When there is no question as to the material or key facts of a case, there may be no need to prolong the matter and present it to a jury or judge at trial, which can be costly and time-consuming. When the facts are not at issue, the only matter to be decided is whether the law as applied to the agreed-upon facts means that one party will be the winner. When there is no question of fact and the only matter to be decided is a legal issue, the matter can be decided on what is called "summary judgment". Rule 1.510, Florida Rules of Civil Procedure, pertains to the summary judgment procedure. This rule states, in part, as follows:
The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings and summary judgment evidence on file show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Either party, plaintiff or defendant, may move for a summary judgment if he believes that the law supports either his claim if plaintiff or defense if defendant. A motion for summary judgment must be supported by sworn affidavits setting forth the facts. "The burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact is upon the moving party." Holl v. Talcott, 191 So.2d 40 (Fla. 1966). See also Visingardi v. Tirone, 193 So.2d 601 (Fla. 1966), citing Harvey Bldg., Inc. v. Haley, 175 So.2d 780 (Fla. 1965)(the party moving for summary judgment must show conclusively that no material issues remain for trial). A party opposing a summary judgment may file affidavits contesting the facts set forth by the moving party.
Once the moving party has met its burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show that such an issue does exist. See Woodruff v. Government Employees Ins. Co., 669 So.2d 1114 (Fla. 1st DCA 1996)("Where a movant for summary judgment offers sufficient evidence to support its claim of the nonexistence of material fact, the opposing party must demonstrate the existence of disputed issues of fact either by presenting evidence of countervailing facts or justifiable inferences from the facts presented. If the opposing party fails to present such evidence, summary judgment may be entered in favor of the moving party.").
The purpose of the summary judgment procedure is to avoid the expense and time of a trial when there is no dispute as to the facts material to the matter. However, it is important to keep in mind that the moving party bears a heavy burden to show that there are no issues as to the material facts and that not all cases are appropriate for the summary judgment procedure. There are also time considerations and deadlines set forth in the Florida Rules of Civil Procedure which require strict compliance.
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