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The following is for informational purposes only

Civil Judgments – Summary Judgment

An Overview

Civil court cases are generally those lawsuits that pit one individual or company against another for some form of relief, whether financial or legal. By contrast, criminal trials are brought by the state against an individual or corporation, and the judgment is often a penalty (reimbursement, jail time, probation, or community service).

Civil cases are often decided by a judge, called a bench trial, rather than by a jury. But the majority – by far – of civil cases are settled or dismissed without a full trial. A judge may dismiss a case after the parties involved have come to an agreement, or when the judge determines that the case has no merit. A settlement is usually an agreement reached by the two sides outside of the courtroom. Settlements save time and money, as civil trials may require months to file all of the necessary documentation and many trips to the courthouse by the litigants’ attorneys.

How Does Summary Judgment Work?

Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is usually a decision in favor of the plaintiff. It can be arrived at in several ways, generally through the judge’s positive response to a motion made by one of the parties involved (or their attorney).

Typical scenarios include:

  • The judge’s agreement that a particular legal precedent applies to the case at hand, nullifying the need for a trial.
  • When the two parties (plaintiff and defendant) agree on the facts of the case, or when the judge determines that no reasonable person could find basis for faulting the plaintiff’s case and/or the defendant doesn’t have sufficient evidence to support their position.

The decision whether to permit a summary judgment must pass a six-part test, including:

  1. Each and every factual point must be weighed;
  2. The entire circumstance must be considered within the whole, not in isolation;
  3. The entire record, not just a portion, must be evaluated;
  4. The above standards must be applied in the way most advantageous to the party that did not move for summary judgment;
  5. All implications from the first three evaluations above must be considered from the perspective of the party that did not make the summary judgment motion, and
  6. The defendant/party that did not make the motion for summary judgment is only required to produce minimal proof, reserving fact-finding for the jury.

Variations in Summary Judgment

The procedure for filing a motion for summary judgment as well as the process for evaluation of the motion may vary from one state to another (for cases heard in state courts, not federal courts). Likewise, U.S. District Court rules may vary slightly from one jurisdiction to another regarding the proper procedure for such a motion.

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