When a party makes a motion in a lawsuit, they are asking the court to resolve the case or part of the case without going through a formal trial on it. Motions usually do not arise until after each side has submitted their pleadings, which comprise the complaint, the answer, and any counterclaims. A common type of motion is a motion for judgment on the pleadings. This is a way in which the defendant can end the case at the outset. A motion for judgment on the pleadings essentially says that the plaintiff has no case, even if all of the statements in the complaint are true. In other words, the law does not provide a remedy for the harm alleged by the plaintiff. If the judge agrees, they can dismiss the case.
Motions to Dismiss
Like motions for judgment on the pleadings, other pre-trial motions generally are filed by the defendant as a way to get rid of a case without fully litigating it. Another example is a motion to dismiss. A defendant often will bring this motion on procedural grounds. They might argue that the court does not have jurisdiction over them. Jurisdiction is a legal term for a court’s authority to hear and decide a dispute. Under the Constitution, the defendant generally must have at least some minimum contact with the place where the case is being heard for the court to have jurisdiction. Determining jurisdiction can be extremely complex, especially when a dispute involves parties from different states or corporations.
In other situations, a motion to dismiss may arise from a defendant’s assertion that the statute of limitations has expired. The statute of limitations sets the time period in which a plaintiff can bring their claim. It varies according to the type of case, and each state has its own set of statutes of limitations. There are very few exceptions to statutes of limitations, but determining when the limitations period started to run is not always straightforward.
Motions for Summary Judgment
Sometimes the parties are not disputing what happened but simply disagree over the application of the law to the facts. When this happens, either side or both sides may file a motion for summary judgment. This asks the court to rule that the party filing the motion is entitled to judgment without the case going to a jury trial. (The role of a jury is to make factual determinations after reviewing the evidence, while a judge can apply the law.) These motions are somewhat similar to motions for judgment on the pleadings, but they are usually filed later in the case after discovery has occurred. If the court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, it will issue a judgment in favor of the moving party and end the case.
If you lose at trial as a result of an apparent error, you can file a post-trial motion to correct the error. You might file a motion for a new trial based on an error in the jury verdict. For example, a motion for a new trial might be appropriate if the jury finds a defendant liable but awards no damages, when the plaintiff’s evidence clearly supports the damages that they have incurred. Judges tend to give significant deference to juries, so these motions can be hard to win unless the error was obvious.
Another type of post-trial motion is a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV). These are also rarely granted, but a judge may grant a JNOV for the losing side when a jury’s verdict was clearly not based on the evidence. Perhaps the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence to support a necessary element of their claim, despite having the burden of proof, but the jury found the defendant liable anyway. In most situations, though, this type of serious flaw will be exposed before trial, and the case will not reach this stage.