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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we’ll discuss Motions for Summary Judgments in Iowa and answer the questions, “what is a Motion for Summary Judgment”, “what happens during the Motion for Summary Judgement Process”, and “when should a Motion for Summary Judgement be filed in Iowa.” 

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment?

In a civil litigation trial, there are always two sides trying to build a case to support or refute a particular claim and to convince the judge or jury their argument holds more weight. Within those arguments we have the two elements that make up most arguments in a civil case: 1) questions about the law itself and whether it applies to the case or should be changed and 2) arguments over the facts of the case, basically what actually happened. Attorney’s on both sides will do their best to create an argument that puts their client in the best light according to the laws and the facts. Normally, as the trial concludes and it comes times for a decision and charges to be laid out, it is the jury deliberating on the facts and the judge interpreting the law.

However, in some cases, the facts considered and presented by both parties will be the same. And in some cases, one party may feel a trial is not warranted or necessary. Here, the party would file a Motion for Summary judgment, requesting the judge rule in their favor without a trial. The Motion for Summary Judgment is essentially one side saying there is no argument over the material facts or the other side is unable to reasonably prove their argument. Judgment in favor of the filing party may be granted if they can show: 1) no dispute as to the material facts in the case is apparent; and 2) based on the undisputed facts the party that filed the motion is entitled to judgment based on the law. 

What is the Motion for Summary Judgment process?

Motion for Summary Judgment can seem like a convoluted process at first, but it really boils down to three parts.

Part 1: The filing party presents their version of the facts. A brief called a Memorandum in Support of the Summary Judgment is filed with the summary judgment. The filing party includes information from the discovery process including photos, signed statements, pertinent documents, and any other evidence to back up their argument about the facts. The filing party need not show that both parties agree on every fact in the case (if this were the case then there would likely be no reason to go to trial), or that the filing party’s story is truer than the defendants, just that there are no reasonably disputable facts that are essential to the claim, indicating that there would be nothing for the judge or jury to decide if the trial actually took place.

Part 2: The filing party’s attorney presents his or her arguments in regard to the law. As part of the brief presented supporting the Motion for Summary Judgment statutes and previous court rulings that argue in favor of the motion are cited in an attempt to convince the judge that, according to the law, the filing party should win the case.

Part 3: After the motion and memorandum have been filed the opposing party will file a brief called a Response, making the legal or factual argument that 1) the other party’s claims or defenses are genuinely disputable; 2) despite no dispute against the filing party’s claim, there are other facts or legal considerations which can overcome the motion; 3) established statutory law or case law should not allow the other party to win at trial.  After the opposing party has filed the Response brief the original party that filed the motion will have a chance to file a Reply brief, responding to the defense against the Motion for Summary Judgment. Typically, the filing party will have a decent idea of what the opposing party will argue and will already have an argument ready to counter.

After the various briefs have gone back and forth the attorneys for the two parties will provide oral arguments in front of the court. Ideally, the judge hearing the case will have reviewed the briefs, done his or her own research and will be prepared with questions for each party. However, sometimes judges will have only skimmed the information and prefer to hear arguments from the attorneys before doing research and presenting his or her judgment on the motion. In the end, the judge decides to grant the motion if 1) the arguments about the law were correct and 2) even if the opposing party’s version of the facts was correct the filing party is still entitled to win. The motion will be dismissed if there is any evidence that suggests the facts put forth in the filing party’s argument are in question and need to be put to the test of a trial.

In what time-frame and circumstance should a Motion for Summary Judgment be filed in Iowa?

In Iowa, a Motion for Summary Judgment can be filed by either party up to 60 days prior to the date the case is set for trial unless otherwise specified by the court. If resisting the motion, the opposing party should file a resistance within 15 days of the motion being served, unless ordered otherwise by the court. 

Whether to file a Motion for Summary Judgment is a serious and difficult decision ultimately made by the filing client. She will have normally spoken at length with her attorney about the possible outcomes and will understand that the process can be time-consuming for the attorney, possibly increasing the overall cost of the case. However, winning a Motion for Summary Judgment can greatly decrease the cost to the client. If there is strong evidence supporting a Motion for Summary Judgment it can be a worthwhile plan to move forward because the good news is that most of the work that goes into prepping for a Motion for Summary Judgment translates into the trial if the motion fails.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.


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