What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?
A Motion for Summary Judgment is a pleading used in civil lawsuits.
filed where a party is asking the judge to rule the issues in dispute without the need for a trial. This is known as a summary judgment, in that it summarily ends the case before trial. The purpose of a trial is to have somebody — the judge or the jury — decide what the facts are. If the facts are not in dispute, there is no need for a trial.
This blogpost will discuss when a Motion for Summary Judgment is used in a lawsuit and how to defend against it.
When is a Motion for Summary Judgment used?
A Motion for Summary Judgment is used when there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, the party filing the motion is saying that there are no disputed facts that would require a trial, and the court can rule in their favor without the need for a trial.
A Motion for Summary Judgment is typically filed after the discovery process is completed, and all relevant evidence has been gathered. It is important to note that the moving party has the burden of showing that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. If the moving party meets this burden, the court will grant the motion, and the case will be dismissed or the claim(s) in question will be dismissed.
There must be “no genuine issues of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law”. This means that the undisputed facts presented in a particular case entitle one side to win because of the existing law relating to that issue.
If the facts are not in dispute, there is no need for a trial. Instead the party who believes that the undisputed facts compel a ruling in his or her favor will file a motion for summary judgment. The motion asks the court to consider the undisputed facts and apply the law to them, and argues that the law requires a judgment for the party bringing the motion.
When considering a Motion for Summary Judgment, judges must view all “the evidence and all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Rowland v. Kellogg Brown and Root Inc. Under Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure 56(c), a judgment can be entered only if the court finds that no genuine issues of material fact exist. If issues of material fact exist then the Motion for Summary Judgment should be dismissed in its entirety.
Courts are cautioned not to use summary judgment proceedings as a substitute for trials, the motion should be granted if the facts produced in support of the claim or defense have so little probative value, given the quantum of evidence required, that reasonable people could not agree with the conclusion advanced by the proponent of the claim or defense.
The burden of persuasion on the party seeking summary judgment is heavy and if there is any genuine issue as to a material factual issue is present, the motion should be denied.
Why File a motion for Summary Judgment?
Just because the opposing party filed a Motion for Summary Judgment it doesn’t mean that you did something wrong or they have an extraordinarily strong case where the judge will enter judgment in their favor without even going to trial.
It is quite common for Motions for Summary Judgment to be filed in Arizona cases. In part because a judge can rule on just one aspect of the case. This will allow the Movant to “chip away at the edges” of the lawsuit to see if they can get any of the claims for relief awarded.
Statement of Facts and Affidavit
A Statement of Facts and Affidavit(s) are submitted along with the Motion for Summary Judgment.
- Statement of Facts– For the movant party, (person filing the MSJ) they must file a Statement of Facts providing the facts of the situation as they see them.
- Supporting Documents-In addition to just stating the “facts”, each Party must provide documentation that supports their statement facts. When it decides a motion for summary judgment, the court may only consider facts in the pretrial record, such as deposition testimony, affidavits, answers to written discovery requests, documents, etc. It cannot decide which side is more credible than the other. If the court has concerns about the credibility of witnesses or which side to believe, the case should be resolved in a trial.
- Affidavit in Support– Both Parties must file an affidavit swearing that their statements are true.
responding to the motion
A response to the Motion for Summary Judgment must be filed within 30 days of receiving the motion. A response gives a party the opportunity to respond to the allegations made in the Motion for Summary Judgment. As part of the response, a statement of facts and affidavit must also be filed. Similar to the opposing party’s statement of facts, the respondent must cite a source for every statement made to the court. Doing this is incredibly tedious and time consuming!
How to defend against a Motion for Summary Judgment?
When facing a Motion for Summary Judgment, the non-moving party has a few options for defending against it. Firstly, the non-moving party can argue that there are genuine disputes of material fact that require a trial. To do this, the non-moving party must point to specific evidence that creates a genuine dispute of material fact.
Secondly, the non-moving party can argue that the moving party is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This may be because the moving party has not met their burden of proof or because the law is not clear on the issue in question.
Finally, the non-moving party can argue that the court should deny the Motion for Summary Judgment without prejudice. This means that the court would not dismiss the case or claim(s) at this time, but rather, would allow the case to proceed to trial. This option is typically used when the non-moving party needs more time to conduct discovery or gather evidence.
RULING ON THE MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
There are essentially three way a Judge can rule.
- The Arizona Judge may rule 100% against the Party filed the Motion for Summary Judgement. If the Judge rules completely against the moving Party then the case will continue towards trial as if the Motion for Summary Judgment had never been filed!
- The Arizona Judge may grant a partial summary judgment. Meaning the Judge ruled in favor of the moving Party on some of their claims but not on all of them. If a partial summary judgment is awarded, then a decision is made on the claims involved without holding a trial but the the remaining issues will continue towards trial.
- The Arizona Judge may rule 100% in favor of the Party who filed the Motion for Summary Judgment. If this happens, if the Judge rules completely in favor of the party who filed the Motion for Summary Judgment then it is deemed to be a final judgment from which a party may appeal. On appeal, the appellate court can reverse the summary judgment and reinstate the claim in the Superior Court. However, this is rarely done because most summary judgments are upheld on appeal. Lastly, depending on the type of case, the winning party will likely be awarded their attorneys’ fees and costs.
In conclusion, the legal doctrine of Motion for Summary Judgment is an important tool for litigators in civil cases. It allows parties to avoid a trial when there are no genuine disputes of material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. However, when facing a Motion for Summary Judgment, the non-moving party has options for defending against it. They can argue that there are genuine disputes of material fact, that the moving party is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law, or that the court should deny the Motion for Summary Judgment without prejudice. Ultimately, it is up to the court to determine whether a Motion for Summary Judgment should be granted or denied.
If you need help from an Arizona attorney then contact the Dunaway Law Group at or 480-702-1610 or by sending us a message HERE.
The Dunaway Law Group provides this information as a service to clients and other friends for educational purposes only. It should not be construed or relied on as legal advice or to create a lawyer-client relationship. Readers should not act upon this information without seeking advice from professional advisers. The Firm limits its practice to the States of Arizona and New York.