Use of Summary Judgment in an Unlawful Detainer Action

Many of our clients have expressed frustration over delays and stall tactics utilized by tenants in an unlawful detainer action. These clients have been looking for viable alternatives to expedite their case and avoid appearing in court for a trial. A motion for summary judgment could provide such an alternative, depending on the strength of the case. 

Summary judgment, when possible, is a powerful strategy that can win the case against a defendant or promote a favorable settlement. Accordingly, it’s important to understand what this motion involves and how it could favorably resolve your case short of a full blown trial.

What is a Summary Judgment Motion

Summary judgment is a judgment entered by a court for one party and against another party without having to expend time and resources associated with a trial on the merits.  It takes the form of a “motion”, typically presented to the court by way of sworn declarations and official records instead of live testimony.  The party making the motion is claiming that the other side has no case and therefore is not entitled to a jury trial because the jury could only rule in favor of the moving party. A decision granting the motion effectively ends the case unless the ruling is appealed. 

Timing of Motion

Civil Procedure Section 1170.7 provides that a motion for summary judgment can be made after the answer is filed, upon five days’ notice.  Any opposition to the motion and any reply to an opposition may be made orally at the time of hearing or in writing.  If a party seeks to have a written opposition considered in advance of the hearing, the written opposition must be filed and served on or before the court day before the hearing.

Evidentiary Standards Governing Summary Judgment Motions

Under California Code of Civil Procedure Section 437c, a party may move for summary judgment on the basis that the action has “no merit.” C.C.P. § 437c(a). “A cause of action has no merit if . . . [o]ne or more elements of the cause of action cannot be established.” C.C.P. § 437c(o). Once the defendant has met his burden of showing that “one or more elements of the cause of action . . . cannot be established,” the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to show that a full-blown trial is necessary to fairly resolve the case. C.C.P. § 437c(p)(2).

Suitability of Summary Judgment in an Unlawful Detainer Action

A plaintiff in an action for unlawful detainer may move for summary judgment to obtain a speedy determination of the right to possession. (Knowles v. Robinson (1963) 60 Cal.2d 620, 625; see also Gonzales v. Jim Properties (1974) 37 Cal.App.3d 1029.) (Summary judgment process applicable in context of unlawful detainer proceedings.)

For example, in a non-payment of rent case, summary judgment may be appropriate where there is no dispute over the amount of rent owed by the tenant, and the evidence indisputably establishes the tenant was properly served with a three-day notice yet failed to fully remit the amount stated in the notice within the three-day period.  

Please contact Lynx Legal with any questions regarding the above, and for all your eviction needs.   We can be reached at 888-441-2355 or  Our experienced staff is standing by to start your case or answer any questions you may have. 

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