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What Is Summary Judgment?

Court hearings are often based on two critical discussions: the interpretation of questions of law and the examination of facts. However, only some cases require a comprehensive trial. A summary judgment can resolve some issues. In civil cases like this, a moving party asks the court to apply the law to an undisputed fact. Then, the court makes a ruling without proceeding to a full trial. Summary judgment streamlines the judicial process. It often saves both parties time and resources.

This article will teach you about summary judgment, its purpose, and the process involved. It will also discuss the circumstances under which this motion can impact the outcome of a case.

What Is the Purpose of a Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is a pretrial motion that promptly resolves legal actions where the parties have no genuine issues with any material fact. The court produces a judgment for one party against the opposing party without needing a full trial.

How a Motion for Summary Judgment Works

When a party believes no crucial facts are under dispute, they can file a motion for summary judgment. A typical summary judgment process has three parts. For this example, let's assume that the plaintiff filed the motion and that the defendant must now respond.

1. Presenting the facts

First, the plaintiff will present a version of the facts. The plaintiff usually attaches photos, signed witness statements (affidavits), depositions, and any other evidence to back up their arguments about the facts.

2. Explaining the law

Next, the plaintiff will argue about the statement of law. The plaintiff's attorney will write a memorandum discussing the statutes and cases governing the parties. They will attempt to convince the judge that the plaintiff is entitled to win the case under state or federal law.

3. Anticipating arguments

The plaintiff will anticipate the defendant's argument in the last part of the summary judgment motion. The plaintiff will try to prove they will still win the case even if the defendant is correct in their arguments.

For example, the plaintiff in a case about squatter's rights might claim they lived on a piece of property for 15 years. They anticipate that the defendant will argue that the plaintiff has only lived on the property for 10 years. In this case, the plaintiff can argue that even if they had only lived on the property for 10 years, that is still enough time to win on a claim of squatter's rights.

In their response, the defendant can either try to show that the plaintiff's arguments about the law are conclusory or that there is evidence that there could be more than one version of the facts.

Role of Evidence in Summary Judgment

When judges consider a motion for summary judgment, the evidence presented by the moving party is critical.

However, according to the landmark case of Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), the court does not require the moving party to submit an affidavit or other similar evidence supporting the motion. Instead, the movant should show that there is no genuine issue of material fact. The court looks at all the evidence on record, even those not cited in the pleadings.

Suppose the movant successfully demonstrates that there are no triable issues and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In that case, the judge will grant the motion and enter a final judgment in favor of the movant, effectively ending the case without civil litigation.

Note that when considering the motion for summary judgment, the judges look at the evidence in a light that is the most favorable to the opposing party or the nonmoving party. This ensures the court draws all inferences in favor of the party opposing the motion.

The Judge's Decision

After submission of all the papers and supporting evidence, the judge will review all the paperwork and decide. Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court will grant the motion for summary judgment if the plaintiff shows the following:

  • There is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and
  • The movant is entitled to the judgment as a matter of law.

In ruling on the motion, the court can also issue any of the following court orders:

  • Reject the motion or continue the case for further discovery.
  • Evaluate evidence or arguments not presented in the motion.
  • Issue a summary judgment in favor of the nonmoving party
  • Vest a partial summary judgment

What Is Partial Summary Judgment?

A partial summary judgment is when the judge rules on certain factual issues in a case while leaving other issues to be determined during a trial. This approach allows the trial court to resolve some aspects of the case, particularly legal matters, without genuine dispute. Then, leave the other legal issues for the court to address during the trial.

Partial summary judgment streamlines the legal proceeding by narrowing down the issues for debate during the trial. This process is also beneficial in complex cases involving multiple issues.

Seek Legal Advice

It is best to seek legal advice if you are experiencing a legal issue involving a summary judgment. A civil law attorney can help you better understand your cause of action and navigate the complexities of litigation and appeals. They can provide tailored advice and evaluate your case effectively. Do not hesitate to contact a civil law attorney near you to handle your legal issues competently and protect your rights.

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