Inspecting Summary Judgment When Case Involves Improper Lawyer Actions

Filing a Motion for Summary Judgment in Louisiana
Can a trial court properly grant a motion for summary judgment when material issues of fact still remain? According to Louisiana law, a motion for summary judgment is not properly granted if material issues of fact still remain. Summary judgment is only properly granted if pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, admissions on file, and affidavits show that no genuine issues of material fact exist.

The purpose of summary judgment is to circumvent a full-scale trial if there are no issues of fact. At trial, fact finders determine what the genuine facts are, and in the case of dispute, the fact finders have to decide what proposed facts are the most plausible in the context of the case. If no issues of fact exist, then this costly and time-consuming process can be avoided by granting a motion for summary judgment.

When seeking to have a motion for summary judgment granted, the burden of proof is on the party filing the motion for summary judgment. However, in order for there to still be a material issue of fact, the other party (the one responding to the motion for summary judgment) has to prove that if the case does go to trial and the motion for summary judgment is not granted that he or she will be able to produce sufficient evidence to back the claims at trial.

Once the party bringing the motion for summary judgment supports the motion, then the other party has to submit the requisite evidence showing specific facts that establish that there is still an issue of material fact. If the party cannot do this, then there is no genuine issue of material fact.

Recently, in Louisiana, this exact situation played out. A woman had brought a case against her former attorney for legal malpractice. She appealed when his motion for summary judgment was granted because she claimed that material issues of fact still remained.

In reviewing her case, the appellate court reviewed the case as if the trial court had not already ruled on it. This is referred to as reviewing the case de novo. In deciding what facts are material, the court has to look at the relevant substantive law. WIth regard to the woman’s case, the question was whether or not her case for legal malpractice was precluded because she had already settled the underlying case. According to the appropriate case law, her claim was not precluded, but she would have to prove that a reasonably prudent person in her same situation would have gone ahead and settled the underlying case.

The appellate court determined that it was not unrealistic to assume that a reasonably prudent person in the same situation would have gone ahead and settled the case. And because it was decided a reasonably prudent person could have acted in a similar matter, a material issue of fact still existed: whether or not a reasonably prudent person would have settled the case.

While the appellate court determined that it was not outside the realm of possibility for a reasonably prudent person to settle the underlying case in this situation, that does not mean that the appellate court can go ahead and say that her claim for legal malpractice can go forward. The appellate court can only determine that an issue with regard to material issues of fact still exists, but the case then has to be remanded to the trial court to be reheard on this issue because the trial court deals with issues of fact. So in this case, the motion for summary judgment should not have been granted against the woman because an issue of material fact still exists.

Although motions for summary judgment can be great tools in the trial process, you want to make sure that they are being utilized in the most effective manner for you and that you are not improperly hurt by motions filed by the other party.

In order to make sure that your attorney is well versed in filing the appropriate motions on your behalf, contact Berniard Law Firm at (504) 521-6000, where an experienced attorney well help you with your claim.

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