In the legal world, a “motion” is a written request asking the court to make some sort of decision related to a case. For example, a motion might ask the court to prohibit a piece of evidence from being considered at trial or it might request that the court move the case to another venue.
Lawsuits generally go to trial because the parties disagree about the facts of a case. But what if the important facts of a case aren’t disputed?
A motion for summary judgment is a request made by a party asking the court to decide all or part of a lawsuit without going to trial because there’s no dispute about the key facts of the case.
The party making the motion (called the “movant”) can be the plaintiff or the defendant. Either way, the movant must prove two things to be successful:
For non-lawyers, this can all be a little confusing. So, let’s take a look at an example:
Based on the above example, a judge would likely grant John’s motion for summary judgment. As a result, there would be no need to litigate the issue of liability. Keep in mind that the parties might still need to litigate the issue of damages (i.e., the amount of money Linda owes John).
Now let’s take a look at the same example with a slightly different twist:
In the above example, the judge would likely deny John’s motion for summary judgment because there’s a disputed material fact (whether Linda ran the red light and caused the accident). The case would therefore proceed to trial as normal.
The movant must file their motion for summary judgment with the court by a specific date. Depending on the state, this deadline is set forth in the case scheduling order (an order signed by the court listing various deadlines) or the local rules of civil procedure.
A motion for summary judgment consists of 2 parts:
The non-moving party always has an opportunity to respond to the motion for summary judgment. This is called a “response” or an “opposition motion.”
The non-moving party only has a certain amount of time to file a response. This amount of time varies by state, but is usually around 21 days.
Like the original motion, the non-moving party’s response typically consists of two parts:
In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must do 1 of 2 things:
If the non-moving party doesn’t believe they’ve had enough time to uncover the facts of the case, the party can ask the court for a “continuance” to permit additional discovery. The court has a great deal of discretion in determining whether to grant such a request.
Once the motion and response has been filed, the judge will read both and then preside over a hearing.
At the hearing, each party will be given a certain amount of time to reiterate their argument in front of the judge. The judge may ask some questions and at the end of the hearing the judge will grant or deny the motion. Sometimes the judge will require additional time to make a decision and the parties will be notified days or weeks later.
A hearing on a motion for summary judgment doesn’t involve oral testimony. Because of this, some lawyers don’t bother taking their clients to the hearing. Other lawyers like to take their clients. The decision usually depends on the lawyer, the client, and the nature of the case.
A motion for summary judgment can be a very effective tool when used properly. But, it also requires a lot of time and money in order to draft the documents and participate in the hearing. An experienced attorney will be able to tell you if a motion for summary judgment is appropriate in your case.