July 1, 2018. Amendments to the Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure will take effect on that day. Many of the proposed amendments will bring Minnesota’s civil procedure rules into conformity with the federal rules.
Parts of rule 56 governing summary judgment will be amended.
It is hard to compare the rule 56 provisions as they are today (before the amendments take effect) to the amended rules, because the two sets of rules are organized very differently.
For that reason, lawyers who don’t practice much in federal court will find themselves picking through the amended rule 56 provisions to find key provisions.
Most of the basics do remain the same.
The most important provision in rule 56 is – of course – the standard for the grant of a summary judgment motion. Minnesota’s existing standard requires the grant of summary judgment where “there is no genuine issue as to any material fact” so that a party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
The federal rules use a different standard: whether there is no genuine “dispute” as to any material fact, rather than no genuine “issue” as to any material fact. The MSBA had petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to adopt the federal rule language (along with the other proposed amendments) to bring Minnesota’s rules in conformity with the federal rules.
The Court decided to keep its existing standard in place (providing for a “genuine issue” of material fact).
The federal rules used the term “genuine issue,” when the federal rules of civil procedure were first adopted in 1937, and then changed to the term “genuine dispute” via amendments adopted in 2010. Federal case law addressing Rule 56 has used the terms “issue” and “dispute” interchangeably.
The bottom line: we don’t need to lose any sleep over the difference between the “genuine issue” versus “genuine dispute” language. Interpretation of the summary judgment standard in Minnesota will not change.
Some provisions of the amended summary judgment rules are different from the rules that have been in effect.
Under Minnesota’s existing rules, the district court considering a summary judgment motion may grant summary judgment for either party, not just the party making the motion, when the rule 56 standards are met. The amended rules go one step further and allow the court to order summary judgment on its own initiative after giving the parties notice. The amendment makes clear that district court may itself initiate the summary judgment process. (Minnesota case law had recognized that the court may grant summary judgment on its own initiative. The rule amendment codifies that result and makes clear that notice to the parties must be given first.)
Under the amended rules, a party may not file a summary judgment motion more than 30 days after the close of all discovery, unless leave is granted. Before, this timing question was left entirely for scheduling orders.
Under the amended rules, the court must state the “reasons for granting or denying the motion.” (Oddly, I do not find an analogous provision in Minnesota’s existing rules.) The court must state its reasons in a written decision or “on the record.”
Minnesota’s existing rules provide that “[j]udgment shall be entered forthwith” if the pleadings and evidence show that the summary judgment standard is met. Existing Rule 56.03. And, the existing rules provide that, “an adverse party may not rest upon the mere averments or denials of the adverse party’s pleading but must present specific facts showing that that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Existing Rule 56.05. The amended rules give the court more flexibility. Under the amended rules, the court may now give a party an additional opportunity to support or address a fact, may consider the fact undisputed, may grant summary judgment, or may issue other relief. Amended Rule 56.05.
The amended rules reflect some additional changes. Counsel should – of course – review the amended rules before bringing or defending against any summary judgment motion.