Abdullah Almalki, et al. v. Stockwoods LLP
(Ontario) (Civil) (By Leave)
Contracts - Formation, Validity - Contracts — Formation — Validity — Contingency fee agreements — Do the lower court rulings align with the principles governing statutory interpretation articulated by this Court? — Do contracts for legal services have a special character affording more protection to the client than ordinary commercial contracts and should the duty of solicitors to act with fairness and openness and to explain terms of a retainer to their clients, recognized in some provinces, be a duty imposed nationwide? —Did the lower courts err by finding the applicants were not entitled to make submissions opposing any request for relief by Stockwoods and that the applicants were not to argue that there were no exceptional circumstances? — Solicitors Act, RSO 1990, c S.15, s. 28.1(8)
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Abdullah Almalki brought an action in 2006 against the Government of Canada alleging complicity and responsibility for his imprisonment and torture in Syria. After three years, Mr. Almalki’s counsel was unwilling to proceed to trial so Mr. Almalki and his family entered into a contingency fee agreement with Stockwoods LLP. The agreement contained a provision which, should exceptional circumstances arise, required Mr. Almalki to support a joint application for a portion of any costs award. Mr. Almalki was encouraged to seek independent legal advice prior to signing the contingency fee agreement. As time went on, Mr. Almalki agreed to waive any conflict between himself and two other complainants so that Stockwoods could combine their actions. On the eve of trial, a settlement was reached. After the settlement, Stockwoods brought a motion seeking approval of a portion of costs given the exceptional circumstances of the case. Mr. Almalki opposed the motion. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice determined that the contingency fee agreement did not violate the Solicitors Act, RSO 1990, c S.15 and prohibited Mr. Almalki from opposing Stockwoods’ motion for a portion of costs. The judge concluded that exceptional circumstances existed in this case justifying an award of a portion of settlement costs. A unanimous Court of Appeal for Ontario dismissed the appeal along with an application for leave to appeal.
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