By Jedidiah McKeehan

One of the those lawyer terms you may have heard is a, “motion for summary judgment.”

What does this terms mean though?

Okay, first, let’s set parameters, a motion implies there has been a lawsuit filed and there is a case pending before the court. A motion is filed by one side, usually before the trial, asking the court to make a ruling on some specific issue before the final conclusion through a trial.

A motion for summary judgment is a motion, usually filed on behalf of the party being sued, that is saying that, “if you assume that everything the plaintiff says is true, the defendant is still entitled to win, because the law is clear as to what the outcome of this case should be.”

Motion for summary judgments are a big deal because if the defendant wins, usually the case is over. Because of that, usually both sides will put significant time in to drafting the motion, drafting a response to the motion, and preparing to argue the motion in front of the judge. When a motion for summary judgment is granted, that means that the case never even gets to the jury, the judge has decided, based on applying legal precedent to the specific facts, there is no genuine issue of material fact that would allow the plaintiff to win.

The term, “genuine issue of material fact,” is a weird term, but it is a key part in a motion for summary judgment. If the plaintiff can show there is a fact dispute, then they can usually get their case to the jury because the jury is considered the trier of facts. However, if there is no “genuine issue of material fact,” then the only thing to be decided may be an issue of law, and a judge is the decider of issues of law.

I know this is diving into minutiae of the law, but a motion for summary judgment is a fairly common pleading in the legal field.

You will typically not see motions for summary judgment in divorce cases, small claims actions, or landlord-tenant matters. Additionally, a motion for summary judgment is not a pleading you can file in a criminal case. In a criminal case, a defendant’s motion to suppress evidence would be the most similar pleading to a motion for summary judgment in a criminal case.

However, if the case involves a contract, medical malpractice, or a business dealing, a motion for summary judgment is a fairly standard pleading filed.


Jedidiah McKeehan is an attorney practicing in Knox County and surrounding counties.  Visit for more information about this legal issue and other legal issues.