A motion for summary judgment is a special motion that any party to a lawsuit may file. The motion asks the judge to make judgments about either the whole case; a motion for final summary judgment, or make judgments about part of the case; a motion for partial summary judgment.
Most motions for summary judgment are filed by defendants that want the judge to decide that some or all of the plaintiff's lawsuit shouldn't go to trial. If, for example, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit that was barred by a statute of limitations, the defendant would move (file a motion for) summary judgment. If the defendant can prove that the statute of limitations expired, the judge would grant the defendant's motion for summary judgment, and the case would be over; there wouldn't be a trial.
Traditionally, the burden of proof is on the party moving for summary judgment: That party must prove with evidence that would be admissible at trial that he or she is entitled to summary judgment.
Some states, however, allow what's called a "No-Evidence" summary judgment. It reverses the burden of proof and forces the nonmoving party to prove with admissible evidence that the moving party is not entitled to summary judgment. No-Evidence summary judgments are almost always used by defendants, because they force a plaintiff to prove that it has evidence to back up its lawsuit.
Summary judgments have been used for over 100 years to quickly and efficiently dispose of cases that have no merit. At least one party will move for summary judgment in the majority of tort cases. Frivolous lawsuits never make it past a summary judgment because if a judge lets a lawsuit get past a summary judgment, he or she has ruled that the case is strong enough to take to a jury.
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