Summary judgment is a procedural device that allows for the resolution of a controversy without the need for trial. After a lawsuit has been filed, the parties to that lawsuit can file motions for summary judgment, although in some jurisdictions there may be restrictions that regulate the timing for bringing such motions. Summary judgment motions ask the court to enter judgment without a trial because there is no genuine issue of material fact to be decided by a jury (i.e., because the evidence is legally insufficient to support a verdict in the other party’s favor).
The party moving for summary judgment has to show that there are no factual issues that need to be resolved in order for the court to render judgment in its favor. If the moving party meets this initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to show specific facts demonstrating otherwise. The parties are free to, and often must, file declarations or affidavits and other papers, including discovery documents such as admissions, responses to interrogatories, and deposition transcripts, in support of their positions.
In deciding a summary judgment motion, the court will review the pleadings and any declarations, affidavits and other papers submitted by the parties. The court will only grant summary judgment if, based upon that review, it determines that there is no evidence that would justify a verdict for the party opposing the summary judgment motion. In making this determination, all inferences drawn from the evidence and ambiguities in the facts are resolved in favor of the party who opposes the motion. Although it may appear to be difficult establishing entitlement to summary judgment, it is not impossible.
Motions for summary judgment are routinely filed in litigation proceedings. The primary purpose is to eliminate trial where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense. Trials, and particularly preparation for trial, can often be a major driving force in the cost of litigation. Summary judgment offers a way for parties to avoid those costs and eliminate the risk of trial.