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What Is a Motion?

When you become involved in a lawsuit, you may want the court to agree to something outside the standard litigation process. For example, you or your opponent may want the court to drop the case (motion to dismiss) or decide the winner without undergoing a full trial (motion for summary judgment). You'll have to file a motion with the court to take advantage of these opportunities during litigation.

Motion Basics

A motion is a written request or proposal to the court to get an asked-for order, ruling, or direction. There are a variety of motions, and it has become standard practice to file certain motions with the court based on the type of case. For example, in California, the defendant in a defamation lawsuit will usually file an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss. If the court accepts the motion, the court will bar the plaintiff from proceeding with the case.

Courts usually have specific requirements for filing a motion. You must consult an attorney or look up the Rules of Civil Procedure to understand what you need as you move forward.

Common Motions in Litigation

In litigation, attorneys use various motions as part of their case strategy or to respond to developments. The most common types of motions include:

Motion to Compel

motion to compel is a pre-trial motion requesting the court to force the other party to produce the requested information or a document. In a civil action, parties sometimes fail to comply with the opposing party's discovery motions. When this happens, the moving party can file a motion to compel to force the opposing party to follow the request.

Motion for Temporary Relief

A criminal or civil case often takes months to complete. Because of this, the parties may file a motion for temporary relief, asking the court to issue a temporary order while the main issues of the case are still undergoing trial.

In temporary relief cases, courts look at several factors to determine whether the order is justified. These motions tell the other party what they should or should not do until the criminal or civil case is complete. They only last until the case is fully resolved by reaching an agreement or the court issuing a final order on all issues surrounding it.

Temporary orders are relevant when parties can't agree on essential issues. For instance, if the parties are going through divorce and can't agree on parenting time or child or spousal support. The court may also issue a temporary order involving marital assets, directing the parties to keep all assets intact until it makes a final determination on the division of the marital property.

Motion for Continuance

A party may also file a motion for continuance, asking the judge to postpone a hearing or court proceeding to reschedule it later. A party can file this motion for various reasons, such as needing more time to prepare for the hearing or key witnesses being unavailable.

Motion in Limine

Before the jury selection, a party can file a motion in limine in criminal or civil cases. The purpose of a motion in limine is to request the court to order the opposing party, its attorney, and witnesses not to speak or mention specific facts or evidence in the jury's presence. If the court approves the motion, the parties must seek the court's approval before introducing these certain facts during trial. The attorneys should seek approval outside of the presence of the jury.

Motion for Summary Judgment

Motions are quite diverse, but the most prevalent is a motion for summary judgment. A motion for summary judgment is a pre-trial motion. If you bring this to the court, you ask it to make a final ruling on the case before a trial. Depending on the case, this could greatly benefit you since you save time, money, and energy from litigating your case further. But, motions for summary judgments are not always available to litigating parties.

For the court to grant a motion for summary judgment, no genuine issue of material fact would necessitate a trial. This court rule is essential because if the judge grants the motion for summary judgment, the court makes decisions about the facts of the case at trial. It produces a resolution without oral arguments. If the court denies the motion, the judge or jury resolves the factual dispute.

If there are multiple issues in a given case, the court can resolve all issues in a summary judgment, or the court can issue a partial summary judgment. The court issues a partial summary judgment on the specific issues, resolving a part of the case while leaving other issues with disputed facts to trial.

To better understand what counts as a "genuine issue of material fact," consider the following example. Whether an intersection traffic light was red or green in a motor vehicle accident case may be relevant. Whether the light was red or green would be a question of fact. One witness may say the light was red, and another may say it was green. A fact-finder, either a judge or the jury, determines who to believe at trial.

So, the court will deny the motion for summary judgment, and the court will determine the fact in dispute. Or, if both sides agree that the traffic light was the same color, this fact is no longer disputed and is not a genuine issue of material fact. If there is no genuine issue of material fact, the court can rule on a motion for summary judgment as courts can interpret questions of pure law. So, a trial becomes unnecessary if a case involves only legal issues and no factual issues. The court can resolve the entire case through a motion for summary judgment if the motion addresses all the issues involved in that case.

Hearing vs. Non-Hearing Motions

A motion either requires a hearing or doesn't, and the judge may decide whether to hold a hearing on certain motions on a case-by-case basis. You may request a hearing on your motion.

For a non-hearing motion, the court will decide based only on written submissions, such as memoranda or briefs, in legalese. The court also considers supporting affidavits, documents, or other evidence submitted.

For a hearing motion, the attorneys must appear before the court and argue the motion. Their appearance is in addition to making written submissions to the court and submitting support affidavits, documents, and other evidence. After hearing and non-hearing motions, the court will decide and issue its order. The court order resulting from motions often gets issued in writing. It may include the reason behind the court decision. This written order is crucial for enforceability and clarity as well as for potential appeals in the future.

Purpose of a Motion

Motions can help your case in several ways. For instance, you can use them to get information, dismiss cases, or trim them down. They can be simple, such as a basic request to extend a deadline. Or highly technical, requiring the attorneys to submit complex memoranda. In almost every civil lawsuit, motions can be helpful tools for furthering your case and are strategically crucial to litigation. It is also important to remember that the court will not file a motion for you if you fail to do so.

Consult an Attorney for Legal Advice

Understanding the complex rules of filing motions and pleadings can be daunting. Whether you are the movant filing a motion or the opposing party responding, each step carries an important implication. To protect your rights and present your case effectively, seek the legal advice of a litigation and appeals attorney.

An attorney can help you understand the statute of limitations for filing a motion, give you legal advice tailored to your case, represent you in civil litigation, and help you prepare for your legal arguments, giving you the best chance for a favorable outcome.

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