In my blog entitled The Civil Litigation Process: Phase Two – Discovery, I discussed the steps taken in the court system regarding the bringing of all of the facts together relating to the claims, counterclaims, cross-claims, third party claims and the defenses of all of those. I will now discuss the final phases of a civil litigation lawsuit which deal with Motions of Summary Judgment, the Trial Phase, and the Amendments of the Judgment.
In many cases one side or the other, and sometimes both, file what are called motions for summary judgment asking the judge to resolve a claim by either granting the claim or dismissing the claim. Such a motion may go to some but not all of the claims or issues asserted in the lawsuit by the parties. Such a motion is subject to a high standard: there must be no genuine issue of material fact and viewing the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, the party asking for summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law based upon the facts as shown. This process is supposed to pare down and prevent cases having to go to trial where no reasonable juror could find in favor of the non-moving party as to that claim.
If the lawsuit has not been fully resolved, whatever remains of the case will go to trial. Leading up to trial, there will a pre-trial conference for the judge and the parties to try to deal with many issues including: what instructions should be given to any jury; what forms of verdict will be used; is there any evidence which should not be presented at trial and which due its prejudicial nature or need for special process should be decided before the trial begins; what witnesses and exhibits will be allowed; and how much time will each party be given to present its evidence.
At the trial, the parties call their witnesses and present their documentary evidence. The judge is called upon to rule on the admissibility of evidence when one party objects to its admission. During the trial a party can make a motion to the judge for a judgment as a matter of law as to any claim. This motion is decided under the same standard as the motion for summary judgment. Attorneys at the trial give opening statements of what they intend to prove during the trial and closing arguments advocating for what they believe the evidence showed as to the issues addressed in the court’s instructions to the jury. The jury then deliberates and returns a verdict determining who has prevailed and what monetary relief, if any, should be awarded.
The case does not end with jury’s verdict. If the case is one in which attorney’s fees or non-monetary relief has been sought, these issues still remain to be decided by the judge. After all of the issues are finally decided, then a final judgment is entered. But that may not be the end either: parties dissatisfied with the final judgment can file motions challenging some or all of the judgment and asking for a new trial, the alteration or amendment of the judgment, and an increase or decrease in the monetary award. There is also the option of an appeal to an appeals court by one or more parties who have been aggrieved by the judgment.
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please feel free to contact us at 480.461.5300. log on to udallshumway.com, or contact an attorney in your area.