June 8, 2014
The Finney law Firm is prepared to fully and vigorously litigate your claim, through appeals if necessary. Indeed, our attorneys have handled appeals of a case all the way through the U.S. Supreme Court. So, please do not read this article as a lack of resolve to pursue a case through the end. Rather it reports the practical reality of the economics of the difficult process that litigation can be.
All litigation resolves. Whether it is by means of settlement, trial, or preemptive adjudication, somehow all litigation eventually resolves. (For purposes of this analysis, a Plaintiff simply walking away from their claim [which does happen from time to time] is deemed a “settlement.”)
But many litigants are unaware that the “end game” is not always (or even typically) a trial, but rather (depending on which party you are), simply achieving, or getting past, preemptive adjudication of your case. For, when preliminary adjudication is off the table and one party or the other is actually facing the reality, risk, collateral exposure and expense of a trial, the likelihood of settlement suddenly increases.
Let us explain, in some detail.
“Everyone is entitled to their day in court” is an axiom that is largely incorrect if “by their day in court” we mean a trial. Rather, counsel for Defendants frequently aim to avoid a trial with three primary procedural and substantive motions: (i) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, (ii) Motion to Dismiss, and (iii) Motion for Summary Judgment.
The first two motions say, essentially, that the pleadings (the original law suit, the Complaint) fail to make a claim recognized as the basis for relief (i.e., usually money) that is recognized by the Courts. These two motions can be because the case is innovative (i.e., that the courts are not familiar with this type of claim), or the pleading is poorly-drafted. In our public interest practice, many times there is a foundational question of “who has standing” to bring the claim? This is so because, as unfair or illogical as it may seem, a violation of a clear legal duty on the part of an elected or appointed governmental official does not automatically confer standing on every (or any) citizen to challenge the act. In any event, these preliminary or preemptive motions can end a case as early as just after the filing of the initial case.
The third motion (a Motion for Summary Judgment), in contrast, comes after considerable time and expense has been expended on discovery — e.g., written document production, deposition, site visit and inspections.
Defendants frequently want to run Plaintiffs “through the paces” before even engaging in conversations about settlement. So, the parties spend enormous sums of money and extensive hours in the discovery process, and then draft motions, many times exhaustive, to end the case without a trial.
Usually it is a Defendant who files the motion to end the case, and his risk of loss, without a trial. Sometimes a Plaintiff’s case is so strong that some or all of the issues can be decided in his favor before facing the Judge or jury at trial.
These motions are then opposed by briefing, and finally argued before the Judge. Typically this process crescendos just weeks or even days before the scheduled trial on the merits before the Judge.
If the Defendant loses its Motion for Summary Judgment, his motivation to settle dramatically escalates. Sometimes the case can quickly and even generously settle at that stage. Other times, a Defendant pushes even further, to pretrial conference or even up to jury selection or the presentation of the first witnesses before relenting, in an attempt to wrangle the best settlement possible for his case.
If the Plaintiff wins partial summary judgment, similarly the motivation for the Plaintiff to put money on the table typically increases exponentially.
Once a Plaintiff “survives summary judgment,” the chemistry of the case changes dramatically.
A Defendant is facing all sorts of adverse consequences of litigating his claims at trial: (i) the uncertainty of a significant judgment, (ii) depending on the claim, open-ended punitive damages and attorneys fees, (iii) adverse publicity or hard feelings in the community (what we call “collateral damage”), and (iv) the tremendous cost of a trial.
What this means for litigants in civil disputes is that even though most cases settle, serious settlement discussions don’t even commence until “all the money is already spent” on the litigation.
This is unfortunate as by then both Plaintiff and Defendant have spent significant sums just getting to the table for discussions, money that could have gone to bridging the gap between the parties for an early resolution.
As a result of this practical reality of how litigation plays out, read here the practical reality of litigating cases for smaller amounts of money (say, under $100,000) and read here one very practical approach our firm frequently undertakes to help our clients “navigate the turbulent waters” of litigation.
Please contact us to learn how we can help you with your litigation challenges, either defending against a business or personal claim, or prosecuting a meritorious claim you hold.
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