Civil Pretrial Motion

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 What Are Pre-Trial Motions?

Pretrial motions are procedural devices used by parties in a case, usually a defendant, to resolve issues before a trial. They are formal requests made to the court to decide certain legal matters. In essence, they’re legal attempts to shape the scope of the trial and can often significantly impact the direction or even the need for a trial.

Why Are Pre-Trial Motions Used?

Pretrial motions are used for a variety of reasons. They can be used to clarify a case’s issues, eliminate claims or defenses, or decide the case without going to trial when there are no material facts in dispute. They can also be used to challenge the sufficiency of the evidence, the court’s jurisdiction, or the venue’s appropriateness, among other things.

What Are Some Common Examples of Pre-Trial Motions?

There are several common pretrial motions that parties can use:

Motion for Summary Judgment

A motion for summary judgment is essentially an assertion that there are no significant factual issues in dispute and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

This can streamline a case by avoiding unnecessary trials when even viewing all evidence and drawing all inferences in favor of the non-moving party, the moving party would still win.

For instance, imagine a personal injury case where the plaintiff claims they were injured because of the defendant’s negligence. The defendant might file a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff cannot prove an essential element of their case, like the duty of care or breach of that duty. If the court agrees, it will grant the motion, and the defendant wins without the case going to trial.

Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

This motion, also known as a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) in U.S. federal court, argues that the plaintiff’s complaint doesn’t allege enough to constitute a valid claim, even if everything in the complaint is true.

As an example, let’s take an employment discrimination case. The plaintiff alleges that they were fired because of their age. The defendant could file a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim if the plaintiff’s complaint doesn’t clearly show that the termination was substantially motivated by the plaintiff’s age. If the court agrees with the defendant, the complaint will be dismissed.

Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction

This motion can involve either personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction. Lack of personal jurisdiction means the court does not have power over the defendant. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction means the court does not have the power to hear the type of issue being brought before it.

Suppose a defendant living in New York is sued in California for breach of contract. If the defendant has no significant contact with California, they could file a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, arguing that the California court has no authority over them.

On the other hand, if a federal court case involves a dispute over state law and no diversity jurisdiction exists (parties from different states), a party might file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, asserting that the federal court lacks authority to decide state law issues in this case.

How Are Pretrial Motions Used in a Civil Suit?

In civil lawsuits, such as personal injury or employment discrimination cases, pretrial motions are used to clarify or dispose of legal issues before trial.

For example, a defendant in a personal injury case might file a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient to prove negligence. In an employment discrimination case, a plaintiff might file a motion to compel the defendant to produce documents relevant to the employer’s hiring practices.

Here’s another example involving a breach of contract:

Suppose a software developer was hired to create a custom software application for a client. The agreement stated that the software would be delivered within six months. However, the developer completed the work in seven months due to unexpected bugs. Despite the delay, the client received the completed software but then refused to pay, citing the delay in delivery.

In this scenario, the software developer might file a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the breach of contract by the client (refusal to pay) was far more significant than the delay in software delivery. The developer would argue that the client received and is using the software; thus, they should not be allowed to avoid payment due to a minor delay.

On the other hand, the client could file a motion to compel, asking the court to require the developer to produce all communications related to the project, which might show whether the developer knew they would miss the deadline but failed to communicate it. The client could argue this evidence is necessary to establish whether the developer breached the contract by not communicating about the delay.

When Are Pretrial Motions Filed in a Civil Suit?

Pretrial motions are generally filed after the initial pleadings (complaint and answer) but before the trial begins. The exact timing can vary depending on the jurisdiction rules and the motion’s nature. Some motions (like a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim) must be filed at the beginning of a case. Others, like a motion for summary judgment, are generally filed after discovery, which is the phase in which both sides exchange information relevant to the case.

What Is a Motion for Default Judgment?

A motion for default judgment is filed when the other party fails to respond or participate in the case. If the defendant does not answer the complaint when the court allows, the plaintiff may file a motion for default judgment. If granted, the court will rule in favor of the plaintiff without hearing the defendant’s side of the argument, often awarding the plaintiff everything they asked for in the complaint.

Let’s take an example of a small business dispute:

Imagine you’re a small business owner who entered into a contract with a supplier to provide you with goods for your store. The agreement stipulated that the supplier would provide you with a certain quantity of goods each month. However, after a few months, the supplier abruptly stopped delivering the goods, causing significant losses to your business because you couldn’t sell goods you didn’t have.

After attempts to resolve the issue with the supplier failed, you sued for breach of contract. You file a complaint with the court and serve the papers to the supplier. However, the supplier failed to respond to your complaint within the allowed time frame, which might be 30 days in many jurisdictions.

Given the supplier’s failure to respond or defend against your complaint, you can file a motion for default judgment. In this motion, you would ask the court to enter a judgment in your favor because the supplier failed to contest your claims in the complaint.

If the court grants your motion for default judgment, you will win your case by default. The court may award you damages as outlined in your complaint, including the lost profits due to the supplier’s failure to deliver the goods as per the contract.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Civil Pretrial Motion?

Navigating through the legal system can be complex, and managing pretrial motions is no exception. A lawyer can help you understand what motions to file in a civil suit, when, and how to articulate your arguments effectively.

Whether you are a plaintiff or a defendant, you can find a highly skilled civil attorney to assist with your case through LegalMatch. LegalMatch is an online legal matching service that connects you with experienced civil attorneys in your area. Don’t try to navigate the complexities of civil law alone. Get started with LegalMatch today.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer