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August 7th, 2022

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

There could be many motions (or requests by a party a judge decides something) during litigation. One of the most important is a motion for summary judgment. The party filing it claims there’s no need for the case to go further because no significant factual disputes exist, or the opposing party lacks the evidence they need, so it’s time for the judge to decide the issue.

The scope of this motion, what’s needed to file one and respond, is spelled out in the state’s rules of civil procedure. How a judge may apply this rule is the subject of many prior court rulings. Attorneys should use them when arguing for their clients, and the judge should rely upon them when reaching a decision.

What Can This Motion Accomplish?

The motion argues the opposing party cannot recover on a claim as a matter of law given that all the material facts are known, or there is no evidence to substantiate their claim. It’s a way to potentially bring an issue to a close before a full trial, but this motion won’t necessarily decide the whole case.

Either party can file an MSJ. If a plaintiff (the person injured in the accident) alleges there are five reasons why the defendant (the party accused of causing the accident) is liable, a defendant’s motion for summary judgment (MSJ) may only address two of them. If this motion is successful, it may narrow or limit claims or defenses, and a plaintiff may win the case “on the papers.”

Under Texas civil procedure, there are two reasons to file an MSJ. There is:

  • “(N)o genuine issue of material fact” is disputed. It’s a way of telling the court, we’ve learned all we need to know, so it’s time for a decision
  • No evidence by the motion’s opposing party supports their claim, so the moving party should have a decision in its favor

MSJs play an essential role in a particular case and the court system. It lacks the resources to fully litigate every dispute in all civil cases. If it’s genuinely true all the material facts are known, or the opposing party has no evidence to support its position, a judge’s ruling rightly brings the issue to a close.

No Genuine Issue of Material Fact in Dispute

The filing party claims all the cards are on the table, so it’s time to finish the game. The opposing party’s usual argument is there are more cards left to be played, and we don’t know the winner yet.

The opposing party may list “material” facts that are unknown. They are essential in determining whether the claim is valid, so the case must continue. In an accident case, a plaintiff may claim that it’s still unknown how fast the defendant was driving and whether he was distracted or was using marijuana before driving. If these material facts haven’t been found, it’s too soon to decide whether the defendant’s to blame for the accident.

The party making the motion may argue what’s unknown isn’t material or important to the case’s outcome. The critical facts are known, they’re undisputed, or if something is unknown, it doesn’t matter. Given what’s before the court, the moving party will argue it’s entitled to a decision in its favor as a matter of law.

Generally, after an MSJ is filed, the other party responds in writing, often including attachments and affidavits, and later the parties make oral arguments to the judge. For the issues involved, this hearing can be a mini-trial.

If the judge finds there are still material, unknown facts that need to be determined, they will deny the motion. If these facts are found later, there could be another MSJ filed in the future. If the judge rules all the material facts are known, they will issue a ruling deciding the issue. The losing party may appeal it to a higher court if this is a final judgment.

No Evidence Supporting a Claim

There are several elements to a negligence case that a plaintiff must prove. This kind of MSJ may challenge just one element, and the whole case falls apart if it’s successful. This type of motion is not a problem for our clients. If we didn’t have evidence to back up all the elements of a case, we wouldn’t file the lawsuit.

Which Vehicle Houston Personal Injury Lawyer Should I Trust With My Case?

The skilled Schechter, Shaffer & Harris, L.L.P. attorneys have helped hundreds of people like you win their cases so they could receive the compensation they deserve. We can fight for you like we’ve fought for others if you’ve been injured or lost a loved one because of an accident. Call us today to schedule a free consultation with one of our lawyers.

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