When you have found an attorney who is willing to file a lawsuit on your behalf, or perhaps you have decided to file one yourself pro se, you may think this guarantees your day in court. After all, the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution states: “In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.”
Generally, the Seventh Amendment entitles a plaintiff in a civil case the right to a jury trial. However, there are procedural hurdles your case must clear before it ever reaches a jury. This is because juries only decide fact issues; judges decide issues of law. If there is no fact issue and the judge can decide a case as a matter of law, they can and will.
The two most common hurdles that must be cleared to make it to trial are motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment. Motions to dismiss come early, typically before any discovery is conducted, while motions for summary judgment generally come later, typically after discovery is complete.
Although there are multiple types of motions to dismiss, the most common is called a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. This type of motion to dismiss asserts that a lawsuit has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In other words, it asserts that looking at all the facts alleged in the lawsuit, and taking all those facts as true, there is no possible valid legal claim.
A motion for summary judgment is different because it looks at all the facts on the record, not just the facts in the lawsuit. But it is similar because it also asserts that looking at all the facts on the record, and taking those facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, no jury could decide in favor of the party who opposes the motion. Most often in employment law cases, it is the employee who is opposing the motion.
In plain language, a motion for summary judgment is one side saying: “Look Judge, both sides agree on all the facts of this case. The facts are not disputed. And with these facts, a jury could never agree with the other side.”
Only when there is a fact that is “material” to the resolution of the case will the case make it in front of a jury. “[W]hen the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party,” the case must proceed to trial. Nola Spice Designs, LLC v. Haydel Enterprises, Inc, 783 F.3d 527, 536 (5th Cir. 2015) (internal quotations omitted). Disputed facts require a jury to decide what they believe is true; a judge cannot decide fact issues.
So, what do we do as Texas Employment Lawyers? First, we select cases that we think will clear these procedural hurdles and make it to trial. Second, we draft detailed factual complaints to avoid getting a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim filed against us, or at a minimum, defeat one if it is filed. Then, during discovery, we work to make sure facts are on the record that would allow a reasonable jury to decide in favor of our clients. With that, we are prepared to defeat motions for summary judgment and secure our clients their day in court. Having experienced Texas trial lawyers is important because we know what we need to do to win. If you think you have a case and need an experienced advocate, contact a Texas Employment Attorney to schedule an initial consultation.