Frequently, during the litigation process one or both of the parties involved will attempt to use a procedural device known as the motion for summary judgment to dismiss certain issues from the case.
As the name implies, the motion for summary judgment is a motion filed by one of the parties seeking to obtain a judgment on all or part of the case in a summary fashion. An issue or case which is decided by summary judgment is not allowed to be presented to a judge or jury at trial. In other words, the motion for summary judgment is a method to decide an issue (or the whole case), without the need for a trial.
The legal standard imposed by most jurisdictions requires that in order for a summary judgment to be granted by the court, the party moving for summary judgment must demonstrate that there are "no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." What this means in laymen's terms is that the undisputed facts presented in a particular case entitle one side to win because of the existing law relating to that issue.
For instance, most jurisdictions require the plaintiff in a medical malpractice lawsuit to produce an expert physician witness who will testify that the defendant doctor committed malpractice in his treatment of the plaintiff.
If the plaintiff fails to retain a qualified expert who will testify that the defendant committed malpractice, then the defense can bring a motion for summary judgment asking the court to dismiss the plaintiff's case because the plaintiff cannot prove the case with an expert. Because most laws require expert testimony, a party would be entitled to judgment "as a matter of law" if the other party did not have such an expert.
If a material fact is disputed by both sides, then the court is prohibited from granting a summary judgment. Thus, in opposing a summary judgment, it is not necessary to show that you win on the issue. It is only necessary that you show that a genuine, as opposed to a frivolous, issue of fact exists. Moreover, most laws give the benefit of the doubt as to whether a material issue of facts exists to the non moving party. Thus, in a close case, the person moving for summary judgment usually loses on their motion.
In support of the motion for summary judgment, a party is allowed to use all of the information obtained during the discovery phase of the lawsuit, including, without limitation, deposition testimony, answers to interrogatories and answers to requests for production. The parties may also utilize affidavits from experts to support the motion or opposition to the motion for summary judgment.
If the motion is granted, the judgment on the issue or case is deemed to be a final judgment from which a party may seek an appeal. The court of appeal can reverse the grant of summary judgment and reinstate the claim in the lower court. However, this is rarely done and most summary judgments are upheld on appeal.
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