In United States law, a motion is a procedural device to bring a limited, contested issue before a court for decision.It is a request to the judge (or judges) to make a decision about the case. Motions may be made at any point in administrative, criminal or civil proceedings, although that right is regulated by court rules which vary from place to place. The party requesting the motion may be called the movant, or may simply be the moving party. The party opposing the motion is the nonmovant or nonmoving party.
In the United States, as a general rule, courts do not have self-executing powers. In other words, in order for the court to rule on a contested issue in a case before it, one of the parties or a third party must raise an appropriate motion asking for a particular order. Some motions may be made in the form of an oral request in open court, which is then either summarily granted or denied orally by the court. Today, however, most motions (especially on important or dispositive issues that could decide the entire case) are decided after oral argument preceded by the filing and service of legal papers. That is, the movant is usually required to serve advance written notice along with some kind of written legal argument justifying the motion. The legal argument may come in the form of a memorandum of points and authorities supported by affidavits or declarations. Some northeastern U.S. states have a tradition in which the legal argument comes in the form of an affidavit from the attorney, speaking personally as himself on behalf of his client. In contrast, in most U.S. states, the memorandum is written impersonally or as if the client were speaking directly to the court, and the attorney reserves declarations of his own personal knowledge to a separate declaration or affidavit (which are then cited to in the memorandum). One U.S. state, Missouri, uses the term "suggestions" for the memorandum of points and authorities.
Either way, the nonmovant usually has the opportunity to file and serve papers opposing the motion. In addition, most jurisdictions allow for time for the movant to file reply papers rebutting the arguments made in the opposition.
Customs vary widely as to whether oral argument is optional or mandatory once briefing in writing is complete. Some courts issue tentative rulings (after which the loser may demand oral argument) while others do not. Depending upon the type of motion and the jurisdiction, the court may simply issue an oral decision from the bench (possibly accompanied by a request to the winner to draft an order for its signature reducing the salient points to writing), take the matter under submission and draft a lengthy written decision and order, or simply fill out a standard court form with check boxes for different outcomes. The court may serve all parties directly with its decision or may serve only the winner and order the winner to serve everyone else in the case.
| Civil procedure|
in the United States
|Resolution without trial|
A "motion to dismiss" asks the court to decide that a claim, even if true as stated, is not one for which the law offers a legal remedy. As an example, a claim that the defendant failed to greet the plaintiff while passing the latter on the street, insofar as no legal duty to do so may exist, would be dismissed for failure to state a valid claim: the court must assume the truth of the factual allegations, but may hold that the claim states no cause of action under the applicable substantive law. A claim that has been presented after the statute of limitations has expired is also subject to dismissal. If granted, the claim is dismissed without any evidence being presented by the other side. A motion to dismiss has taken the place of the common law demurrer in most modern civil practice. When a court dismisses a case, many laypeople state the case was "thrown out."
Under Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, a party may raise by motion any defense, objection, or request that the court can determine without a trial of the general issue. Before the trial starts, the motions can be based on defects in instituting the prosecution, defects in the indictment or information (which can be challenged at any stage but are generally raised before a trial begins). Pleadings in a federal criminal trial are pleadings in a criminal proceeding are the indictment, the information, and the pleas of not guilty, guilty, and nolo contendere . A motion under Rule 14 can address the statement of the charges (or individual specifications, see below) or the defendants. In these instances, the motion to dismiss is characterized as a "motion to sever charges or defendants."
Under Rule 907, (Rules for Courts-Martial),a motion to dismiss is a request to terminate further proceedings on one or more criminal charges and specifications on grounds capable of resolution without trial of the general issue of guilt. A motion may be based on nonwaivable grounds (e.g. lack of jurisdiction or the failure to state an offense) or waivable grounds (denial of a right to a speedy trial, statute of limitation, double jeopardy meaning a person has been previously tried by court-martial or federal civilian court for the same offense, pardon or grant of immunity). Specifications are sometimes referred to as 'counts' or separate instances of a particular offense which are connected to specific factual evidence. A motion may seek to dismiss these specifications, especially if it is so defective it substantially misled the accused, or it is multiplicious.
Multiplicity, also known as allied offenses of similar import, is the situation where two or more allegations allege the same offense, or a situation where one defined offense necessarily includes another. A counts may also be multiplicious if two or more describe substantially the same misconduct in different ways. For example, assault and disorderly conduct may be multiplicious if facts and evidence presented at trial prove that the disorderly conduct consists solely of the assault. That is to say, if all the elements contained in one are all in another they are allied offenses of similar import.
