Summary Judgment

Definition

Summary judgment is a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party without a full trial.

Overview

In civil cases, either party may make a pre-trial motion for summary judgment. 

Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs summary judgment for federal courts. Under Rule 56, in order to succeed in a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show 1) that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and 2) that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

"Material fact" refers to any facts that could allow a fact-finder to decide against the movant.

Many states have similar pre-trial motions.

Partial Summary Judgment

Judges may grant partial summary judgment. For example, a judge might rule on some factual issues, but leave others for trial. Alternately, a judge might grant summary judgment regarding liability, but still hold a trial to determine damages.

Procedural Notes

Viewing Evidence

When considering a motion for summary judgment, a judge will view all evidence in the light most favorable to the movant's opponent. 

Affidavits

When a party moves for summary judgment, there is no need for that party to submit "affidavits or other similar materials" to support the motion. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986).

Granting the Motion

 If the motion is granted, there will be no trial. The judge will immediately enter judgment for the movant.

Further Reading

For more on summary judgment, see this Florida State University Law Review article, this New York Law Journal article, and this Oklahoma City University Law Review article