A case can be disposed of prior to trial when there is no evidence for the claims alleged or when there is no issue of material fact, and the movant is entitled to judgement as a matter of law. When a case is disposed for either of those reasons, it is called a summary judgment. Governed by TRCP 166a, there are two types, the Traditional Summary Judgment and the No Evidence Summary Judgment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a.
According to the Texas Supreme Court, a summary judgment is appropriate if reasonable people agree with the conclusion based on the evidence of the case. The court also advised appellate courts not to “disregard the evidence supporting the motion,” also adding that “although a reviewing court must consider all the summary judgment evidence on file, in some cases that review will effectively be restricted to the evidence contrary to the motion.” City of Keller v. Wilson, 168 S.W.3d 816, 824-825 (Tex. 2005).
Summary Judgment Motion
Because a summary judgment is essentially a trial on paper, what is written and how it is written is crucial to its success. Summary judgments are more likely to win if they tell a compelling, persuasive story and include a clear analysis of the facts supporting that story. Michele L. Maryott, The Trial on Paper: Key Considerations for Determining Whether to File a Summary Judgment Motion, 35 LITIG. 36, 39 (2009).
In addition to good, evidence-based story-telling, the summary judgment motion should also include a succinct title and introduction, which should address whether or not the party is filing a Traditional Summary Judgment as a plaintiff (Rule 166a(a)) or as a defendant (Rule 166a(b)); what kind of summary judgment is requested, Traditional, No Evidence, or a combination of both; and whether the party is seeking a partial or final summary judgment.
The title and introduction should be followed by the legal and factual grounds for each claim in the case. The motion must also include arguments and authorities to support each claim. Finally, sufficient evidence to support each claim is essential to the success of the summary judgment. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a
According to Rule 166a, a summary judgment should be filed and served no less than 21 days before the hearing. Any response to the summary judgment is due no less than 7 days before the hearing. A party may file a reply to a response, but there is no set time limit for doing so. If the claim is strong and evidence solid, and if the defendant fails to provide evidence to refute the plaintiff’s claims, the motion may be granted as long as “adequate time for discovery” has been provided. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(i). 166. Tex. R. Civ. P. 166a(a)–(b), (i).
Rulings and Judgments
Once the hearing has occurred or, if there is no oral hearing, once submissions are made, the court may rule on the motion. No specific timeframe for the ruling exists; a judge could make a ruling on the day of the hearing or submission, or the judge may never actually make a ruling. C/S Sols., Inc. v. Energy Maint. Servs. Grp., LLC, 274 S.W.3d 299, 308 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2008, no pet.) (citing PATTON, supra note 8, § 7.04, at 7-8 to -9).
Filing an appeal is not possible without the judge’s order constituting a final judgment. The Texas Supreme Court therefore suggests language which, while not mandatory, clarifies whether or not a judgment is final and can therefore be appealed by a litigant: “This Judgment finally disposes of all parties and all claims and is appealable.” In re Daredia, 317 S.W.3d 247, 248 (Tex. 2010) (per curiam) (quoting Lehmann v. Har-Con Corp., 39 S.W.3d 191, 206 (Tex. 2001)); see infra Part 1.V.
Filing a summary judgment is a complex undertaking. Hiring a lawyer who is knowledgeable about the nuances of summary judgments as well as the nuts and bolts of its proceedings can help a litigant avoid the many pitfalls inherent in summary judgment practice.
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