Discovery motions relate to the necessary exchange of information between the parties. In the common law system, these motions capture an irreducible tension in the legal system between the right of discovery and a duty to disclose information to another.
There are numerous practical differences between the discovery expectations and practices in civil and criminal proceedings. The local rules of many courts clarify expectations with respect to civil discovery, in part because these are often poorly understood or are abused as part of a trial strategy. As a result, civil discovery rules pertain to discretionary discovery practices and much of the argument in this respect centers on the proper definition of the scope of the parties requests. Because criminal prosecutions generally implicate a well-defined constitutional guarantee, criminal discovery is much more focused on automatic disclosure principles, which if found to be violated, will trigger the dismissal of the charges.
Rules 7.1 and 26-37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, are often cited in combination with a specific local rule to form a basis for a civil discovery motion.
Rule 16, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, is the basis for a criminal discovery motion. Rule 906(b)(7), Rules for Courts-Martial a variety of a "motion for appropriate relief" is used as a military law basis for discovery.
A "motion for summary judgment " asks the court to decide that the available evidence, even if taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, supports a ruling in favor of the moving party. This motion is usually only made when sufficient time for discovering all evidence has expired. For summary judgment to be granted in most jurisdictions, a two-part standard must be satisfied: (i) no genuine issue of material fact can be in dispute between the parties, and (ii) the moving party must be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. For example, a claim that a doctor engaged in malpractice by prescribing a drug could result in summary judgment if the plaintiff failed to obtain expert testimony indicating that the drug was improperly prescribed. Motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment are types of dispositive motions.
Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is the rule which explains the mechanics of a summary judgment motion. As explained in the notes to this rule, summary judgment procedure is a method for promptly disposing of actions in which there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. Prior to its introduction in the US in 1934, it was used in England for more than 50 years.
In England motions for summary judgments were used only in cases of liquidated claims, there followed a steady enlargement of the scope of the remedy until it was used in actions to recover land or chattels and in all other actions at law, for liquidated or unliquidated claims, except for a few designated torts and breach of promise of marriage. English Rules Under the Judicature Act (The Annual Practice, 1937) O. 3, r. 6; Orders 14, 14A, and 15; see also O. 32, r. 6, authorizing an application for judgment at any time upon admissions. New York was a leader in the adoption of this rule in the US and the success of the method helps account for its current importance as an almost indispensable tool in administrative actions (especially before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which adjudicates employment discrimination claims and the Merit Systems Protection Board which adjudicates federal employment matters).
The Civil Litigation Management Manual published by the US Judicial Conference directs that these motions be filed at the optimum time and warns that premature motions can be a waste of time and effort. The significant resources needed to prepare and defend against such motions is a major factor which influences litigants to use them extensively. In many cases, particularly from the defendant's (or defense) perspective, accurate or realistic estimates of the costs and risks of an actual trial are made only after a motion has been denied. Overbroad motions for summary judgment are sometimes designed to make the opponent rehearse their case before trial.
Most summary judgment motions must be filed in accordance with specific rules relating to the content and quality of the information presented to the judge. Among other things, most motions for summary judgment will require or include: page limits on submissions by counsel; an instruction to state disputed issues of fact up front; an instruction to state whether there is a governing case; an instruction that all summary judgment motions be accompanied by electronic versions (on a CD-R or DVD-R), in a chambers-compatible format that includes full pinpoint citations and complete deposition and affidavit excerpts to aid in opinion preparation; an instruction that all exhibits submitted conform to specific physical characteristics (i.e. be tabbed with letters or numbers, that pages be sequentially numbered or "Bates-stamped"); an instruction that citations to deposition or affidavit testimony must include the appropriate page or paragraph numbers and that citations to other documents or materials must include pinpoint citations. Many judges also ask the parties to prepare form orders with a brief statements of law to help the judge write the decision. A judge generally issues a tentative ruling on the submitted pleadings, and counsel will be offered an opportunity to respond in a later oral argument. Alternatively, a judge may grant requests for argument in a preargument order which specifies what points will be discussed prior to a decision.
A "motion in limine " asks the court to decide that certain evidence may or may not be presented to the jury at the trial. A motion in limine generally addresses issues which would be prejudicial for the jury to hear in open court, even if the other side makes a timely objection which is sustained, and the judge instructs the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, the defendant may ask the court to rule that evidence of a prior conviction that occurred a long time ago should not be allowed into evidence at the trial because it would be more prejudicial than probative. If the motion is granted, then evidence regarding the conviction could not be mentioned in front of the jury, without first approaching the judge outside of the hearing of the jury and obtaining permission. The violation of a motion in limine can result in the court declaring a mistrial.
