As anyone who has been through a lawsuit can attest, litigation can be extremely expensive. In order to take a case from the initial investigation through a full trial will easily cost in excess of $100,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs. Additionally, it will typically take at least two years from the date of the filing of the lawsuit until its conclusion at trial. This is not to mention the extreme physical and emotional stress involved, as well as the time taken away from more productive pursuits.
The primary tool to circumvent this lengthy and expensive process is the “Motion for Summary Judgment.” If you are a party, and your case is sufficiently strong (i.e. your claims if you are a Plaintiff or your defenses or the lack of viable claims against you if you are a defendant), you will want to file a Motion for Summary Judgment at some point in the litigation process. If granted, the Motion will preclude the necessity for a lengthy and expensive trial.
Under the law, if there is “no genuine issue of material fact” as to the claims or defenses asserted in a case, a Motion for Summary Judgment must be granted. There is no genuine issue of material fact where “the facts produced to support a claim or defense have so little probative value, given the quantum of evidence required, that reasonable people could not agree with the conclusion proposed by the proponent of the claim or defense.” See Orme School v. Reeves, 166 Ariz. 301, 309, 802 P.2d 1000, 1008 (1990). In essence, what this means is that if in the opinion of the judge, a reasonable jury could not rule in favor of one of the parties in a case, summary judgment against that party should be granted.
Filing a Motion for Summary Judgment is an extensive undertaking, and in a typical moderately complex commercial case will require dozens of hours of attorney preparation time researching the law and reviewing the case records. The cost of filing and arguing a Motion for Summary Judgment can easily exceed $10,000. While expensive, filing a successful Motion for Summary Judgment will ultimately save you tens of thousands in litigation costs. Moreover, even if the Motion is ultimately denied, filing it may help educate the judge about your case, which may lead to higher quality rulings and a more accurate decision at trial.
If you are involved or expect to become involved in litigation and you (1) believe you have a strong case and (2) you believe that there will be no clear questions of fact (which would include differing testimony that a reasonable juror could believe based on all of the facts), then you should strongly consider filing a Motion for Summary Judgment at some point in the litigation. It is traditional to file a Motion for Summary judgment at the close of discovery, but depending on the circumstances, filing one immediately after receiving the Answer may be appropriate.
Michael L. Kitchen