Saturday, March 18, 2023

The Summary Judgment Revolution That Wasn't

The Summary Judgment Revolution That Wasn't



Jonathan Remy Nash

Emory University School of Law

D. Daniel Sokol

USC Gould School of Law; USC Marshall School of Business


The U.S. Supreme Court decided a trilogy of cases on summary judgment in 1986. Questions remain as to how much effect these cases have had on judicial decision making in terms of wins and losses for plaintiffs. Shifts in wins and losses and what cases get to decisions on the merits impact access to justice. We assemble novel datasets to examine this question empirically in three areas of law that are more likely to respond to shifts in the standard for summary judgment: antitrust, securities regulation, and civil rights. We find that the Supreme Court’s decisions had a statistically significant effect in antitrust, an ambiguous effect in civil rights cases, and no effect in securities regulation. We also find that, in the trilogy’s wake, antitrust appellate cases were far more likely to cite trilogy cases—and in particular the one trilogy case that was an antitrust case—than appellate cases in the other areas. This suggests that the lone trilogy case that arose in antitrust had an effect on decision making in that field, but that the trilogy had a limited effect across other substantive areas. This finding differs from Twombly and Iqbal where an antitrust decision ultimately reshaped the entire body of law around motions to dismiss.

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