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What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

Did you know that the vast majority of civil lawsuits never reach a jury? The biggest reason for this is that so many cases get settled before the trial ever begins. But another way many cases end before reaching the jury is through a summary judgment motion.

If you’ve followed along with our other blog posts, then you know that civil lawsuits can sometimes take years to resolve, and that there are many twists and turns along the way. During this course, often one party–usually the defending party–will file a motion for summary judgment, which is essentially a request for the Judge to decide the lawsuit before the case gets to a jury.

How does this happen, and aren’t jury trials an important right that we’re all entitled to? The fact is, juries actually play a very limited role in the adjudication process, and that role is limited to disputes about the relevant facts to a case. Meanwhile, it’s the job of the Judge to determine what the relevant law is, and how the law and the undisputed facts interact. In other words, if the facts are not in dispute, then there is nothing for the jury to decide, and the judge can dispense with the case.

A summary judgment motion, as you can imagine, is a major event in any lawsuit. Preparing or responding to a summary judgment motion requires extensive preparation by all parties involved. It is incumbent upon the party responding to the motion to assemble all their relevant evidence, including deposition testimony, affidavits, and other key documents, and to deliver that evidence to the Judge prior to the hearing. The parties must extensively research the law, and will usually incorporate the law and the facts into a written argumentative brief, for the Judge to review before and after the hearing.

The hearing, itself, is where the lawyers for both parties show up in Court to make their arguments to the judge. These hearings can sometimes get contentious, but they always involve carefully crafted arguments that explain to the judge why the critical facts are or are not in dispute, and take positions on the meaning and significance of the law.

The civil litigation attorneys Asheville Legal have run the summary judgment gauntlet many times, and we know how and when to pick our battles. Summary judgment motions are always difficult, and the more complicated the case, the more you’re going to need a competent lawyer to handle or defend against the summary judgment motion.

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