Legal English – “Summary Judgment”

A “summary judgment” (Pronunciation: SUH-mur-ree JUJ-mint; Origin: Latin and French) is granted in cases where there is no dispute regarding the material facts and one party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Typically, summary judgment is sought via a motion made by one party or the other before trial. The goal is to avoid the expense and delay of a trial where it would be pointless due to the material facts not being subject to any controversy.

Here are some example sentences that use the phrase:

  • “This is ridiculous. We agree on all of the facts that are alleged in your complaint, but I’m fairly sure that there is no cause of action arising from them. I’m going to file a motion for summary judgment before the deadline runs next week.”
  • “Unfortunately, our strategy backfired. We filed our motion for summary judgment, and the court agreed that summary judgment was appropriate, but she found in favor of the other side!”
  • “This summary judgment motion is premature. There are still facts that may be in dispute. Please withdraw it until we can clear things up, or I’ll be forced to deny it.”

Most defendants who submit summary judgment motions are typically willing to accede to the plaintiff’s version of the facts. However, the defendant often argues that the law is not on the plaintiff’s side. Summary judgment motions can be granted in whole or in part, and may also pertain only to a particular defense or other dispositive issue of law.

Usually when a summary judgment motion is made, a trial has not started yet. Therefore, such motions must rely on forms of evidence such as affidavits, written records, deposition transcripts and other items in order to establish the facts necessary to support the motion.

For more information on motions for summary judgment in a U.S. federal court, please review Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.