Written by Galen T. Shimoda and Jennet Zapata
Sometimes in litigation one of the parties may file a motion called a summary judgment and/or a summary adjudication, which is essentially one of the sides arguing that as a matter of law they should win one or all of the claims. This type of motion is decided by the judge and the decision is based on whether the judge thinks there are enough facts to support the claims. In this case, the judge acts as a gatekeeper, deciding what claims can go in front of a jury.
For example, Party A may claim a contract she had with the opposing side, Party B, was broken, or breached, and the judge would decide if there was enough evidence to support Party A’s claim and/or enough to provide a reasonable dispute of the facts to present to a jury to decide. In a different situation, Party A may bring multiple claims such as discrimination, unpaid wages, and wrongful termination against Party B and Party B may bring a summary judgment motion to get rid of just one or two of the claims. In any event, if Party B is successful, it can mean the complete dismissal of some or all of the claims and often times means that the claims cannot be brought to court again. In this situation, Party A may get nothing for the dismissed claims and may even have to pay the other side’s attorneys fees.
As a result, succeeding on these motions is very important. The outcome can be severe and final. For that reason, these motions are disfavored by judges as the policy is to give parties their day in court. However, courts will still grant them if they are convinced facts show that one of the parties “wins” and are entitled to a judgment based on the law. The key to succeed on these motions is marshalling the facts to prove the legal theory and story. Proving a legitimate dispute of the critical facts to prove a claim is what an employee must do to get past a summary judgment and/or summary adjudication motion.
Attorneys for employers often bring these voluminous motions if they feel that they can win on at least one of the claims. As already referenced above, if the employer succeeds, it can get rid of the entire case or some of the causes of actions. Employers also file them to give their clients leverage as defending against a summary judgment motion is expensive and time consuming. The plaintiff must feel confident that he or she can win. It increases the risk for the side opposing the motion, because if the employer succeeds, the employee and her attorneys may walk away with nothing. However, if the employee wins, she will have increased leverage as the employee will have a pathway to trial.
Whatever the outcome, summary judgment and/or summary adjudication motions increase the risks and the costs for both sides in the case and the decision to take on the defense of the motion must be made carefully. For an employee, winning can result in a potentially larger settlement and/or trial, but losing can mean walking away empty handed. If you have any questions about these motions, please contact our office.