What is the Standard of Review for a Motion for Summary Judgement

A Motion for Summary Judgement (sometimes called an “MSJ”) is a request for the court to rule that the other party has no case, because there are no facts at issue. The party making the motion is claiming that either the case should not go before a jury at all, or a jury could only rule in favor of the moving party.

In order to win an MSJ, the moving party must show that:

  • there are no facts which can reasonably be disputed; or
  • anyone looking at the facts and applying law would rule in favor of the moving party.

Although either plaintiff or defendant is allowed to make this kind of motion, in a personal injury case MSJs are most often brought by the defendant. In a personal injury case, for example, a defendant’s MSJ will usually argue that the defendant had no duty toward the plaintiff (the existence of a legal duty is a key element of “negligence,” which forms the basis of liability in most injury cases). An MSJ might also be based on lack of evidence, so that even if the defendant had a duty to the plaintiff, there is no proof that the duty was breached or that the breach caused the injury.  If an MSJ is granted, the case is closed with regard to the moving party.

Summary judgment is appropriate if the pleadings, affidavits, depositions and other evidence on file “show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment “as a matter of law.”  See Rules for the District Courts of Oklahoma, Rule 13; Shulty v. Apache Corp., 814 P.2d 469, 471 (Okla. 1991); RST Service Mfg., Inc. v. Mussel Hite, 628 P.2d 366, 368 (Okla. 1981).  Further, a party opposing a motion for summary judgment must demonstrate clearly and with specificity that controverted facts exist.  Howe v. Ballard, 801 P.2d 127, 130 (Okla. 1990); Weeks v. Wedgwood Village, 554 P.2d 780, 784 (Okla. 1976).  When considering a Motion for Summary Judgment, a Court must view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.  Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).  However, only genuine disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the case under the governing substantive law preclude the entry of summary judgment.  Id. at 248.  “[A] trial judge must bear in mind the actual quantum and quality of proof necessary to support liability” and must determine whether the proffered evidence is sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to find liability.  Id. at 254.  If the evidence leads to only one reasonable conclusion, summary judgment is proper. Id. at 250. 

            A party’s failure to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of his case renders all other facts immaterial.  Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Palermo v. First Nat’l Bank & Trust Co., 894 F.2d 363, 367 (10th Cir. 1990).  “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party’s case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.”  Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.  A movant need only point out that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the non-moving party’s case.  Id. at 325.  Then, the non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and set forth specific facts demonstrating that there is a triable issue.  Id. at 324; Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).