A summary judgment is rendered when a trial court decides that there are no genuine issues of material fact that need to be determined. “Manifestly erroneous” is the high standard under which summary judgments are reversed on appeal. Summary judgments are cheaper and less time consuming than full blown trials; they are a means toward the end of judicial expediency, a goal that becomes increasingly important to our judicial system over time. Despite the importance of this procedural device, many cases do not call for summary judgment. Sometimes trial courts grant full or partial summary judgments in error and are reversed. That is what occurred in the case of Jagneux v. Frohn, which you can read here.
The defendants in this case convinced the trial court that no issues of fact existed that required litigating. Their legal journey was not over though due to the plaintiff’s appeal. The court of appeals applied the standard promulgated by the Louisiana Supreme Court. This Louisiana Supreme Court’s standard initially places the burden of proof on the party that is moving for a summary judgment. The moving party must prove that one or more elements of the adverse party’s claim or defense lacks any factual support on the record so far. The opposing party is then granted an opportunity to prove that there have been facts alleged that support that party’s position. At the time of summary judgment the record is sparse so a granting of summary judgment represents a finding by the court that no facts supporting a particular party’s, in this case the plaintiff’s, position.
The appellate court reversed the trial court’s decision in this case because it found that the issue of whether Mrs. Kling, a defendant in this case, was the driver of the white SUV at the time that it, at least partially, caused the accident at issue in this case. Because there was conflicting evidence about where Mrs. Kling was and whether or not she was actually in control of the car at the time of the accident, summary judgment was not the right choice in this case. The trial court is not to weigh the merits of the case when addressing summary judgment. Summary judgment is only appropriate in cases where no potentially meritorious case is presented by one of the parties.
Judicial efficiency is a desirable goal at this point in history. America is an incredibly litigious society and with good reason. Science and technology move faster now than ever before and this leads to more pernicious injuries becoming increasingly common. Society functions better when injured people are compensated. This is even more true when injured people are compensated quickly and at minimal expense to society. However, as important as these goals are, the pursuit of the truth is the most important aim of our justice system. When the truth of a matter is in question, it falls to our trial courts with their judges and juries to put together an authoritative version of events. This version, when properly decided, becomes the truth for all intents and purposes. When there is no need to conduct an exhaustive search for truth, summary judgment becomes necessary and expedient.
Summary judgments take up less of a court’s time than a trial. Because of this, summary judgments allow a court to hear more cases in less time. This benefits society as a whole. Frequently, American and Louisiana courts have a substantial backlog of cases. This prevents swift access to the justice that many people require. Summary judgment and other procedural and dispute resolution devices that avoid full trials aid in mitigating this abundant caseload. The case of Jagneux v. Frohn was not one in which summary judgment was appropriate but many cases are decided this way every day saving time, money and stress for our judges and juries.
For help navigating the legal system and potentially winning a summary judgment of your own, call the Berniard Law Firm toll-free at 1-866-574-8005.