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What are “Motions” and how are they used in a civil lawsuit?
A motion is a method by which a party asks the court to do something. That is, the party moves the court to take action. Motions are most often used to ask the court for some form of procedural action. Below are examples of common motions:
- Motion to Compel Production – This is a request to the court to force the other side to produce the requested information (discovery). It is extremely common for parties to litigation to ignore or not fully comply with the other party’s discovery requests. The motion to compel is the procedural remedy available to the requesting party.
- Statute of Limitations – This is a request to the court to bar the other party from bringing a particular cause of action against the defendant. Basically, it argues that the statutory time period allowed for bringing the specific legal action has passed. Successfully demonstrating that the statute of limitations has passed effectively wins that claim for the defendant.
- Judgment on the Pleadings – This is a request by the defendant to the court to rule in her favor based upon the information in the pleadings. It states that, even if all pleadings are true, the defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. At this point, neither party has presented any facts, but the defendant claims that the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action. Basically, the defendant claims that all of the facts, as alleged, do not establish a legal claim under the existing law.
- Directed Verdict/Summary Judgment – This is a request to the court by a defendant to rule in her favor based upon the plaintiff’s presentation or the entire presentation of evidence. The request for directed verdict comes at the close of the plaintiff’s presentation of evidence. The court will grant the motion if the plaintiff has failed to present sufficient evidence to show that the defendant could be liable under the law. If granted, the defendant does not have to present a defense because the plaintiff did not show the minimal amount of evidence necessary to demonstrate liability. A motion for summary judgment is based upon the same grounds, but is made at the close of all evidence.
A motion can take many forms and can be for any purpose. In business cases, motions litigation is often the most intense aspect of a trial. The result of motions litigation will often be the determining factor as to whether parties continue on with litigation, dismiss the action, or settle the lawsuit.
Discussion: Why do you think motion litigation is so important in business cases?
- Most would opine that it can be case determinative. This is, a motion may determine whether the parties in the case proceed with litigation, dismiss the action, or settle the lawsuit.
Practice Question: Zara decides to sue ABC, Inc., in state superior court. ABC receives a summons and complaint containing lots of allegations. ABC believes that all of the allegations made by Zara, even if true, do not state a valid cause of action under state law. What process should ABC take in responding to these allegations?
- ABC will file a motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. This is a request by the ABC to the court to rule in her favor based upon the information in the pleadings of Zara. The motion must demonstrate that, even though the pleadings are true, ABC is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. At this point, neither party has presented any facts, but the ABC claims that the plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action. Basically, the defendant claims that all of the facts, as alleged, do not establish a legal claim under the existing law.
Shavell, Steven, The Rationale for Motions in the Design of Adjudication (May 24, 2018). Harvard John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics and Business, Discussion Paper No. 955, May 2018; Harvard Public Law Working Paper No. 18-31. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3184522 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3184522
Rumel, John, Post-Trial Motions in Private Antitrust Actions: A Practitioner’s Guide (1990). Review of Litigation, Vol. 10, No. 1, 1990. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2771312 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2771312
Lebovits, Gerald, Drafting New York Civil-Litigation Documents: Part XVII — Motions to Dismiss Continued (2012). New York State Bar Association Journal, Vol. 84, No. 6, July/August 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2111499
Lebovits, Gerald, Drafting New York Civil-Litigation Documents: Part XXXIV — Contempt Motions Continued (July 1, 2014). New York State Bar Journal, Vol. 86, p. 84, July/August 2014. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2470148
Schiess, Wayne, The Bold Synopsis: A Way to Improve Your Motions. Texas Bar Journal, Vol. 63, No. 1030, December 2000. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1323486