A summary judgment is a decision made by the court on the basis of evidence and statements presented in the documents and legal pleadings filed with the court, without a full trial. Summary judgment, also referred to as “judgment as a matter of law,” may be requested by the submission of a motion for summary judgment by either party. The motion must show that there are no triable issues of fact, and that the party making the motion for summary judgment, the “moving party,” is entitled to a judgment in his favor as a matter of law. Summary judgment may be granted on the entire case, or a partial judgment may be entered on certain issues. To explore this concept, consider the following motion for summary judgment definition.
Definition of Summary Judgment
- A decision handed down by a judge or court of law without the need of a trial.
1250-1300 Middle English jugement
Filing a Motion for Summary Judgment
The purpose of requesting a summary judgment is to avoid an unnecessary, often expensive trial. The party filing a motion for summary judgment attempts to demonstrate to the court that there are no material facts that need to be ferreted out through trial, and so a trial is unnecessary. This is done through the motion itself, which clearly and plainly sets out all of the issues, facts, and evidence, as well as the submission of evidence, testimony garnered through sworn affidavits and depositions, interrogatories, and admissions. In addition to showing that there are no disputed facts, the moving party attempts to persuade the court to make a judgment in its favor.
Requirements for the Granting of a Summary Judgment
In considering a motion for summary judgment, the trial court judge must determine whether the required criteria have been met. These are (1) there are no genuine issues of material fact to be tried, and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment in its favor as a matter of law. When a motion for summary judgment is submitted, the opposing party has the opportunity to file a rebuttal, introducing evidence to contradict the moving party’s version of the issues and facts. It is not necessary for the opposing party to prove his side of the story, but only to show there is a dispute as to the facts.
Finally, the judge must determine whether the law, as it applies to the facts that are undisputed, merits a judgment in favor of the moving party. A summary judgment cannot be used to determine which party would prevail at trial, as the judge cannot determine the validity of evidence or credibility of witnesses. This motion is used when there are no disputed questions of fact to be decided by a judge or jury. In the event a summary judgment is denied, the case continues through the legal system until the parties settle, or the matter is determined at trial.
Burden of Proof in a Motion for Summary Judgment
The party making a motion for summary judgment bears the burden of proof in showing that a summary judgment is proper. This is true even if the party is the defendant in the matter, and so would not have the burden of proof at trial. The court examines all of the evidence presented with the motion, as well as any evidence presented by the opposing party in its rebuttal, with a bias toward the opposing party. The summary judgment may be granted if the moving party has convinced the judge that the opposing party has either no evidence to support its case, or that the evidence is not sufficient to meet its burden of proof at trial.
Attacking the Essential Elements of Plaintiff’s Case
Because the plaintiff in any case has the burden to prove all of the stated elements of his case, a defendant may be successful in obtaining a summary judgment by attacking only one key element of the plaintiff’s case. If the defendant can either disprove one element essential to the case, or show that the plaintiff has no evidence to support an essential element, all of the other elements may be considered immaterial or irrelevant, and a summary judgment granted.
Related Legal Terms and Issues
- Affidavit – A written statement made under oath, for use as evidence in court.
- Deposition – The out-of-court sworn oral testimony by a witness, which is transcribed into writing for use in a legal proceeding. The witness is questioned by the attorneys for both parties, and no judge is present.
- Immaterial – Not pertinent or important; of no consequence; not necessary; of no material significance.
- Interrogatories – A set of written questions submitted to an opposing party to determine facts and clarify the issues in a civil matter.
- Material Fact – A fact that a reasonable person would conclude is pertinent to the decision to be made, or which, if left out, would reasonably result in a different decision being made.
- Moving Party – A party to a legal proceeding who has filed a motion with the court.
- Request for Admissions – A set of statements submitted to an opposing party for the purpose of having him admit or deny each of the statements.