By Matt Hopkins
Special to The Sun
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly series of columns written by attorneys at Lester, Loving & Davies law firm in Edmond.
When a person files a lawsuit, he is asking a court for relief of some kind. In most instances, the plaintiff is claiming that someone did something to him that the law does not tolerate. Other times, they are asking the court to order the defendant to do something that the law requires but that she refuses to do.
Every lawsuit raises two primary issues. First, what are the facts — what happened between the parties? Although many lawsuits are similar, the facts that are relevant to each case are usually unique. This party did that. The other party said this. On and on the facts go, and each relevant fact may have bearing on the outcome of the case. The other main issue is this: What law is relevant to the facts? What law determines the rights of each party under the established facts? What does the law mean in this situation?
Fact issues in a case are established by testimony and documents that are admitted into evidence. The trier of fact, which is sometimes a jury and other times a judge, weighs all the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses to determine what facts are most likely true. Once the factual disputes are resolved, the outcome of the case depends on application of the law to the facts. What does the law say should happen with these facts? When this is determined, judgment is entered.
Usually this process requires a full trial. But sometimes the facts are just not in dispute. Either the parties agree what the facts are, or there is only one credible reading of the facts. This is where summary judgment comes in. If there is no reasonable dispute as to the facts that are material to the case, a judge can decide that the case should not go to trial. Instead, the court can enter summary judgment before trial.
The idea behind summary judgment is to save parties and the judicial system valuable time and money. Why waste a jury’s time and the parties’ money to argue facts that are not credibly disputed? Where facts are known and the only question is what the law means, judges can fast forward to the end. Many rules govern whether summary judgment is appropriate, but the basic concept allows a court to enter judgment where only one outcome is reasonably possible.
MATT HOPKINS is an attorney for Lester, Loving & Davies P.C. More information is available at lldlaw.com. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.