June 17, 2024

Cutting to the Chase: Motions for Summary Judgment in NC Cases 

When you’re pursuing a legal case in North Carolina, the road ahead can seem long and daunting. Between mounting paperwork, never-ending deadlines, and complex procedures, it’s easy to lose sight of the end goal. But there’s one powerful legal motion that, if granted, allows you to bypass many of those obstacles altogether—the motion for summary judgment.   

In this article, we’ll break down what these motions entail and why they matter so much to North Carolinians seeking justice. We’ll explore when they apply, what evidence gets considered, and how both plaintiffs and defendants can utilize them to their advantage. 

What is a Motion for Summary Judgment? 

A motion for summary judgment is a request for the court to rule in your favor on some or all issues in a case without going to trial. It argues that no genuine disputes of material fact exist, so a full trial is unnecessary. That means the law, combined with the undisputed facts, favors one side entirely. 

For example, imagine you slipped and fell at a store in Davidson County due to a leaky freezer unit. If surveillance footage and eyewitness accounts clearly showed the store knew about the puddle but did nothing, you could file for summary judgment. With liability already established, a trial would just be redundant. 

When Summary Judgment Applies 

For a judge to grant summary judgment, two key requirements must be met after the bulk of evidence gathering (discovery) has occurred: 

  1. There are no “genuine issues” of any “material facts” in dispute
  2. Based on those undisputed facts, the law entitles the moving party to judgment   

Burdens and Evidence Evaluation 

But how do courts determine what facts are truly undisputed? The starting point is whose “burden” it is.  

If you’re the plaintiff making the summary judgment motion, you bear the initial burden of proving no disputes exist over facts that are essential for your claim to succeed. Only then does the burden shift to the defendant to show a triable issue of fact. 

Critically, judges do not get to weigh the credibility of evidence at this stage. They view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. So using our previous slip-and-fall example, if the store presents some evidence to question the validity of the video: that dispute of fact alone could prevent summary judgment. 

The Benefits of a Granted Motion   

As you can imagine, having your entire case resolved via summary judgment carries enormous advantages. For defendants, it means avoiding a costly and unpredictable trial altogether. For plaintiffs, you get an judgment in your favor without further proceedings. 

Even if the summary judgment grants less than you hoped, it can significantly simplify trial by narrowing which issues need to be argued before a jury. In an injury case, a partial summary judgment on liability allows the jury to focus solely on calculating damages. 

When Motions are Denied 

Of course, many summary judgment motions get denied. Courts hesitate to prevent jury trials unless the standards are clearly met. Common reasons include: 

  • Credibility determinations are necessary about conflicting witness accounts 
  • Other issues of material fact exist that need jury resolution 
  • The judge simply feels the record could benefit from further factual development 

A denial doesn’t automatically spell doom for your case – trials remain a pathway to victory. You can also attempt an appeal by arguing the judge misapplied the law to the established facts, since appellate courts review summary judgment denials using a de novo (fresh look) legal standard. 

This information is provided by Harris Legal for general benefit, education, and interest. If you have a specific legal question, you should consult with an attorney.