Every now and again, one of the parties in a civil lawsuit will petition the court to enter a summary judgment. A summary judgment is a unique kind of judgment designed to resolve the claims in a civil suit without going to trial. The thing about summary judgments is that they are hard to come by. Courts do not render them indiscriminately.
Our justice system is set up in such a way as to give both parties in a dispute the chance to present evidence in support of their cases. But in a summary judgment scenario, one party isn’t given that opportunity. By avoiding trial, the party requesting the summary judgment is hoping to bypass the presentation of evidence altogether.
It is difficult to obtain a summary judgment because doing so relies on proving that there is no dispute of material facts in the case. For example, a breach of contract case would require that the plaintiff prove, as a matter of material fact, that the contract was indeed breached. What if the plaintiff’s proof is questionable?
The defendant could file a request for summary judgment based on an assertion that the plaintiff has no solid proof of contract breach. If the court agrees, a summary judgment could be entered in favor of the defendant. The case would be resolved and that would be that.
Another example would be a debt collection case in which the plaintiff can clearly establish the existence of the debt. Meanwhile, the defendant cannot and does not dispute the debt. The material fact on which the case rests is established without question. Therefore, a summary judgment could be rendered on the plaintiff’s request.
On the surface, it doesn’t seem like summary judgments should be too difficult to obtain. So why are they so rare? Because there are a lot of facts to contend with in any civil case. Very few cases revolve around a single material fact it is easily proved or disproved. There are almost always additional considerations.
When one party alleges that the facts of a case cannot be disputed, the other party is likely to come back with some sort of defense involving extenuating circumstances. There may be other facts that the party wants the court to look at. The truth of the matter is that few cases are so black-and-white as to easily facilitate summary judgments.
Once a summary judgment is entered, the case proceeds like any other civil case. Enforcement is left up to the winner. Note that enforcement can take many different forms depending on the type of lawsuit you are looking at. A standard debt collection lawsuit illustrates enforcement easily enough.
The winner in a debt collection lawsuit is considered the judgment creditor. Let us assume this is a company trying to collect a bad debt from a customer. As the losing party, the customer is legally considered the judgment debtor. It is up to the judgment creditor to find a way to collect from the judgment debtor.
Some judgment creditors immediately call in specialized collection agencies like Salt Lake City’s Judgment Collectors. Others turn collection over to their attorneys. Still others give the task of collecting to the accounting department. Either way, collection success relies heavily on debtor cooperation.
A summary judgment doesn’t necessarily guarantee that a creditor will get paid. Not only that, but summary judgments are also hard to come by. Everything needs to be just right before courts are willing to go that route.