim litigation and the resulting profusion of individual lawsuits. For instance, one person exposed downstream to carcinogenic material can sue on behalf of all who are or were exposed.
Class actions are creatures of statute – in Alberta, the Class Proceedings Act. A class action is a lawsuit commenced by a single party ("representative plaintiff") on his or her own behalf and on behalf of all those other persons ("the class") with a claim for a remedy for the same or a similar alleged wrong.
In theory, the differences between a class action and an ordinary action are merely procedural, and the substantive law as to the causes of action, causation, damages and so forth does not differ from an individual action.
The representative plaintiff instructs and works with counsel, enters into a fee agreement with counsel (subject to Court approval and generally a contingency arrangement) and is exposed personally to costs (in Alberta), all on behalf of the class.
Upon certification in Alberta, all residents of the province who meet the class definition are deemed to be members of the class, unless he or she opts out. Alberta law has recently changed so that like other jurisdictions (e.g. Saskatchewan, Ontario), a non-resident is also a member of the class unless he or she opts out.
In Alberta, class actions have been available since April 1, 2004 – when the legislation was proclaimed into force.
A class action must be commenced within the applicable limitation period, like any other lawsuit.
Class actions in Alberta are started in the Court of Queen's Bench. The usual jurisdictional rules apply to the proceedings, including with respect to jurisdiction over defendants outside the province.
A class action can purport to have "reach" outside Alberta as to the composition of the class, but this is an "opt in" jurisdiction – the class only includes members from outside the province who choose to join the class.
Class action legislation was enacted to serve three purposes:
- Enhancement of Justice – improve access to the courts, avoid inconsistent findings
- Judicial economy – one suit, not many
- Behaviour modification - greater deterrence of wrongdoing
Filing a Statement of Claim commences a class action. The action is case managed from the start. The first order of business, often before Statements of Defence are filed or records are produced, is the application for certification.
In order to proceed as a class action, an action must be certified – i.e. approved by the Court of Queen's Bench a class action – pursuant to the provisions of the Class Proceedings Act, Part 1.
Section 5 sets out the test for certification:
5(1) In order for a proceeding to be certified as a class proceeding on an application made under section 2 or 3, the Court must be satisfied as to each of the following:
- the pleadings disclose a cause of action;
- there is an identifiable class of 2 or more persons;
- the claims of the prospective class members raise a common issue, whether or not the common issue predominates over issues affecting only individual prospective class members;
- a class proceeding would be the preferable procedure for the fair and efficient resolution of the common issues;
- there is a person eligible to be appointed as a representative plaintiff who, in the opinion of the Court,
- will fairly and adequately represent the interests of the class,
- has produced a plan for the proceeding that sets out a workable method of advancing the proceeding on behalf of the class and of notifying class members of the proceeding, and
- does not have, in respect of the common issues, an interest that is in conflict with the interests of other prospective class members.
If certified, the action will then go through the usual steps of filing and service of pleadings (including possible third party Notices), record production, examination for discovery, exchange of expert reports and trial.
Trial will resolve the common issues and further proceedings will be required to resolve individual issues, such as damages assessment. Settlement is subject to court approval on notice to the class members, who can opt out of a settlement should they choose. The results of trial or an approved settlement bind all class members unless they opt out.
Honeybee Class Action
Field Law has commenced a $200-million proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of Canadian beekeepers against the Federal Government for its alleged negligence in maintaining a prohibition on the importation of live honeybee colonies from the mainland United States after December 31, 2006.
The plaintiffs are 3 Western Canadian beekeeping operations, which collectively maintain about 8,000 honeybee colonies.
Each year Canadian beekeepers import thousands of live honeybee colonies, or "packages", which are toaster-sized boxes containing a queen bee and about 6,000 worker bees. The U.S. is the natural source of these bee packages due to proximity, cost and adaptability of U.S. bees to the Canadian seasonal cycle. However, the border closure has forced the plaintiffs to resort to other more expensive methods to obtain the needed honeybees to fill their hives.
The lawsuit claims that the Federal Government was negligent in refusing without lawful authority to grant Canadian beekeepers’ applications for import permits for U.S. packages. The lawsuit further claims that the Federal Government has abdicated its role as regulator, substituted regional political considerations for bee science, and failed to conduct timely or adequate risk assessment, monitoring and consultation.
The proposed class action seeks compensation for losses suffered due to the border closure after December 31, 2006 by approximately 1,000 beekeepers maintaining approximately half a million honeybee colonies.
Statement of Claim and Proposed Action
Statement of Defence
Plaintiff's Notice of Motion for Certification (September 12, 2013)
Crown's Notice of Motion to Strike (November 8, 2013)
Crown's Written Representations in support of Strike Motion (November 8, 2013)
Plaintiffs' Written Representations in response to Strike Motion (November 29, 2013)
Crown's Reply Written Representations (December 5, 2013)
Order to Strike (March 5, 2014)
Notice of Appeal (March 28, 2014)
Appellants' Motion Record for Determination of Contents of Appeal Book (May 21, 2014)
Respondents' Motion Record for Determination of Contents of Appeal Book (June 5, 2014)
Reply to Respondent's Written Representations set out in Respondent's Motion Record (June 11, 2014)
Order of Mainville J.A. (June 23, 2014)
Appellants' Memorandum of Fact and Law (August 20, 2014)
Respondents' Memorandum of Fact and Law (September 26, 2014)
Judgement (April 8, 2015)
Reasons for Judgement (April 8, 2015)
Notice of Application for Leave to Appeal (June 5, 2015)
Memorandum of Argument of the Applicants for Leave to Appeal (June 5, 2015)
Response to the Application for Leave to Appeal (August 10, 2015)
SCC Decision on Leave to Appeal (October 29, 2015)
Amended Statement of Claim (January 7, 2016)
Amended Statement of Defence (February 1, 2016)
Plaintiff’s Memorandum of Fact and Law (October 28, 2016)
Respondent’s Certification Memorandum (December 12, 2016)
Plaintiff’s Reply Motion Record (January 13, 2017)
If you are a commercial beekeeper and wish to register with us as a member of the proposed Class, please email firstname.lastname@example.org and provide the following information:
Name of Business:
Email, phone and address:
Size of business by number of colonies: