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Motions to Dismiss and Motions for Summary Judgment: What's the Difference? |Peter J. Lamont, Esq.

Motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment are both types of pretrial motions that can be filed in a civil case. A motion to dismiss is filed when the plaintiff believes that the defendant has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted, while a motion for summary judgment is filed when the plaintiff believes that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the plaintiff is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

People sometimes confuse a motion to dismiss with a motion for summary judgment or use the terms interchangeably. The term "motion to dismiss" certainly sounds like the type of document that you would file to permanently dispose of a case. In fact, the word "dismiss" is defined as "to put out of judicial consideration: refuse to hear or hear further in court."


If a student is dismissed from class the class is over. If you are dismissed from your job your job is over. However, the same is not always true with a motion to dismiss. In this post, we are going to take a closer look at the key differences between these two types of motions.


Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss is filed when the plaintiff believes that the defendant has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. This type of motion is typically based on one of three grounds: 1) the complaint fails to state a claim, 2) the court does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the action, or 3) the complaint is barred by some form of legal immunity.


Unlike its name, a motion to dismiss Does not always end the case. A motion to dismiss challenges the allegations contained in the pleadings. However, it does not challenge them on the merits, rather it seeks to dismiss a case because the pleadings were not properly pleaded. The Court when deciding a motion to dismiss does not analyze whether there is evidence to support the claims, but rather if all of the elements of a particular cause of action we’re properly pleaded.


The general position of most courts is that they prefer to litigate cases on the merits instead of just dismissing complaints and taking away people's right to avail themselves of the legal process due to minor technicalities. In cases where the court determines that a cause of action is not properly pleaded, the court will likely allow the plaintiff to correct the deficiency and file an Amended Complaint.


In rare circumstances, a motion to dismiss can terminate a case. However, these situations are limited to times when no viable cause of action can exist against the defendant.


The general position of most courts is that they prefer to litigate cases on the merits instead of just dismissing complaints and taking away people's right to avail themselves of the legal process due to minor technicalities.

Motion to Dismiss Example

For example, assume you own Ajax Window Repair. A competitor owns a company called AJ’s Window Repair. AJ negligently performs a window installation job resulting in his client suing him. However, the client can’t remember the name of the company that he used and accidentally sues Ajax. In this instance, Ajax would be able to file a motion to dismiss because no cause of action against it could exist. Ajax would show that it was never hired by this client and that it never performed work on that particular site and thus, could not be responsible for the negligence complained of in the complaint. In this rare circumstance, the court would dismiss the case against Ajax because no viable cause of action exists.


In New Jersey, the Court Rule concerning Motions to Dismiss is R. 4:6-2 (e).


Motion for Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment, on the other hand, is filed when a party believes that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In other words, there are no questions of fact that exist to be submitted to a jury.


In New Jersey the Court Rule concerning Summary Judgment is R.4:46. This Rule provides that the moving party must submit to the court evidence demonstrating that there is no material fact in dispute and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The non-moving party then has the burden of responding to the motion and setting forth evidence demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue of material fact.


Unlike a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment requires that the party filing the motion submit all of the evidence and proof to support its case. If the court rules in favor of the filing party, the case is fully adjudicated. A motion for summary judgment can be thought of as a trial on paper. A properly argued motion for summary judgment does not allow a party a second bite at the apple the way a motion to dismiss often does with regard to the possibility of filing an Amended Complaint.


A motion for summary judgment can also be filed by either the plaintiff or the defendant. After completing discovery, either party may file the motion. A plaintiff would file the motion seeking a ruling that he has proven his case and that there are no questions of fact to be decided by a jury. Conversely, a defendant would file the motion seeking a ruling that the plaintiff has not proven their case and that there are no questions of fact for a jury to decide.


Summary Judgment Example

Assume that you have filed a complaint against your neighbor for trespass, and the neighbor files an answer denying the allegations in the complaint, discovery proceeds. After completing discovery, the neighbor files a motion for summary judgment, and the defendant files opposition to the motion. The court will then review all of the evidence submitted by both parties.


If the court finds that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the neighbor is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, the court will enter judgment in favor of the neighbor and against you. The court will also dismiss your complaint.

If, on the other hand, the court finds that there is a genuine issue of material fact, the court will deny the motion for summary judgment and allow the case to proceed to trial. In this instance, it would be up to a jury to decide whether or not the neighbor is liable for trespass.


Key Differences Between the Motions

A motion to dismiss challenges the sufficiency of the complaint, while a motion for summary judgment challenges the underlying merits of the case. In other words, a motion to dismiss is based on the legal sufficiency of the complaint, while a motion for summary judgment is based on the factual sufficiency of the case.


Another key difference between these two types of motions is that a motion to dismiss can be filed at any time during the litigation process, even before the answer is filed. A motion for summary judgment, on the other hand, can only be filed after the answer has been filed and discovery is complete.


Finally, it is important to note that a motion for summary judgment can only be granted if there is no genuine issue of material fact. This means that if there is even one disputed fact, the motion must be denied. A motion to dismiss, however, can be granted even if there are disputed facts.


Conclusion

Litigation is complicated and are dispositive motions such as a Motion to Dismiss and a Motion for Summary Judgment. It is important that you retain aqualified litigation or lawsuit attorney to assist you.


Contact us Today at our Bergen County Office. Call Us at (201) 904-2211 or email Us at info@pjlesq.com

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If you would like more information about this post or if you want to discuss your legal matter with an attorney at the Law Offices of Peter J. Lamont, please contact me at pl@pjlesq.com or at (201) 904-2211. Don't forget to check out and subscribe to our podcast and YouTube channel. We have hundreds of podcasts and videos concerning a variety of business and legal topics. I look forward to answering any questions that you might have.

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