Summary judgment is the phase in a lawsuit where you can ask the court in writing to dismiss the case without going to trial, because under the law you would win at trial. Once the judge rules on summary judgment, the case is either dismissed or it continues toward trial. Because you must write a motion for summary judgment, it's usually a good idea to consult a lawyer with experience in crafting legal pleadings.
Motion Seeks to End the Case
A summary judgment motion is where either party argues on paper why the case should not proceed to trial, because there is nothing for a jury to decide. In other words, all of the material facts are known and undisputed, and the party asking for summary judgment would ultimately win at trial. A material fact is one that can change the outcome of a case: for example, a dispute as to whether the light was red or green. The judge decides whether to grant or deny summary judgment based upon the evidence presented to the court, such as sworn testimony, documents exchanged between the parties and case law.
When Summary Judgment Is Granted
If the evidence and documents filed with the court show that there are no disputed facts for a jury to decide, the judge will grant summary judgment. To be fair, the judge reviews the matter in favor of the party who is not asking for summary judgment. In other words, the judge considers whether a jury could return a valid verdict in favor of that party. If summary judgment is granted, the case is dismissed and does not proceed to trial.
When Summary Judgment Is Denied
If there are multiple claims in a case, the judge can grant summary judgment on some claims and deny it on others. If the judge denies summary judgment because there are factual issues for a jury to decide, the case proceeds until settlement or trial. If the judge grants some of the claims but denies others, only the claims that are denied continue until the matter is resolved through settlement or trial. Many things can happen between the denial of summary judgment and a trial, such as gathering more evidence through additional depositions, mediation, and potentially settlement.
Appeal of Summary Judgment
If a judge grants summary judgment dismissing the entire case, the party who lost the argument can appeal that decision. An appeal means that you are asking a higher court to review the judge's decision. If, however, the judge denies summary judgment or if the judge grants summary judgment on some claims but denies it on others, those claims generally cannot be appealed.