New York Summary Judgment Law
In our system of civil justice, it is the jury’s province to decide issues of fact. But merely because a lawsuit is filed, does not necessarily mean that the case will reach the jury. Either party is entitled to move the court to ask that judgment be granted in its favor because there are no material issues of fact for the jury to decide. This application is called a summary judgment motion. The court will then decide whether or not there are issues of fact for the jury. If there are none, the court may grant judgment to the moving party as a matter of law.
In New York, the common rules of law relating to the procedure to be followed during a summary judgment motion are as follows:
A motion for summary judgment may be granted where the moving party demonstrates entitlement to judgment as a matter of law through admissible evidence establishing that there is no genuine issue of material fact. CPLR § 3212 (b); Liberty Taxi Management, Inc. v. Gincherman, 32 A.D.3d 276, 820 N.Y.S.2d 49 (1st Dept. 2006); Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 508 N.Y.S.2d 923 (1986). The moving party, however, need not specifically disprove every remotely possible state of facts on which its opponent might win the case. Ferluckaj v. Goldman Sachs & Co., 12 N.Y.3d 316, 880 N.Y.S.2d 879 (2009).
Failure to make a prima facie showing requires a denial of the motion, regardless of the sufficiency of the opposing papers. Winegrad v. New York University Medical Center, 64 N.Y.2d 851, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 (1985). Mere conclusions, unsupported factually, are insufficient to sustain the motion. Montalbano v. North Shore University Hospital, 154 A.D.2d 579, 546 N.Y.S.2d 408, 409 (2nd Dept. 1989).
Once the movant demonstrates entitlement to summary judgment, the burden shifts to the opponent to “lay bare” it proof through admissible evidence to establish the existence of a triable issue of material fact. Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 N.Y.2d 557, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595, 597 (1980); Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C. v. Carson, 304 A.D.2d 817, 757 N.Y.S.2d 871 (2nd Dept. 2003). The opponent is entitled to all the reasonable inferences in his favor. Robinson v. Strong Memorial Hospital, 98 A.D.2d 976, 470 N.Y.S.2d 239 (4th Dept. 1983). The proof of the party opposing the motion must be accepted as true and considered in light most favorable to it. Museums at Stony Brook v. Village of Patchogue Fire Department, 146 A.D.2d 572, 536 N.Y.S.2d 177, 179 (2nd Dept. 1989).
Issue finding, rather than issue determination, is the key to the procedure. Sillman v. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 N.Y.2d 395, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957). Issues of credibility can not be resolved on a summary judgment motion. Luthart v. Danesh, 201 A.D.2d 930, 609 N.Y.S.2d 706 (4th Dept. 1994); Halkias v. Otolaryngology-Facial Plastic Surgery Associates, P.C., 282 A.D.2d 650, 651, 724 N.Y.S.2d 432, 433 (2nd Dept. 2001) (resolution of issues of credibility of expert witnesses and the accuracy of their testimony are matters within the province of the jury).
This procedural device is commonly used in automobile accident claims where the defendant claims that the plaintiff did not sustain a “serious injury” pursuant to the Insurance Law. The plaintiff’s bar utilizes this procedural device in Labor Law (Scaffold Law) claims where a worker was injured from a height.
Summary judgment is a useful procedural device that can help to resolve meritless claims or defense without the time and expense associated with a jury trial.