New York, NY asked in Civil Litigation for New York

Q: Explain "issues of material fact" re: MSJ and "admissible eveidence" for same. civil

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1 Lawyer Answer
Matthew Parham
Matthew Parham
  • Buffalo, NY
  • Licensed in New York

A: To get summary judgment, a moving party has to submit enough admissible evidence to the court to show that the party is entitled to win the case so that there is no issue of material fact to be decided at a trial. A fact is material if its truth or falsity affects whether the plaintiff wins or loses the case. So what facts are material depends on what kind of case, what the case is about.

For example, if the case is about a car accident, whether the defendant ran a red light or was speeding might be material. Whether the plaintiff has insurance wouldn't be. To address what evidence is "admissible" requires a discussion of the rules of evidence that cannot be accomplished in a short answer. Generally, if evidence tends to show a material fact it is relevant. Relevant evidence is admissible unless some rule of evidence excludes it. For example, there is a rule of evidence that excludes offers to settle the case. You can't use the fact that someone offered to settle to prove that they are liable. As another example, the rule against hearsay excludes from evidence any out-of-court statement of someone not present as a witness, offered to prove the facts in the statement, unless some exception to the rule applies, of which there are many. So for example, you cannot offer evidence that a witness to the accident told you the next day that the light was red. That's hearsay. You could offer the witness's own affidavit swearing that the light was red. It's not hearsay because they're testifying about what they saw, not what they heard. Also, if the witness was the defendant, you could offer your own affidavit about what they said the next day, because statements of a party offered against the party are an exception to the rule. Or if the witness said the light was red during the accident, while they were looking at the light, you could offer your own affidavit describing what they said, because there is an exception to the rule for "present sense impressions."

As you can see, there are a lot of rules. Generally, though, your own affidavit, affidavits of witnesses, about what you/they saw/did, and documents that are directly relevant to the lawsuit, are the kinds of things you would submit with a motion for summary judgment. You have to submit evidence addressing each element you need to prove whatever kind of case you have.

To defeat summary judgment, the non-movant has to show that there are issues of material fact to be decided at a trial. Thus, assuming the movant met its burden to submit admissible evidence showing it is entitled to win the case, the person opposing summary judgment has to either submit evidence that supports different findings of fact as to the material facts, or that tends to show facts supporting a defense. For example, a witness statement that the light was green. In an assault case, the defendant could submit a statement that the plaintiff punched them first - that would be a defense.

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