What is a summary judgment motion?

A summary judgment is a final decision by the court without having a trial. Debt collection lawsuits rarely go to trial and most are decided on a motion for summary judgment.

The purpose of a trial is to resolve the facts that are disputed. In other words, the jury (or judge in a court trial) listens to all the witnesses’s testimony, reviews any exhibits, and decides whose story is more believable. When someone brings a summary judgment motion, they’re arguing that all the important facts are undisputed–so there’s no need for a jury to hear testimony–and that the judge should just apply the law and make a decision. In debt collection cases, the creditor usually brings the summary judgment motion. Occasionally, it makes sense for the consumer to bring their own motion, especially in a debt buyer lawsuit where the debt buyer doesn’t have sufficient evidence.

So what should you do if the debt collection lawyer brings a summary judgment motion in your case? First, you need to figure out if there are any facts that are disputed. If there are, the judge must deny the summary judgment motion and schedule the case for trial to resolve those disputed facts. If you come up with some, you’ll need to put them in your response to the creditor’s motion. In Minnesota, a response to a summary judgment motion must be filed with the court–and sent to the creditor’s attorney–at least 9 days before the hearing. Additional time is necessary if you are going to mail your response. If you don’t file a written response, you’ll probably lose the case and the judge might not allow you to make any oral arguments at the hearing.

A summary judgment motion is probably the most difficult phase of a debt collection lawsuit for a non-lawyer to handle. You should strongly consider talking to a lawyer with experience defending debt collection lawsuits.