Typically, after at least some discovery, either party can bring a motion for summary judgment. This essentially is a motion that says to the court: “we do not need a trial in this case, we can decide this right now.”
In the American civil legal system, juries primarily operate as the trier of fact. Indeed, in some instances, you are not even entitled to a jury rather than a judge serving that function, the topic of the next unit.
For this reason, you only need to go to trial if there is a dispute about facts. From this comes the test for when to grant summary judgment set out in FRCP 56(a): “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
But what does that mean? This unit will help you understand that.
11.1 Introduction and Adickes introduces you to the underlying rule, FRCP 56, relevant terminology, and delves into the Supreme Court’s attempt to explain how Summary Judgment should work in its 1970 decision in Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co.
11.2 Summary Judgment: The “Trilogy” (and Scott v. Harris) briefly explains how the Supreme Court changed the state of play in an attempt to reinvigorate summary judgment in three cases decided in 1986 (often referred to as the “1986 trilogy”). After explaining them, we will turn to a more recent case from 2007—Scott v. Harris—involving whether summary judgment is appropriate given video evidence in a case against a police officer alleging unconstitutional conduct in a high-speed chase. We will discuss a fascinating law review article that studied what Americans “saw” when they watched the same video. We will use it to open up a discussion that will continue into the next unit concerning what we think juries are “for” and what happens when there are epistemic communities across the country that “see” the same facts differently.
11.3 A Recent Example: Elsayed v. Maserati North America, Inc. (C.D. Cal. 2016) will help solidify your understanding of summary judgment by exploring the motion for summary judgment, responses, and court opinion in a recent case.
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