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Litigation Corner: What’s a Motion for Summary Disposition or Motion for Summary Judgment?

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Liza C. Moore
Foster Swift Agricultural Law Update
October 15, 2014

In most television shows and movies about civil (non-criminal) lawsuits, the case is resolved after a dramatic trial. But many civil lawsuits are resolved not by trial but by motion. At certain times in a lawsuit and depending upon which court the case was filed in, parties may file dispositive motions—motions to dismiss, motions for summary disposition, or motions for summary judgment. These types of motions ask the court to decide the case without a trial based on the papers filed with the court. These motions are filed with supporting papers called briefs (often very long and not brief at all) that explain the parties’ legal arguments and attach supporting evidence as exhibits. Preparation of dispositive motions usually requires an attorney to spend time doing legal research to gather the law that applies to the facts of the particular case. The attorney will then argue in writing why the case should be resolved without a trial. If one party files a motion, the other party will have a chance to file a written response. The judge may schedule oral argument on the motion, where the attorneys will have to appear in court and verbally explain their position. The judge will make a decision, either orally at the hearing or in a written order or opinion. Parties may appeal final decisions or orders. Each case is different and the facts of some cases make resolution of a case by motion easier than in other situations.