During litigation, it is common for parties to make formal requests by filing documents with the court. These requests are called “motions.” There are a lot of different motions that the parties can make throughout the litigation process, and each one has its own unique purpose. At the federal level, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) set the requirements for making different motions during civil litigation. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure serve the same purpose for criminal cases. This article explains some of the more common motions that can be made throughout civil litigation.
Motions can be split into several categories: pre-trial, motions made during the trial, and post-trial. Pre-trial motions are motions that can be filed before the trial has begun. This allows judges to make decisions on certain issues before too much time has passed. Pre-trial motions can involve many different aspects of the case and allow the parties to bring various challenges to the lawsuit before the trial starts.
Motions to Dismiss
Federal rules allow cases to be dismissed from court before the underlying dispute is considered if certain requirements are not met. However, in order to get a federal court to dismiss a case for failing to meet necessary requirements, one party to the lawsuit must make a motion for dismissal. A few of these requirements include subject-matter jurisdiction, personal jurisdiction, standing, and venue. If one or more of these requirements are not met, a court may grant a motion to dismiss.
For example, a court must have both subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the parties in order to issue a binding judgment. A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges the court’s authority to hear the case. Federal courts only have subject matter jurisdiction to hear cases that arise under federal law or if the parties have diverse citizenship. Diverse citizenship is when the parties are from different states and the claim is for more than $75,000. If a lawsuit filed in a federal court concerns a matter of state law or involves completely diverse parties. Complete diversity requires that no one from the other party can be from the same state. For example, a claim would have complete diversity if the plaintiffs are from California and the defendants are from Arkansas. However, there would not be complete diversity if the plaintiffs are from Arkansas and California and the defendants are from Arkansas. If these requirements are not met, then the court does not have subject matter jurisdiction, and a court is likely to grant any motion to dismiss filed by one of the parties.
If any of the necessary components of a lawsuit are not met, a party can make a motion to dismiss before the trial begins based on those missing components. The lawsuit is usually dismissed without prejudice if a judge agrees and grants the party’s motion to dismiss. This means that the person bringing the lawsuit could correct the issue, if possible, and refile.
Motion for Change of Venue
The location where a case is heard is referred to as “venue.” In certain instances, a case might be brought to a venue that is not the correct or proper venue for that case. A motion for a change of venue asks the court to move the case to a more convenient or appropriate location. A venue is proper when the court is located where the events that led to the lawsuit happened, or if the defendant lives within the court’s judicial district. A motion for change of venue has strict rules for when it must be filed. If the motion is not filed properly, a party cannot make the motion for a change of venue in the future.
Motion in Limine
A motion in limine is a motion where a party asks a judge to decide before the trial starts whether some evidence should be allowed. This allows the parties a chance to explain the relevancy of the evidence without worrying about the information being brought up during trial in front of the jury.
Motion for Summary Judgment
When a party makes a motion for summary judgment, they are asking the judge to issue a verdict either for or against the parties to avoid holding a trial. In order for summary judgment to be granted, the parties must first show that there was no genuine issue of material facts. In other words, the parties must demonstrate that they agree about all the facts related to the case, and that their dispute is purely a matter of law. The party asking for summary judgment must also show that the opposing party would still lose even if all of the information were true. FRCP Rule 56 sets the requirements for motions for summary judgment at the federal level. Motions for summary judgment can be granted or denied for each individual claim brought in a lawsuit, so that a judge can decide to grant a motion for summary judgment for specific claims and not for others.
Motion to Compel
During the litigation process, a period called “discovery” occurs after the case has begun but before the trial begins. The judge usually sets the schedule for the discovery period. During discovery, parties exchange evidence related to the case, and information about witnesses that each party plans to call in order to prepare for trial. Sometimes, a party might feel like the other is not turning over all the relevant information. If this occurs, a party can make a motion to compel the opposing party to provide the evidence or information that has been requested. Failure to comply with discovery can result in fines and fees. Discovery is governed at the federal level by Rule 37 of the FRCP.
Motion to Strike
When a party makes a motion to strike, they are trying to remove from the record a claim, defense, or evidence that is “insufficient [. . .], redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous.” Governed by Rule 12 of the FRCP, this motion can actually be brought by any party to the lawsuit, or by the judge. For example, a party might want to strike from the record information attached to a document in evidence that reveals a trade secret.
Motions During Trial
Once the trial has started, the types of motions that can be made change. The time for making pre-trial motions has ended, and the case moves before the judge or jury to determine the facts. Motions made during this time can ask a judge to find for one party over the other or can be used to prevent certain evidence from being on the record.
Judgment as a Matter of Law
When a motion is made for judgment as a matter of law (“JMOL”), a party is asking the court to find that the opposing party cannot support its claim. A JMOL is very similar to the pre-trial motion for summary judgment because it asks the court to look at the facts of the claim and decide whether the facts support the claim. At the federal level, JMOL is governed by Rule 50 of the FRCP. A JMOL decision is based upon whether “the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue.” This means that the judge decided that no reasonable jury could reach any other conclusion.
Motion for Directed Verdict
A motion for a directed verdict is similar to a JMOL and, in the federal court system, a JMOL is used to achieve a final decision before the end of the trial in place of a motion for directed verdict. However, many state courts still use motions for a directed verdict. A directed verdict is a decision made by the judge if they determine there was no legal evidentiary basis for the claim and that no reasonable jury could reach a different decision.
After a trial has ended and a judge or jury has reached a verdict, there are a variety of post-trial motions that the parties may bring to challenge the outcome of the trial.
Motion to Set Aside Judgment
Once a final ruling has been made, a party who is unhappy with the outcome has the option to make a motion to set aside the judgment. Rule 60 of the FRCP governs motions to set aside judgments. A motion can be made anytime up to a year after the judgment has been entered in most cases. New evidence, fraud, and mistake allow a party to bring the motion within a “reasonable time.” If the court grants the motion, the judgment is set aside and the parties may seek a new trial.
Motion for a New Trial
A party can make a motion for a new trial in order to ask that the judge vacate the final ruling, and allow a new trial in order to re-examine the issues. Any party can make this motion, but according to the FRCP Rule 59, it must be filed within 28 days of the entry of judgment. In many instances, a motion for a new trial is made at the same time as a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (“JNOV”), discussed below.
Motion for Judgment Not Withstanding the Verdict
A motion for a JNOV is a motion that asks the judge to set aside the verdict of the jury and instead enter judgment in favor of the party that lost. A JNOV allows the losing party to potentially have judgment entered in their favor without having to go through a new trial. At the federal level, a JNOV is now officially a JMOL, the FRCP just uses different terms to achieve the same purpose. However, a JNOV is still widely used in state courts. A motion for a JNOV would be granted if the judge determined that no reasonable jury could reach the decision that the jury reached based on the evidence available during the trial or if when making their decision they applied the law incorrectly.
A JMOL motion that is made during a trial, as discussed above, can be renewed after the trial. This means that the court can reconsider the motion for a JMOL and potentially order a new trial, allow the judgment, or direct the entry of judgment as a matter of law. A post-trial motion for renewing a JMOL motion is governed by Rule 50 of the FRCP.
This article touched on a few motions that are commonly used during litigation. There are many other motions that parties may bring throughout the litigation process. However, it is important to remember that motions should not be used to “harass, cause unnecessary delay, needlessly increase the cost of litigation,” or contain frivolous arguments. Otherwise, the party risks FRCP Rule 11 sanctions or the state equivalent.
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