What does summary judgment in contract disputes refer to?

Summary judgment is resorted to by parties that desire to expedite the resolution of disputes. Contractual disputes are no exception. Contractual disputes are ideally suited for summary judgment since the interpretation of contracts is a question of law for the court. When a written agreement is clear, unambiguous and complete, it will normally be enforced in accordance with its meaning. Nonetheless, in some circumstances, parole evidence could be admissible to aid the court in construing the contract. Difficulties could arise when the parties’ intent changes with time and when adjustments or substitutions must be made in performance. The lawyer that drafted the contract may or may not be able to testify.

Generally, summary judgment is appropriate for breach of contract cases if only the facts are disputed. Nonetheless, a motion for summary judgment is not appropriate for ambiguous case since the judge or jury will be required to determine intent.

A summary judgment is only applicable to contracts to certain extents

What is the fitness of summary judgment in contract disputes?

Summary judgment is proper if the movant demonstrates that there exists no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. To support an assertion that a fact cannot be or is genuinely dispute, the movant must do the following:

  1. cite to particular parts of material in the record
  2. show that the material cited do not establish the absence or presence of genuine dispute
  3. show that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact

The court ought to consider the terms of the contract before issuing a summary judgment

Moreover, when the court is considering a summary judgment in relation to breach of contract, the court need not consider only the cited materials but also other materials in the record. In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must look at the record and any inferences to be drawn from it in the light most favorable to the non-movant.

Is ambiguity a significant factor in motion for summary judgment in contract disputes?

The elements of a breach of contract claim include;

  1. The existence of an agreement.
  2. The performance of the contract by plaintiff.
  • Breach of the agreement by defendant.
  1. Damages

The initial question that the court asks when considering a breach of contact claim is whether the contract is unambiguous with respect to the question being disputed by the parties. A contract is considered ambiguous if it is capable of more than one meaning when viewed objectively by a reasonable man who has examined the context of the integrated agreement as a whole. Thus, the court ought to read the contract as a whole. Precisely, the disputed clauses must be construed in the context of the entire agreement. Ambiguity is assessed within the four corners of the document as opposed to considering external factors before the court renders a motion for summary judgment.

Ambiguous contracts do not merit a summary judgment

In instances where the contract is unambiguous, a court may not consider extrinsic evidence, including evidence of the parties’ post-contract conduct. However, where the language of the contract creates ambiguity, extrinsic evidence regarding the intent of the parties may be considered. Where extrinsic evidence exists, the meaning of the ambiguous contract is a question of fact for the person in pursuit of facts. In such instances, a motion for summary judgment is unnecessary unless the extrinsic evidence is one-sided to the extent that no reasonable person can decide contrariwise. Thus, once a court finds that the language of the contract is ambiguous, the court cannot resolve the said ambiguity. Resolution of any ambiguity is reserved for the fact-finder.

What is the significance of a motion of summary judgment in contract disputes?

Summary judgment is a critical procedural mechanism in contract disputes, serving several vital functions:

  1. Efficiency: Contract disputes can be complex, involving intricate contractual language and disputes over facts. Summary judgment expedites the resolution process by allowing the court to dispose of cases where there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute, thus, reducing the burden on the judicial system and the parties involved.
  2. Cost Savings: Avoiding a full trial can significantly reduce the legal costs associated with contract disputes, which can be substantial due to the extensive discovery and trial preparation required.
  3. Predictability: Summary judgment promotes predictability in contract law by enabling parties to resolve disputes based on the contractual terms and established legal principles, without relying on the uncertainty of a trial.

What are some of the procedural aspects of summary judgment in contract disputes?

  1. Initiating Summary Judgment


The process of seeking summary judgment in a contract dispute typically begins with the filing of a motion by one of the parties. This motion must set forth the legal and factual basis for the request and demonstrate that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute.

  1. Response to Summary Judgment Motion

The opposing party has the opportunity to respond to the motion, presenting evidence and legal arguments that contest the movant’s assertion that no genuine issue of material fact exists. This response often takes the form of a memorandum of law and may include affidavits, deposition transcripts, or other evidentiary materials.

  1. Standard of Review

In considering a summary judgment motion in a contract dispute, the court applies a stringent standard. The court must view the evidence in the light most favourable to the non-moving party and determine whether any genuine issues of material fact exist. If no such issues exist, summary judgment may be granted.

What are the criteria for summary judgment in contract disputes?

To secure summary judgment in a contract dispute, the moving party must meet specific criteria:

  1. Absence of genuine issue of material fact

The most pivotal criterion is demonstrating that there are no genuine issues of material fact in dispute. Material facts are those that are relevant and could affect the outcome of the case. If any such facts are genuinely disputed, summary judgment should be denied.

  1. Legal entitlement

The moving party must also show that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. This entails establishing that, even if all facts are viewed in the light most favourable to the non-moving party, the law supports a judgment in their favour based on the terms of the contract.

  1. Clear and convincing evidence

In some contract disputes, such as those involving allegations of fraud or misrepresentation, the moving party may be required to present clear and convincing evidence in support of their motion for summary judgment.

  1. Evidentiary support

The motion for summary judgment must be supported by admissible evidence. This can include documents, affidavits, deposition testimony, or expert reports that substantiate the movant’s claims and their interpretation of the contract.