In a civil lawsuit, there are a number of legal maneuvers that may take place prior to the case actually reaching a trial. Although a victory at trial is certainly a favorable result, obtaining a victory without the need to go through the time and expense of a trial is generally considered an even bigger victory. One way to accomplish that is to have the court grant your motion for summary judgment.
A summary judgment is a determination by a court that there are no issues of fact that need to be tried in a civil case. When the court is satisfied that there are no genuine factual disputes and that all the evidence before the court makes a trial unnecessary, the court may grant a motion for summary judgment. If a motion for summary judgment is granted, the movant essentially wins the case without the need to go through a trial.
Partial Summary Judgment
A party may move for partial summary judgment if a full summary judgment is not warranted. A partial summary judgment asks the court to make a determination that one or more, but not all, of the claims in a lawsuit have no genuine issue of material fact that requires a trial. A case based on negligence, for example, may assert a number of different theories upon which the claim of negligence is based. If a party believes that one, or more, of those theories, or claims, do not present a dispute as to a material fact and therefore can be decided without a trial, then the party may move for a partial summary judgment on those claims.
Either the plaintiff or the defendant may file a motion for summary judgment. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow a motion to be filed up to 30 days after the close of discovery; however, local rules, or the judge, may extend that time frame. The party moving for summary judgment must support the motion by citing facts or materials that have been introduced into the record or by affidavits, declarations or stipulations of facts made by the parties. The opposing party will also have an opportunity to respond to the motion and convince that court that a genuine issue of material fact does, indeed, exist for which a trial is necessary.
The party moving for summary judgment has the burden of convincing the court that a trial is not necessary. The burden on the movant is a high burden as courts are generally reluctant to grant summary judgments due to the finality of the decision. Summary judgment is appropriate where there remain issues of law for the court to decide. The purpose of a trial is to determine issues of fact, not law. Once all issues of material fact have been decided, the court can decide any remaining issues of law.