If you are hearing the term summary judgment and are concerned, you are probably right to be concerned about what that is. Summary judgment, if granted, is a ruling about the case or an aspect of the case before trial. It is a ruling that is given in lieu of trial on that case or on that aspect of the case. And if granted, it means that case or aspect of the case will never be litigated again (unless there is a successful appeal).
Summary judgment motions are rarely granted, but have very serious consequences if they are.
No Dispute About the Material Facts
The Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure say 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.” MINN. R. CIV. P. 56.03.
What does this mean? This means that the court looks at all the evidence before it at the time of the motion, including the filings by each party. The court is looking 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 and then the agreed upon facts will clearly favor one party or the other, and the court may issue summary judgment for party who has the law on their side.
However, if the law is clear, but the facts are disputed, then the court will not grant summary judgment and will allow the case to proceed to, and be determined by, trial.
Sometimes, through the discovery process and investigation, one party makes factual admissions that can be used against them in summary judgment, and prove to the court there is not dispute of important facts, and that both parties actually have said the same things. Then the court may just 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, yet may end the case with a ruling in one’s favor.