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What Is a Summary Dismissal?

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  • Written By: Staci A. Terry
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2014
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A summary dismissal is a means by which a party can dismiss a lawsuit without proceeding to trial. Typically, a court may issue a summary dismissal when material fact is not questioned or is a genuine issue, or if entering judgment for one party is determined by insufficient evidence presented by the other party. The judge does not try to determine which party would prevail at trial, but instead simply rules that there are no major issues central to the case for the judge or jury to resolve. In some jurisdictions, the law may refer to summary dismissal as a summary judgment.

Either of the parties may ask the court for this decision, or the judge may issue this ruling on his own initiative. It is common for both parties in a case to ask for a summary dismissal of the case. A summary judgment may apply to an entire case or just to certain parts of the case, and therefore may result in a complete dismissal of the entire case or simplify the remaining contested issues for trial, which can make the trial shorter and less complex. The goal of this process is to avoid litigation that is unnecessary.

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When seeking a summary dismissal, a party may support its motion with affidavits, witness depositions, or any other admissible evidence permissible by a jurisdiction's rules of evidence. The court may decide to move for a summary judgment by hearing the oral arguments of the parties or on the written briefs and evidence contained within the parties’ motions. Burden of proof lies with the party filing the motion, and he or she must prove that the court should grant him or her a summary judgment based on insufficient evidence. This is the case even if the burden of proof is not applicable at trial to the party who is motioning for a summary dismissal.

In consideration for a summary dismissal, the judge views the pertinent facts in favor of the non-moving party. The party seeking a summary judgment must prove to the judge that, once the case reaches trial, the other party will not have sufficient evidence to sustain its burden of proof. This allows the judge to decide the case summarily based on certain facts highlighted by party motioning for a summary judgment. The exact requirements for objecting to a summary dismissal motion differ between jurisdictions.

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