Winning Your Case Before Trial – Part 2
You have just been sued in federal court and someone has served you with a complaint. The complaint demands that you return and file an answer addressing each of the allegations that have been made against you by either admitting or denying each of the plaintiff’s assertions. Initially, you may think it wise to respond immediately to the plaintiff. However, there are number of critical considerations you need to make before filing that answer. This phase of litigation will lay the foundation for and direct the course of both how the case is decided and how much work you will end up having to put into it.
In the previous article, we discussed the seven 12(b) motions to dismiss in Arizona federal court, such as the 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Oftentimes, 12(b) motions are an excellent tool for chiseling away at the plaintiff’s claims against you, and sometimes a 12(b) motion might even knock down the entire complaint altogether. In the second part of this article, we will discuss two other methods that may be used to resolve a case before it goes to trial: the 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings and Rule 56 motion for summary judgment.
While this article goes into some detail with regards to pre-trial motions, it merely scratches the surface on considerations you need to make before you file your answer. Accordingly, it would not be wise to rely solely on this article for advice. After all, your case is unique. Strategizing which pre-trial motions to use and which pre-trial motions to lose (yes, many pre-trial motions will be lost if not timely used!) can be tricky, but such actions are often critical for laying the foundation for your success in court. For this reason, contact an experienced Arizona trial attorney today to help you navigate the complexities of your case and provide you with your best shot at winning.
Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings – Rule 12(c)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) offers an effective tool used to conclude cases before they even make it to trial through motions for judgment on the pleadings. Motions for judgment on the pleadings are often seen as a fusion of a 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and Rule 56 motions for summary judgment (see below). As applied in countless court decisions, 12(c) motions are designed to provide a mechanism that can resolve cases when the facts stated in the plaintiff’s claim, the defendant’s response, and any other facts established by judicial notice or other evidence, show that that no facts are materially in dispute. A 12(c) motion generally only has purpose when both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s facts are admittedly consistent and the only questions to be decided by a judge are questions of law—in other words, how to apply the law to facts that both sides agree upon.
Let me highlight this 12(c) motion with an example. Brad serves Larry with a complaint alleging that Larry unlawfully entered his personal property and chopped down a tree. Larry’s answer admits that he entered Brad’s property and chopped down the tree, but also states that he had a valid license for doing so, which he attached to his answer as an exhibit. In this case, if Larry files a motion for judgment as a matter of law, the judge may grant his motion because the only issue to be determined is a matter of law, and no facts seem to be in dispute.
When Should you Make a 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings?
Generally, a 12(c) motion can be filed at any time after an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint has been filed and the plaintiff’s time to respond to the defendant’s answer has passed, but it must be made at some point before a verdict is issued at the end of trial. As a matter of strategy, defendants will usually want to file a 12(c) motion when the complaint shows that there is insufficient factual support for the plaintiff’s cause of action against them. If the factual support for the plaintiff’s claims is not found in the complaint, but can reasonably be found beyond the pleadings, the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings may be transformed into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment by the court. When the 12(c) motion is changed to a motion for summary judgment, the court may stay consideration over the pleadings and allow time for the parties to conduct discover and provide additional briefing.
The challenge posed by the court using its discretion to convert a defendant’s 12(c) motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment is that even though the defendant may have not wanted to file a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, he will now have to go through the arduous process of doing so. Consequently, making a 12(c) motion might not be beneficial to your case if there will likely be evidence against you outside of the pleadings. Because of this confusion and the court’s ability to convert a 12(c) motion into a motion for summary judgment, it is critical that you meet with an experienced trial attorney to strategize for your case. This will ensure that you are making the right pre-trial motions that will most effectively defend your case. While a motion for judgment on the pleadings can be a very effective tool under the right circumstances, it is usually difficult to prevail on.
Motion for Summary Judgment – Rule 56
A Rule 56 motion for summary judgment is similar to a Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings in that it is a pre-trial motion that asks the court to decide the case in favor of the party making the motion. However, a summary judgment motion is different in that it is not only relying on the pleadings, but it is arguing that even if the opposing party is allowed time to look for evidence supporting their claim or defense during a discovery period (or, more commonly, if the discovery period has expired), there is still no way that the party be able to win their case.
A summary judgment motion centers on the issue of whether any “material issues of fact” remain in the case. In other words, a motion for summary judgment is a question about what actually happened in the case and not about how the law should be applied to the case. If the opposing party can show that there is even one material issue of fact, the court will deny the motion and move forward to trial.
How do You Make a Motion for Summary Judgment?
Usually, a party makes a motion for summary judgment by drafting a memorandum that explains why the court should dispose of all (or some) of the issues raised by the plaintiff in the complaint. This memorandum should generally be accompanied by supporting documents collected during discovery, such as: interrogatories, admissions, depositions, affidavits, declarations, and other similar sources. The judge’s decision to grant or deny the summary judgment motion will depend entirely on whether or not any material issues of fact remain in the case.
Does the Opposing Party Receive an Opportunity to Respond to the Moving Party’s Summary Judgment Motion?
Once one party has filed a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party will be required to file a response. This is often referred to as an opposition to a motion for summary judgment. An opposition will include a statement of facts and other supporting documents which support the existence of any disputes of material fact and that the motion for summary judgment should therefore fail. Like a motion for summary judgment, an opposition should cite key points and authorities, including supporting case law. Though it might sound simple, drafting a motion or an opposition to a motion for summary judgment is no walk in the park. There are typically many supporting documents that need to be filed, and a lot of thought and effort must be put into a motion for summary judgment for it to succeed. That effort can be worth it if the motion for summary judgment results in a complete victory on your case without going to trial! For help, contact an experienced AZ business lawyer today.
The Judge’s Decision
Once all of the memoranda and evidence have been submitted by both sides in support of their arguments, the judge will review all the documents and come to a final conclusion. The judge will generally grant the moving party’s motion for summary judgment when (1) the moving made correct arguments about the law, and (2) even if the nonmoving party’s alleged facts are all true, the moving party would still be entitled to win. In other words, the judge will grant the motion when there are no material issues of fact that would affect the judgment. If the judge finds that there is evidence that presents disputed and material issues of fact, then the motion for summary judgment will be denied, and the case will continue to trial.
Getting Help with Making or Opposing a Motion for Summary Judgment
Making and opposing motions for summary judgment can be very complex as a matter of both form and procedure. You must not only understand what to present in your case to a judge, but you must also understand how to do it, when to file it, who to file it with, etc. If you have been served with a motion for summary judgment or are considering filing a motion for summary judgment in an Arizona state or federal court, then it is critical that you meet with an experienced business litigation attorney as soon as possible.
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