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What Happens at a Motion for Summary Judgment Hearing?

Chloe Meltzer | December 13, 2023

Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: A motion for summary judgment is a written request to dismiss part or all of a lawsuit without a trial. At the hearing, the court considers evidence that some or all facts of the case have not been disputed.

Summary: A motion for summary judgment is a written request to dismiss part or an entire lawsuit without a trial. At the hearing, the court considers evidence that some or all facts of the case have not been disputed.

Summary judgments can feel like a lifesaver or a life ruiner, depending on which side of a case wins the summary judgment. If the judge decides that you don't have a case, it can be frustrating and scary to feel like the court decided against you. On the flip side, it can be a relief to avoid a full trial if you are the one who filed the motion.

So, what exactly is a summary judgment? What happens at and after the hearing? And what's the difference between a trial and a hearing? Let's find out.

What is a motion for summary judgment in a civil case?

The job of a court of law is to deliberate in civil cases when there's a dispute. What if the facts of the case are not disputed? What if one party has evidence proving there's no reason to spend time deliberating? Then the person can send a written request to the court to dismiss the case or the part of the case that is acceptable to both parties. Such a request is called a motion.

In legal terms, a motion is any petition requesting the court to take action. For example, a motion may be submitted to ask the court to block a piece of evidence from being submitted to a trial. Another motion might ask the court to move the trial to a different courtroom.

In a civil case, when someone files a motion for summary judgment, they are asking the court not to go to trial but instead issue a summary judgment. If the court grants the motion, a judgment will be entered into the case, and it will not go to trial.

Let's take a look at an example of a summary judgment in a civil case.

Example: Jackson owes a credit card debt of $1,000 in North Carolina, and after several failed attempts to get him to pay off the balance, the credit card company sues him. Jackson makes an Answer to the lawsuit by himself, denying most of the claims against him, and files it within the deadline. The credit card company's lawyers respond to Jackson's Answer by filing a motion for summary judgment. Along with the motion, the lawyers submit the original contract signed by Jackson, statements of purchases and payments made, and other evidence that a balance remains due and owing. The judge reviews the motion and documentation submitted by the credit card company and decides to grant the motion. With a summary judgment against him, Jackson owes $1,000 plus court costs and fees.

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What's the difference between a hearing and a trial?

A hearing and a trial are court proceedings with different intensities and purposes. The table below summarizes these differences.

Difference Between a Hearing and Trial



Judge considers the evidence and decides on the next step in the presence of both parties

Facts, evidence, affidavits, etc., are examined to decide who is either guilty or innocent

Takes a relatively shorter time.

Takes much longer

Usually less formal

Relatively formal

Presided over by a judge

Can be presided over by a judge or a jury

Can conclude a case

Almost always concludes a case

Source: FindLaw

As shown in the table, a hearing doesn't involve lengthy deliberations. But it can be used to finalize a case or take it to trial. In fact, in criminal cases, the court can have preliminary hearings (also called mini-trials) to protect the defendant from facing trial on unfounded charges.

When a lawsuit goes to trial, it is typically because both parties disagree on case facts and proceedings. They have to provide arguments and evidence for the court to decide the case.

That being said, trials and hearings sometimes vary in nature based on the state in which they take place. If you're not sure how a trial or hearing works in your state, you can always call the courthouse and ask a clerk about it. They may not be able to give a detailed answer to the question (because they cannot give legal advice), but they can at least point you in the right direction.

Request for summary judgment

To be successful in a motion for summary judgment, two items must be proved by the movant (also known as the person making the motion):

  1. There are no material facts to be disputed.
  2. Because of the above, the person bringing forth the motion is entitled to judgment.

A motion for summary judgment consists of two main parts:

  1. The motion is a written request for the court to rule in the movant's favor.
  2. The memorandum: a memo explaining why the court should rule in favor of the movant must be written in support of the motion.

The “movant” is the individual who is bringing forth the summary judgment. For this to happen, the movant must file their motion for summary judgment with the court. This must be filed by a specific date, and this deadline is set forth in the case scheduling order. The case scheduling order is signed by the court and lists numerous deadlines, including those for filing a motion for a summary judgment. If that date is not included on the scheduling order, check the rules of civil procedures for the court where your case is being handled.

Responding to a motion for summary judgment

The party that is not the movant is considered the “non-moving party.” This person is always allowed to respond to the motion for summary judgment. Known as a “response” or an “opposition motion,” the non-moving party only has a certain amount of time to file it. This amount of time varies from state to state but is typically around 21 days.

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Similar to the original motion, the non-moving party's response will need to consist of two different parts:

  1. The motion is a written request for the court to rule in the non-moving party's favor.
  2. The memorandum is awritten memo explaining why the court should rule in favor of the non-moving party.

In responding to a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party is required to do one of two things. They must either:

  1. Show that there is a disputed fact: This usually is done by showing evidence.
  2. Accept that there are no disputed facts: Instead, they may dispute the movant's recitation of the law.

Sometimes the non-moving party may believe that they have not had enough time to uncover all the facts of the case. In this situation, this person may ask for a court continuance, which grants extra time to work on the case. Be careful; there is no guarantee that a court continuance will be allowed in your case.

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Let's continue with Jackson's example. He lives in the state of California, where the court's rules give specific directions regarding the documents needle to both support a summary judgment and those that the non-movant could use to oppose the motion.

So the documents Jackson needs to send to dispute the case should look something like this:

  • Memorandum in opposition to the moving party's motion for summary judgment
  • A separate statement in opposition to the motion for summary judgment
  • Evidence opposing the moving party's motion for summary judgment
  • A request for judicial notice in opposition to the motion for summary judgment

Jackson's case, as presented above, would likely not go to trial because none of the facts were disputed. However, if Jackson could have proven that the balance was different from what the movant stated, or had evidence to present showing that the debt was invalid, then the motion for summary judgment would likely have been denied. Jackson could then have filed his own motion for summary judgment, asking the court to dismiss the case against him. The judge would either agree and sign the motion for summary judgment in Jackson's favor, or the case may have proceeded to trial.

What happens during a motion for summary judgment hearing?

Generally, the judge will call both parties to court after the motion has been filed and the response has been made. The response and motion will be read, and then the judge will preside over a hearing.

At the hearing, each party will be given some time to discuss their argument. This is done in front of the judge to facilitate a conversation. The judge will typically follow up with questions towards the end of the hearing should they require additional clarification.

At the end of the process, the judge will grant or deny the motion. If the judge needs extra time, then both parties may need to wait to be notified. This can take days, weeks, or even months, depending on the situation.

Although you may have submitted written testimony, a hearing on a motion for summary judgment does not involve oral testimony. Because of this, if you have a lawyer, they may not even ask you to be present at the hearing. This varies from case to case and lawyer to lawyer. If you are representing yourself, then you will need to be present.

What happens after a motion for summary judgment hearing?

There are a number of possibilities

  • If the judge grants the summary, the case concludes, and a summary judgment is ordered. The non-moving party may accept or appeal the outcome for another hearing.
  • If the motion is denied, the court schedules a trial date.
  • If certain material facts are still disputed, then those are deliberated at a trial.

A motion for summary judgment is a tool that helps prevent a backlog of unnecessary court cases. It can also help you avoid a lengthy trial if you have the necessary facts. For example, if a debt collector takes you to court and the debt is not yours, you can supply the facts to make the judge dismiss the case.

Keep in mind that it is pretty difficult to get a motion for summary judgment granted. The burden of proof rests heavily on the party that files this type of motion, and the party that responds doesn't have to prove their side of the case but rather provide some evidence there is reason to dispute the original claims.

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