Judge giving summary judgement

If you are hearing the term summary judgment and are concerned, your concern may be justified. A summary judgment is a ruling on a case or an aspect of a case before trial. If granted, it means the case or aspect of the case will never be litigated again (unless the judgment is successfully appealed).

Summary judgment motions are rarely granted, but may have serious consequences in cases which they are.

No Dispute of the Material Facts

The Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure state that summary judgment “shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that either party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.” Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure 56.03.

What does this mean? This means the court looks at all the evidence before it at the time of the motion, including the filings by each party. The court looks to see what is disputed and what is agreed upon.

Sometimes all parties agree about the facts of the case (i.e., what happened), but do not agree about what the law says. In this circumstance, the court can determine the law, at which time the agreed upon facts will clearly favor one party or the other. The court may then issue summary judgment for the party which the law favors.

However, if the law is clear, but the facts are disputed, the court will not grant summary judgment, and will allow the case to proceed to (and be determined by) trial.

Admitting Facts

Sometimes, through the discovery process, one party makes factual admissions that can be used against them in summary judgment (proving to the court important facts are undisputed, where both parties actually have said the same things). Tis is a scenario in which the court may apply the law and find in favor of one side or the other in summary judgment.

Summary judgment is a great tool for a party who has an opponent with no case, an opponent who has admitted all the material facts, or an opponent who only disputes the law. Summary judgment cuts down on the cost of trial, and may end the case favorably for one party.