Thursday, December 30, 2010
Edward Brunet (Lewis & Clark Law School) has posted Six Summary Judgment Safeguards to SSRN.
Summary judgment is under attack. Critics have called summary judgment unconstitutional, overused, a radical rule derived from more modest origins, and ineffectual. One rarely hears anyone willing to praise summary judgment. Existing summary judgment discourse appears moody and negative. Nevertheless, summary judgment provides numerous advantages and efficiencies. Summary judgment helps settlement chances by clarifying factual and legal issues and decreasing risk. A denial of the motion creates a settlement premium by increasing the costs and risk. In addition several “safeguards” exist that prevent erroneous grants of summary judgment. These safeguards include (1) the discretionary ability of the trial judge to deny summary judgment by identifying a single disputed factual issue; (2) robust de novo appellate review; and (3) a liberal ability to call a helpful “time-out” available under Rule 56(f) to take a focused quantum of discovery essential to combat a summary judgment request. Other potential safeguards, including (1) the weighing of inferences favoring the non-movant; (2) allowing the non-movant to introduce inadmissible evidence; and (3) a “handle with care” label applicable to only selected types of cases, work less well.