From NL: how do I write a summary judgment motion and what is that?

I have to tell you, most law school grads don’t know how to write one either, so if you are pro se, don’t fret this.

The stages of litigation, for your background info are this 1) file and prepare complaint; 2) draft up written discovery to your opponent(s) which will be interrogatories (fancy word for questions), requests for documents and requests to admit; 3) get back answers (if you don’t, you have to file a motion to compel and maybe a rule to show cause); 4)  depositions of fact witnesses (you will likely need a lawyer for this, get one cheap and limit his or her representation to just your depns); 5) experts.  hire a expert if needed or helpful.  they will produce a report.  your opponent will likely then get an expert.  if there are depositions, get a lawyer, just for those, you will likely not know how to make objections and preserve testimony for trial, plus lawyers know how to ask the really incisive (annoying) questions; then you have to do your trial prep and 6) hire a lawyer for trial.

This will keep things cheap unless you can find a contingency fee lawyer.  But due to corruption in the courts, your chances of getting that are slim to none. This is because you will need an honest lawyer that can’t be paid off.  Many lawyers can be paid off (sad to say).  And your lawyer must be honest enuf they won’t every bribe anyone. So that means your opponent in the current environment will be at a disadvantage because in our current system, we don’t test for psychopaths with a PET brain scan, so your opponent will bribe, but you and your lawyer will not.  So you will often be pro se fighting a difficult system.  But we have to do it to clean up the current system. Take everything to a jury trial. Do not settle or you are just a hypocrite too.

At the first stage of the trial, and after depositions and discovery is all returned, you may wish to file a Summary Judgment Motion and/or Judgment on the Pleadings.  You can really file both, and they’re pretty much the same.  That’s two bites at the apple.  Many lawyers do not do this, but you can.

What you are saying is that your opponent found no credible evidence of anything and you are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

How to write  Summary Judgment Motion:

  1.  Write an introductory paragraph.  This will say what litigant is filing it (name and if you are plaintiff or defendant or a cross claimant, etc.) and your best reasons (use 3 to 5) of why you are entitled to Summary Judgment as a matter of Law.
  2.  Next is your “Statement of Facts”.  You do this in the following format:  “1. on X date, this happened.  2. on Y date this happened.”  You might want to include the procedure in the portion of your Motion, or you might want to do a separate “Statement of Procedure” to bring your judge up to date.  Remember you write these pleadings for an appellate judge or a new judge.  Don’t skip over facts because you think “the judge knows my case, s/he knows me”. Forget that nonsense.  The judge has 20 other cases per day, they are elderly and likely have short term memory loss and bad eyes.  Tell your story. Don’t skip this important part.  Your judge can be diagnosed with cancer or heart disease any day. Write like you are writing for the appellate court or a new judge every time you file a Motion.
  3. Motions are supposed to be in short, concise numbered paragraphs. They are short (3 to 5 pages).  Put your details and case law in a Brief to accompany the motion.  If the judge or court has a page limit, be sure to stick to that.  But most judges get tired of reading after 15 pages, so 15 pages of great concise writing is a laudable goal.
  4. Tell the court why you are entitled to Summary Judgment as a matter of law. Look at the complaint.  Do they have all the required elements of each cause of action to go to trial.  Look at your case law.  They should have pulled 2 to 3 cases at the time you prepared your complaint to find the elements for each tort.  Find cases that say they are missing one or more elements.
  5. MOST IMPORTANT.  A clear list of undisputed facts that will entitled you to summary judgment.  You can put this as an exhibit.  Make your opponent dispute this.  All you need is just ONE disputed material fact to get before your jury.  So look at the depositions and affidavits filed. Come up with your own affidavits to dispute some facts.

I have seen some really terrible SJM motions.  You have to be clear about what is undisputed. SJM’s are not favored; jury trials are.  Or at least in theory.

If you are defending a SJM, come up with disputed facts and put them in an affidavit or declaration.

Whatever court you are in (federal, state, etc.) read the rules before submitting any pleading. There are generally specific rules for Summary Judgment Motions. Read them carefully before filing your pleading.  Law is all about following rules.  Someone with a weak argument can easily win over good case law with no compliance with rules.  No compliance with rules can easily tick off a judge into oblivion and win your case.  Remember, judges are often perfectionist entities who went to law school with tons of reading and tons of deadlines and case law. they want you to be conservative about this and perfect in your pleadings.

In Illinois, always file verified pleadings.  Once one pleading is verified, your opponent must also verify pleadings.  If they don’t, ask to strike or dismiss the pleading.

Always do a Notice of Filing, a Certificate of Service and Verification at the end of your pleadings.

Good Luck

Email me if you have questions and I will be glad to do a general blog post in response.





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