Summary Judgment from a Pro Se Litigant’s Perspective

While Motions for Summary Judgment are rarely seen in small claims court cases they are standard in any level of court above that and are even used in some debt collection cases in the small claims system.

Essentially, a Motion for Summary Judgment is a procedural "weapon" used to dispose of cases where there are no legitimate questions of law or of fact.

Each state's laws and rules on Summary Judgments are a little different but all of them have certain things in common.

First, the main mistake made by most pro se litigants is in either not responding to the Motion for Summary Judgment or at least not responding properly. It is best to operate under the assumption that any claims made by the other side which aren't specifically addressed as completely as possible will be decided against the party who did not file the motion. 

Next, a summary judgment is decided solely on the evidence attached to the motion or the response. A hearing on the motion is not an actual hearing, it is just arguments. No evidence is allowed to be presented at the hearing and therefore it is important to attach affidavits, responses to discovery, excerpts of depositions, etc. Not only must the evidence be attached but affidavits "proving up the evidence" must be attached as well. As an example, if a party is asking for a summary judgment in a beach of contract and attaches a choppy of the contract, they must also attach an affidavit stating that the attachment is a true and correct copy of the actual contract.

Finally, as in all proceedings, it is important for a party to know the rules and case law governing the motions, the response, and what burdens must be met. If filing a motion then it is up to the movant to prove there is no question of fact or law, a difficult burden. On the other side, if opposing a motion the respondent simply has to raise a question of fact or law on each argument, or point out that the movant failed to meet their burden, in order to prevail.

A Motion for Summary Judgment is a complex and time consuming avenue and must be treated with the utmost caution since it can waste a lot of time or completely dispose of a case, depending on whether or not it is handled correctly.

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