What is the standard for bringing a motion for Summary Judgment?
First and foremost it is worth noting that summary judgment is considered a drastic remedy which should not be granted where there is any doubt of the existence of a triable issue or when the issue is even arguable.
If you bring/file a motion for summary judgment, the party opposing your motion must “show facts sufficient to require a trial of any issue of fact”. The Court will deny your motion for summary judgment if the party opposing your motion raises any genuine and triable issues of fact. In most cases, it’s not that difficult to do that and I’ll show you why in a minute.
It is ultimately in the the judge’s discretion to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact for trial or whether there is an issue that must be submitted to a trier of fact. The Court must “view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-moving party’s favor. So if you file a motion for summary judgment, the Court must draw any and all reasonable inferences in your opponent’s favor. That means if there are any issues of fact the Court will view them in the light most favorable for your opponent. That is a pretty high standard for you to meet which is why a motion for summary judgment is often very detailed, very comprehensive, and very complex.
What if discovery has not been completed?
Courts have consistently held that summary judgment motions made prior to the completion of discovery, (especially where parties have not yet been deposed), are premature. In Sonnenblick v. Goldman,171 AD2d 471 (1st Dept. 1991), the Appellate Division acknowledged that a motion court can “determine more fairly whether a factual issue exists,” after depositions have been held. See also, McLean v. Al Juri Landfill, Inc.,147 AD2d 620 (2nd Dept. 1999) (“Moreover, since discovery has not yet been completed, an award of summary judgment, at this juncture, would be premature.”); Zolin v. Roslyn Synagogue,154 AD2d 369 (2nd Dept. 1989) (“We note that the plaintiff has not had the opportunity to conduct full disclosure. That being so, we find that summary judgment would be premature as to the first cause of action”); Hoxha v. City of New York,265 AD 2d 379 (2nd Dept. 1999).
That’s why it’s so important for the success of your case, to push forward with discovery as efficiently as possible. Where the parties have yet to hold a preliminary conference, have yet to set a discovery schedule, have yet to conduct depositions and obtain all pertinent reports, etc., filing a motion for summary judgment would be absolutely premature and therefore a waste of time and money.
Furthermore, it’s important that you work very hard to resolve any and all discovery issues with your adversary, without having to enlist the assistance of the Court. Asking the Court for help on discovery issues in general tends to be a complete waste of time and money. In many cases if you file a discovery related motion, the Court’s response will be for you and your adversary to figure it out. They’ll force the parties to come up with a schedule for how discovery will proceed. The likelihood that you’ll get the Court to issue sanctions on the non-compliant party is slim to none.
If there are any discovery issues outstanding, work on that first before considering a motion for summary judgment.
How do you effectively oppose a motion for summary judgment?
Opposing a motion for summary judgment usually requires the following:
- raising any material issues of fact
- illustrating to the Court how there is a disagreement on critical events or facts
- arguing how the facts do no support the elements of each claim/cause of action
- making it clear to the Court that discovery has not been completed
If you can successfully address any of the four key points above, then you’ll have a good chance at defeating a motion for summary judgment in your litigation. As always, consulting with seasoned litigation attorneys is highly recommended.