May 21, 2014

It’s a Courtroom, Not a Playground

Morland-Jones v. Taerk, 2014 ONSC 3061 (CanLII)
Two professional couples have been chided by an Ontario Superior Court justice for turning to the courts when “what they need is a rather stern kindergarten teacher.”
The decision, Morland-Jones v. Taerk, 2014 ONSC 3061, has become a social-media sensation within and outside the legal profession.
CanLII CEO Colin Lachance himself wrote a summary of the case. Lachance is among more than 150 folks who tweeted the decision within 24 hours of its release. He calls the case “A future litigation classic,” destined for the wide reach of the now-infamous R. v. Duncan case from last year. (First line: “Get out of town, the man said.”)
The case involves an oil company executive, a psychiatrist, and their spouses. They live across the street from each other in the tony Forest Hill area of midtown Toronto. The hearing was held April 25 and the decision was released May 20.
Professional Standing, Childish Behaviour
Justice E.M. Morgan takes both plaintiffs and defendants to task for “this gem of a lawsuit,” making reference to their professional standing, leafy neighbourhood, manicured lawns and numerous expensive cars. Despite their privilege and advantages, both couples behaved badly towards each other, Justice Morgan found.
Justice Morgan admonished the neighbours for wasting public resources on their petty complaints, which included parking legally but annoyingly, using each other’s garbage cans to dispose of dog feces, and videotaping each other. One home has 11 surveillance cameras, with one directed at the other home.
“They do not seem to like each other,” the justice notes in his endorsement.
Without a Lis to Stand On
Finding no serious legal issues to try, Justice Morgan dismissed the case.
“A court cannot order the Defendants to be nice to the Plaintiffs,” he wrote. “Litigation must focus on legal wrongs and legal rights – commodities which are in remarkably short supply in this action. The courts as public institutions are already bursting at the seams with all manner of claims. To add to that public burden the type of exchanges that these parties have engaged in would be to let the litigious society stray without a leash – or perhaps without a lis.”
Justice Morgan summed-up the case: “There is no claim for looking at the neighbour’s pretty house, parking a car legally but with malintent, engaging in faux photography on a public street, raising objections at a municipal hearing, walking on the sidewalk with dictaphone in hand, or just plain thinking badly of a person who lives nearby.”
Although both parties made costs submissions claiming tens of thousands in legal expenses, Justice Morgan found that “Each side deserves to bear its own costs.”