What is Summary Judgment?

What is summary judgment

When a decision is made based on statements and evidence without going to trial, it is called a summary judgment. It may be issued on the merits of a case, or on discrete issues in that case. It’s a final decision by a judge and intended to resolve a lawsuit before going to court. One party in a motion is capacitated to judgment by the law, and summary judgment is used in cases where there is no debate about the facts.

Summary judgment may be granted upon a party’s motion when the discovery, pleadings, and any affidavits show that there is no dispute of material fact and that the party is entitled to judgment in its favor.

Who can move for it?

Any of the parties may move for summary judgment. They could be the defendant or the plaintiff. It is a bit unusual for both parties to seek summary judgment. A judge may also decide on his or her commencement that summary judgment is suitable. 

In the process, any evidence that would be admissible at trial under the rules of evidence may support a motion for this judgment. If the defendant moves for this judgment, the burden of proof transfers from the plaintiff to the defendant’s side. Rather than the plaintiffs proving that they were harassed, harmed, or injured, the defendant must prove that the plaintiffs can’t acquire evidence at all. 

In the regular procedure, a court will hold oral arguments on a summary judgment motion. It may adjudicate the motion on the parties’ briefs and supporting documentation alone.

Why Summary Judgment?

Why did summary judgment become very important in the recent past? Because of its simple methods and fast procedure. Its purpose is to avoid inessential trials. It may also simplify a trial-process.

Different Summary Judgment

There could be full or partial summary judgment. Sometimes judges may grant partial summary judgment. This judgment dispenses with certain issues or claims. For example, a judge might rule on some factual issues but leave others for the main trial. Like in a personal injury case, the judge might grant partial summary judgment on the issue of liability, but still hold a trial to determine damages.

Evidence Used in Summary Judgment

Evidence like photographs, medical records, signed witness statements, police reports, can be used in a normal trial. These pieces of evidence are also valid. An attorney will be able to help parties figure out what they need for their cases.

Summary Judgment Process

A usual summary judgment motion has three parts. Assume that the plaintiff filed the motion and that the defendant must now respond. Then the process will be like: 

Viewing evidence: First, the plaintiff moves to summary judgment. Then a hearing date is assigned. Both of the parties receive the information. Then the plaintiff will present his or her version of the facts. Usually, they attach photos, signed statements from witnesses, and any other evidence to back up their statements about the claimed facts. A judge will view all the evidence. There is no need for the parties to submit affidavits or other similar materials to support the motion.

According to the law: Then, the plaintiff’s attorney will write up a memorandum of points and authorities, which is their legal grounds for the motion. This memorandum discusses the statutes and cases that govern the parties. Then the attorney will attempt to convince the judge that, under the law, the plaintiff should to win the case. 

Final move: They make their case that there are no triable issues of fact—and even if there were, there would be no way that the case would win in court. In this last part of the summary judgment process, the plaintiff will anticipate what the defendant will argue. And the plaintiff’s attorney will try to prove that even if the defendant is correct in his or her arguments, the plaintiff will still win the case.

Role of the Defendant

The court allows a defendant to respond. In response, the defendant will try to show that there is triable evidence. On his or her defense, the defendant may claim that more than one version of the facts exists. The defendant can claim that the plaintiff’s arguments about the law are incorrect. So, the judgment would be premature.

The judge’s Role

The judge will make a decision after reviewing the evidence. The judge will grant the motion or agree with the plaintiff if his or her arguments about the law were correct. If he assumes that the defendant’s version of the facts is true, the plaintiff will win. If the motion is conceded, there will be no trial. The judge will immediately enter judgment for the plaintiff. If a judge accepts a motion, the case against the moving party will fall under annulment. But the judge may deny the motion too. Then the next step will be the courtroom trial.

Consider Before You Seek Summary Judgment

A summary judgment hearing is not the right choice to resolve complex disputes. It is only appropriate for obvious and foreseeable cases. Remember, the court will consider whether the claimant or defendant has a realistic prospect of success. Here the word “realistic” means “with some degree of conviction.”

In the process of moving, the court will not conduct a mini-trial without the benefit of disclosure and cross-examination of evidence. But it must take up some investigation and analysis of the law and evidence before, to reach a proper conclusion. If the court is satisfied that it has the requisite law and evidence to conclude, it should do so. Where a claim is wrong in law, the sooner it stops, the better.

There might be some concurrent material that refutes a party’s evidence or declaration. Then the court may give summary judgment on the basis that the corroboration or assertion is not to believe. However, the judge must explain and justify his/her decision, with proper particularity and reference to the concurrent material.

On any summary judgment application, the court may give judgment on the claim for any of the parties. The judge may dismiss the claims and the summary judgment application itself. On the other hand, the judge may make a conditional order. A conditional order can involve any of the parties making a payment into court or giving security for costs, or it can instruct a party to take a specific step, failing which that party’s case will be struck out. Conditional orders may be given, where it is possible, but it is unlikely for such a case to triumph.

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