There are three types of motions in limine:
A "motion for a directed verdict " asks the court to rule that the plaintiff or prosecutor has not proven the case, and there is no need for the defense to attempt to present evidence. This motion is made after the plaintiff has rested its case, and prior to the defense presenting any evidence. If granted, the court would dismiss the case.
A "motion for judgment n.o.v." ( non obstante veredicto , or notwithstanding the verdict) asks the court to reverse the jury's verdict on the grounds that the jury could not reasonably have reached such a verdict. This motion is made after the jury's verdict. If granted, the court enters a new verdict. This motion can be used in a criminal case only to reverse a guilty verdict; not guilty verdicts are immune to reversal by the court.
Under Rule 50, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the motion for directed verdict and JNOV have been replaced by the motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL), which can be made at the close of the opposing party's evidence and "renewed" after return of the verdict (or after the dismissal of a hung jury).
Under Rule 29, Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure the "motion for a judgment of acquittal," or Rule 917, Rules for Courts-Martial the "motion for a finding of not guilty," if the evidence presented by the prosecution is insufficient to support a rational finding of guilty, there is no reason to submit the issue to a jury.
A motion for new trial asks to overturn or set aside a court's decision or jury verdict. Such a motion is proposed by a party who is dissatisfied with the end result of a case. This motion must be based on some vital error in the court's handling of the trial, such as the admission or exclusion of key evidence, or an incorrect instruction to the jury. Generally the motion is filed within a short time after the trial (7–30 days) and is decided prior to the lodging of an appeal. In some jurisdictions, a motion for new trial which is not ruled upon by a set period of time automatically is deemed to be denied.
A " motion to set aside judgment " asks the court to vacate or nullify a judgment or verdict. Motions may be made at any time after entry of judgment, and in some circumstances years after the case has been closed by the courts. Generally the grounds for the motion cannot be ones which were previously considered when deciding a motion for new trial or on an appeal of the judgment.
A "motion for nolle prosequi " ("not prosecuting") is a motion by a prosecutor or other plaintiff to drop legal charges. n. Latin for "we do not wish to prosecute," which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit) either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim, or the district attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent. It should be distinguished from the motion for judgment of non prosequitur, or judgment of non pros, which is a motion in some jurisdictions (e.g. Pennsylvania) by a defendant for a judgment in his favor for failure of the plaintiff to timely prosecute his claim.
A " motion to compel " asks the court to order either the opposing party or a third party to take some action. This sort of motion most commonly deals with discovery disputes, when a party who has propounded discovery to either the opposing party or a third party believes that the discovery responses are insufficient. The motion to compel is used to ask the court to order the non-complying party to produce the documentation or information requested or to sanction the non-complying party for their failure to comply with the discovery requests.
United States appellate procedure involves the rules and regulations for filing appeals in state courts and federal courts. The nature of an appeal can vary greatly depending on the type of case and the rules of the court in the jurisdiction where the case was prosecuted. There are many types of standard of review for appeals, such as de novo and abuse of discretion. However, most appeals begin when a party files a petition for review to a higher court for the purpose of overturning the lower court's decision.
In legal terminology, a complaint is any formal legal document that sets out the facts and legal reasons that the filing party or parties believes are sufficient to support a claim against the party or parties against whom the claim is brought that entitles the plaintiff(s) to a remedy. For example, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) that govern civil litigation in United States courts provide that a civil action is commenced with the filing or service of a pleading called a complaint. Civil court rules in states that have incorporated the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure use the same term for the same pleading.
Civil procedure is the body of law that sets out the rules and standards that courts follow when adjudicating civil lawsuits. These rules govern how a lawsuit or case may be commenced; what kind of service of process is required; the types of pleadings or statements of case, motions or applications, and orders allowed in civil cases; the timing and manner of depositions and discovery or disclosure; the conduct of trials; the process for judgment; the process for post-trial procedures; various available remedies; and how the courts and clerks must function.
A lawsuit is a proceeding by a party or parties against another in the civil court of law. The archaic term "suit in law" is found in only a small number of laws still in effect today. The term "lawsuit" is used in reference to a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant's actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff's complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment is in the plaintiff's favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent an act or compel an act. A declaratory judgment may be issued to prevent future legal disputes.
In law, a summary judgment is a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party summarily, i.e., without a full trial. Such a judgment may be issued on the merits of an entire case, or on discrete issues in that case.
A demurrer is a pleading in a lawsuit that objects to or challenges a pleading filed by an opposing party. The word demur means "to object"; a demurrer is the document that makes the objection. Lawyers informally define a demurrer as a defendant saying "So what?" to the pleading.
