A continuance motion is one in which the proponent seeks more time from the court before a hearing. A continuance motion can be made months before a trial or right in the middle of one. A summary judgment is one type of motion in which one party moves for the court to rule in its favor on the grounds that the opposing party has not set forth enough evidence to possibly present to a jury, and the opposing should, therefore, lose the case before it even gets started. Thus, the most common reason for a motion for continuance in the summary judgment context is because the party needs more time to gather evidence. In other words, the party wishes to defeat a summary judgment motion by having enough evidence to overcome a summary judgment.
Summary Judgment Standard
In order to properly understand the motion for continuance in context of a summary judgment, it is necessary to understand what a summary judgment motion is and how it is defeated. A party motions for summary judgment before the conclusion of a trial -- usually before the trial even begins -- when the party believes that its opponent cannot or has not put forth enough evidence to submit to a jury. In other words, the opponent has no case. The judge may only review pleadings submitted by the parties. He may not review evidence exhibits or testimony. In reviewing the pleadings, the judge must consider the motion in a light most favorable to the party not moving for summary judgment (the non-moving party). If the judge believes that the non-moving party's evidence could not possibly succeed if submitted to a jury, she will grant the summary judgment motion in favor of the moving party and the case will be dismissed.
Continuance to Gather More Evidence
A continuance motion, otherwise known as a motion to continue, is commonly requested by a party facing a summary judgment motion in order to have more time to gather enough evidence to defeat the summary judgment standard. The party may have been lacking evidence at the time the summary judgment motion was filed, but with a few more weeks of preparation, the party believes it can successfully come up with more evidence to convince the judge that the case should move forward to trial.
Standards for Continuance
While the court seeks the fair administration of justice, it will not grant unlimited continuances to parties who are clearly taking extraneous time to gather evidence or prepare for the case. Many states require parties requesting a continuance to show that they are exercising due diligence in preparation and, for one reason or another, fell behind in their evidence collection. The court will usually review the amount of time that has elapsed since the case was originally filed, whether the party filed for a continuance already, what sorts of evidence the party believes it will uncover until the next continuance and whether that evidence is material enough to change the likely outcome of the summary judgment motion.
Reasons for Denial
Courts will usually grant a continuance if a party can show due diligence and a good faith effort to uncover evidence. However, many parties file for a continuance for less than honorable reasons, which are often quickly uncovered by the opposing party or the judge himself. Parties will file for a continuance to frustrate opponents who are ready to proceed to the motion hearing and have prepared evidence and witnesses. Continuances are also sought to cover extreme negligence on the part of counsel who has failed to adequately prepare for a case.
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