Legal Word of the Day
Summary Judgment
Entry: Summary Judgment
Pronunciation: sum - ur - ree - juhj - muhnt
Definition: a judgment granted by a court on a claim or defense where the movant (i.e. person filing for summary judgment) wins on the motion as a matter of law
Summary judgment is a term often misunderstood by individuals who are not in the legal community. In short, summary judgment is a special motion (i.e. filing made by a party) made by a plaintiff or defendant alleging that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute on a claim or defense between the parties, and as a matter of law the movant should win on that claim or defense. In other words, the movant will accept the material facts alleged by the opposing side on the claim or defense as true, but still win based on the law. A summary judgment that is limited to certain issues and disposes only a portion of the case is known as a partial summary judgment.

Either a plaintiff or defendant can file a summary judgment motion against each other on a claim or defense (or the entire complaint). The summary judgment motion must show the court that there are absolutely no real material facts in dispute between the parties, and as such, the movant should win based on the law.

The court must consider all the discovery between the parties, including the pleadings, motions, and any additional evidence made by the parties. If the court finds no genuine issue of material fact in dispute, then summary judgment should be granted. How might this work? Let’s go over a brief example to clarify.

Summary Judgment Example

Assume that Sally, the plaintiff, files a complaint for retaliation against her former employer, the defendant. Sally said she was retaliated against because her boss called her a "dimwit" one time and she told management about the comment. Then, about 7 months later, management laid her off from her job. Sally claims that management retaliated against her for reporting her boss’s comment.

After Sally files her complaint against her employer, Sally and her employer go through discovery where each side gets the opportunity to question and answer questions from each other. After discovery, the employer files a motion for summary judgment against Sally.

The employer alleges that all the material facts of Sally’s complaint are true, but as a matter of law, Sally’s complaint should be dismissed. The employer states that as a matter of law a single comment made by a boss 7 months prior to the termination of an employee cannot be considered retaliation. This is because there was only 1 comment made and the termination occurred over half a year after the comment – so the termination and comment cannot be related as a matter of law. The employer states that Sally was laid off because of a downturn in the economy. Here, the employer would prevail on summary judgment.