What is Summary Judgment?: Understanding Rule 56

Court. Gavel isolated on white backgroundSettlement. Mediation. Arbitration. Trial. These are the outcomes we generally consider in civil litigation, but there are other possible positive outcomes.  Summary judgment, by definition, is where judgment is granted to the moving party because “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” This definition perplexes lawyers and non-lawyers alike, so dissecting the definition to understand what this means for an injured party is worthwhile.

What is a judgment?

A judgment is essentially a final decision or a court order in response to a legal action. A judgment is something that can be appealed to a higher court and is considered final in that court. Though a non-prevailing party may file a motion to reconsider, a judgment is generally considered final. Summary judgment suggests that judgment has been issued to a part of a case or controversy—summary judgment rarely disposes of an entire case. Summary judgment allows the court to make a final decision regarding one count, one aspect, or one fact of a case, allowing the matter to proceed on every issue except that which was dealt with at summary judgment. The idea is to save the parties and the court time and expense in having to deal with something that is essentially not at issue—thus there is “no genuine issue as to any material fact.” The necessary information has already been discovered, the court and parties have been apprised, and the court no longer requires any additional fact finding in order to make an informed decision.

What is required for a finding of Summary Judgment?

In order to motion for summary judgment, the moving party must be satisfied that no other facts are needed for the court to be able to make an informed decision. Summary judgment is usually filed for after discovery, the fact finding portion of litigation where all parties are required to disclose information to the other side about the matter at issue, has commenced. The discovery portion of litigation usually exposes the facts, the big outstanding questions, and the controversies that cannot seem to be agreed upon by the opposing parties. Once a moving party is confident that no additional information is needed to ensure success on at least one of their main points, they may motion for summary judgment so they can continue on the matters that are still in controversy. This motion requires the law be on the moving party’s side —thus the “entitled to judgment as a matter of law” part, showing that the facts, applied to the law, support a finding in favor of the moving party.

Filing for summary judgment can also be used a tactical decision by an attorney. If the motion for summary judgment is denied, the claim is not dismissed. It simply carries on as if nothing had happened and will be adjudicated on the merits at trial, should a settlement not be reached. An attorney must certify that they believe they have a legitimate basis to motion for summary judgment, however, which ensures that frivolous motions are not made that may waste the court’s time and resources.

Boston, Massachusetts Injury Attorneys

Regardless of whether your case should settle, be taken to trial, or parts should be dispensed with on summary judgment, you need experienced injury litigation attorneys on your side to navigate this legal minefield. John J. Sheehan and his associates understand how to navigate all types of civil litigations’ claims, and will advocate on your behalf to ensure the most favorable outcome possible. If you or anyone you know has been injured in Boston, Massachusetts, contact our offices today.