Discovery, in the law of common law jurisdictions, is a pre-trial procedure in a lawsuit in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, can obtain evidence from the other party or parties by means of discovery devices such as interrogatories, requests for production of documents, requests for admissions and depositions. Discovery can be obtained from non-parties using subpoenas. When a discovery request is objected to, the requesting party may seek the assistance of the court by filing a motion to compel discovery.
Prejudice is a legal term with different meanings when used in criminal, civil, or common law. In legal context "prejudice" differs from the more common use of the word and thus has specific technical meanings.
Nolle prosequi, abbreviated nol or nolle pros, is legal Latin meaning "to be unwilling to pursue". In Commonwealth and US common law, it is used for prosecutors' declarations that they are voluntarily ending a criminal case before trial or before a verdict is rendered; it is a kind of motion to dismiss and contrasts with an involuntary dismissal.
In U.S. law, a motion in limine is a motion, discussed outside the presence of the jury, to request that certain testimony be excluded. The motion is decided by a judge in both civil and criminal proceedings. It is frequently used at pre-trial hearings or during trial, and it can be used at both the state and federal levels.
In United States federal law, the Daubert standard is a rule of evidence regarding the admissibility of expert witness testimony. A party may raise a Daubert motion, a special motion in limine raised before or during trial, to exclude the presentation of unqualified evidence to the jury. The Daubert trilogy are the three United States Supreme Court cases that articulated the Daubert standard:
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure govern civil procedure in United States district courts. The FRCP are promulgated by the United States Supreme Court pursuant to the Rules Enabling Act, and then the United States Congress has seven months to veto the rules promulgated or they become part of the FRCP. The Court's modifications to the rules are usually based upon recommendations from the Judicial Conference of the United States, the federal judiciary's internal policy-making body. Although federal courts are required to apply the substantive law of the states as rules of decision in cases where state law is in question, the federal courts almost always use the FRCP as their rules of civil procedure.
The Virginia General District Court (GDC) is the lowest level of the Virginia court system, and is the court that most Virginians have contact with. The jurisdiction of the GDC is generally limited to traffic cases and other misdemeanors, civil cases involving amounts of under $25,000. There are 32 GDC districts, each having at least one judge, and each having a clerk of the court and a courthouse with courtroom facilities.
A motion for judgment as a matter of law (JMOL) is a motion made by a party, during trial, claiming the opposing party has insufficient evidence to reasonably support its case. JMOL is also known as a directed verdict, which it has replaced in American federal courts.
Suppression of evidence is a term used in the United States legal system to describe the lawful or unlawful act of preventing evidence from being shown in a trial. This could happen for several reasons. For example, if a judge believes that the evidence in question was obtained illegally, the judge can rule that it not be shown in court. It could also refer to a prosecutor improperly or intentionally hiding evidence that does not go with their case and could suggest or prove to the judge or jury that the defendant is not guilty or that (s)he is legally obligated to show the defense. In the latter case, this would be a violation of the 5th amendment to the United States Constitution. Also Rule 3.8 of the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct requires prosecutors to "make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense." This can result in a mistrial in the latter case and/or the dismissal of the prosecutor.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986), was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court, written by then-Associate Justice William Rehnquist. In Celotex, the Court held that a party moving for summary judgment need only show that the opposing party lacks evidence sufficient to support its case. A broader version of this doctrine was later formally added to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
In common law jurisdictions, a bill of particulars is a detailed, formal, written statement of charges or claims by a plaintiff or the prosecutor given upon the defendant's formal request to the court for more detailed information. A bill of particulars may be used in either criminal defense or in civil litigation.
The Wisconsin circuit courts are the general trial courts in the state of Wisconsin. There are currently 69 circuits in the state, divided into 10 judicial administrative districts. Circuit court judges hear and decide both civil and criminal cases. Each of the 249 circuit court judges are elected and serve six-year terms.
The Virginia Circuit Courts are the state trial courts of general jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Circuit Courts have jurisdiction to hear civil and criminal cases. For civil cases, the courts have authority to try cases with an amount in controversy of more than $4,500 and have exclusive original jurisdiction over claims for more than $25,000. In criminal matters, the Circuit Courts are the trial courts for all felony charges and for misdemeanors originally charged there. The Circuit Courts also have appellate jurisdiction for any case from the Virginia General District Courts claiming more than $50, which are tried de novo in the Circuit Courts.
Civil discovery under United States federal law is wide-ranging and can involve any material which is relevant to the case except information which is privileged, information which is the work product of the opposing party, or certain kinds of expert opinions. Electronic discovery or "e-discovery" is used when the material is stored on electronic media.