Partial Summary Judgment On Liability Can Be An Effective Strategy

Creative trial lawyers always look for ways to win cases.  Not all wins need to resolve the entire case.  Under the federal rules, courts may grant partial summary judgment on some issues, but leave others for trial.  Motions for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability can be an effective way to secure an early victory, save time and expense, and avoid having a trial last longer than needed.

For example, in JD Brothers LLC et al. v. Liberty Asset Management Corporation et al., 3:15-cv-01373-VC (N.D. Cal.), we represent the plaintiffs in a case alleging a massive fraudulent real estate investment scheme involving multiple transactions and multiple shell companies.  The Complaint asserts nine causes of action, including claims under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (“RICO”), federal securities laws, common law fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract.

Prior to trial, we moved for partial summary judgment on a single claim, breach of a Promissory Note for two million dollars.  We chose this claim because it involved a discrete issue and undisputed facts based on admissions we obtained during discovery.  As a result, the defendant did not even oppose the motion and stipulated to liability on the $2,000,000 Note. The Court granted the motion on the issue of liability, with the issue of damages to be determined at trial.

Summary judgment motions can be voluminous and expensive affairs.  The moving party presents its evidence and asks the court to rule on the merits of a case as a matter of law, without a jury trial.  The court will only grant the motion when there is no genuine issue of material fact; i.e., there is no fact that could allow a jury to decide against the moving party.  Judges view the evidence in the light most favorable to the opposing party.  As a general matter, courts will not enter a final judgment until the entire case is resolved. 

By focusing summary judgment on a discrete issue of liability and reserving the issue of damages for trial, even in complex cases plaintiffs can win an early victory and narrow the issues to be decided by the jury at trial.