Mass. R. Civ. P. 56
Amended March 7, 2002, effective May 1, 2002.
Reporter's Notes to Rule 56(c): (2002): The 2002 amendment to Rule 56(c) deletes the phrase "on file" from the third sentence, in recognition of the fact that discovery documents are generally no longer separately filed with the court. See Rule 5(d)(2) and Superior Court Administrative Directive No. 90-2. The previous reference to admissions has also been replaced by a reference to "responses to requests for admission under Rule 36." The amendment is merely of the housekeeping variety and no change in practice is intended. (1973): Except in a narrow class of cases, Massachusetts has up to now lacked any procedural device for terminating litigation in the interim between close of pleadings and trial. Under G.L. c. 231, §§ 59 and 59B, only certain contract actions could be disposed of prior to trial. In all other types of litigation, no matter how little factual dispute involved, resolution had to await trial. Rule 56, which, with a small addition, tracks Federal Rule 56 exactly, responds to the need which the statutes left unanswered. It proceeds on the principle that trials are necessary only to resolve issues of fact; if at any time the court is made aware of the total absence of such issues, it should on motion promptly adjudicate the legal questions which remain, and thus terminate the case. The statutes, so far as they went, embodied this philosophy. They aimed "to avoid delay and expense of trials in cases where there is no genuine issue of fact." Albre Marble & Tile Co., Inc. v. John Bowen Co., Inc., 338 Mass. 394, 397 (1959). Rule 56 will extend this principle beyond contract cases. Thus in tort actions where the facts are not disputed, summary judgment for one party will be appropriate. Should the facts concerning liability be undisputed, but damages controverted, Rule 56(c) authorizes partial summary judgment: the court may determine the liability issue, leaving for trial only the question of damages. The important thing to realize about summary judgment under Rule 56 is that it can be granted if and only if there is "no genuine issue as to any material fact." If any such issue appears, summary judgment must be denied. So-called "trial by affidavits" has no place under Rule 56. Affidavits (or pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions) are merely devices for demonstrating the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. Introduction of material controverting the moving party's assertions of fact raises such an issue and precludes summary judgment. On the other hand, because Rule 56 recognizes only "genuine" material issues of fact, Rule 56(e) requires the opponent of any summary judgment motion to do something more than simply deny the proponents allegations. Faced with a summary judgment motion supported by affidavits or the like, an opponent may not rely solely upon the allegations of his pleadings. He bears the burden of introducing enough countervailing data to demonstrate the existence of a genuine material factual issue If, however, the opponent is convinced that even on the movant's undisputed affidavits, the court should not grant summary judgment, he may decline to introduce his own materials and may instead fight the motion on entirely legal (as opposed to factual) grounds. Indeed, the final sentence of Rule 56(c) makes clear that in appropriate cases, summary judgment may be entered against the moving party. This is eminently logical. Because by definition the moving party is always asserting that the case contains no factual issues, the court should have the power, no matter who initiates the motion, to award judgment to the party legally entitled to prevail on the undisputed facts.