477 U.S. 317 (1986), 85-198, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett

Docket Nº:No. 85-198
Citation:477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 54 U.S.L.W. 4775
Party Name:Celotex Corp. v. Catrett
Case Date:June 25, 1986
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 317

477 U.S. 317 (1986)

106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265, 54 U.S.L.W. 4775

Celotex Corp.

v.

Catrett

No. 85-198

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 1986

Argued April 1, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

In September, 1980, respondent administratrix filed this wrongful death action in Federal District Court, alleging that her husband's death in 1979 resulted from his exposure to asbestos products manufactured or distributed by the defendants, who included petitioner corporation. In September, 1981, petitioner filed a motion for summary judgment, asserting that, during discovery, respondent failed to produce any evidence to support her allegation that the decedent had been exposed to petitioner's products. In response, respondent produced documents tending to show such exposure, but petitioner argued that the documents were inadmissible hearsay, and thus could not be considered in opposition to the summary judgment motion. In July, 1982, the court granted the motion because there was no showing of exposure to petitioner's products, but the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that summary judgment in petitioner's favor was precluded because of petitioner's failure to support its motion with evidence tending to negate such exposure, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) and the decision in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144.

Held:

1. The Court of Appeals' position is inconsistent with the standard for summary [106 S.Ct. 2550] judgment set forth in Rule 56(c), which provides that summary judgment is proper

if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.

Pp. 322-326.

(a) The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. In such a situation, there can be "no genuine issue as to any material fact," since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial. The moving party is "entitled to a judgment as a matter of law" because the nonmoving party has failed to

Page 318

make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. Pp. 322-323.

(b) There is no express or implied requirement in Rule 56 that the moving party support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim. On the contrary, Rule 56(c), which refers to the affidavits, "if any," suggests the absence of such a requirement, and Rules 56(a) and (b) provide that claimants and defending parties may move for summary judgment "with or without supporting affidavits." Rule 56(e), which relates to the form and use of affidavits and other materials, does not require that the moving party's motion always be supported by affidavits to show initially the absence of a genuine issue for trial. Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., supra, explained. Pp. 323-326.

(c) No serious claim can be made that respondent was "railroaded" by a premature motion for summary judgment, since the motion was not filed until one year after the action was commenced, and since the parties had conducted discovery. Moreover, any potential problem with such premature motions can be adequately dealt with under Rule 56(f). P. 326.

2. The questions whether an adequate showing of exposure to petitioner's products was in fact made by respondent in opposition to the motion, and whether such a showing, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be sufficient to carry respondent's burden of proof at trial, should be determined by the Court of Appeals in the first instance. Pp. 326-327.

244 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 756 F.2d 181, reversed and remanded.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 328. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 329. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 337.

Page 319

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States District Court for the District of Columbia granted the motion of petitioner Celotex Corporation for summary judgment against respondent Catrett because the latter was unable to produce evidence in support of her allegation in her wrongful death complaint that the decedent had been exposed to petitioner's asbestos products. A divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, however, holding that petitioner's failure to support its motion with evidence tending to negate such exposure precluded the entry of summary judgment in its favor. Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 244 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 756 F.2d 181 (1985). This view conflicted with that of the Third Circuit in In re Japanese Electronic Products, 723 F.2d 238 (1983), [106 S.Ct. 2551] rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574 (1986).1 We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 474 U.S. 944 (1985), and now reverse the decision of the District of Columbia Circuit.

Respondent commenced this lawsuit in September, 1980, alleging that the death in 1979 of her husband, Louis H. Catrett, resulted from his exposure to products containing asbestos manufactured or distributed by 15 named corporations. Respondent's complaint sounded in negligence, breach of warranty, and strict liability. Two of the defendants filed motions challenging the District Court's in personam jurisdiction, and the remaining 13, including petitioner, filed motions for summary judgment. Petitioner's motion, which was first filed in September, 1981, argued that summary judgment was proper because respondent had

failed to produce evidence that any [Celotex] product . . . was the proximate cause of the injuries alleged within the jurisdictional

Page 320

limits of [the District] Court.

In particular, petitioner noted that respondent had failed to identify, in answering interrogatories specifically requesting such information, any witnesses who could testify about the decedent's exposure to petitioner's asbestos products. In response to petitioner's summary judgment motion, respondent then produced three documents which she claimed "demonstrate that there is a genuine material factual dispute" as to whether the decedent had ever been exposed to petitioner's asbestos products. The three documents included a transcript of a deposition of the decedent, a letter from an official of one of the decedent's former employers whom petitioner planned to call as a trial witness, and a letter from an insurance company to respondent's attorney, all tending to establish that the decedent had been exposed to petitioner's asbestos products in Chicago during 1970-1971. Petitioner, in turn, argued that the three documents were inadmissible hearsay, and thus could not be considered in opposition to the summary judgment motion.

In July, 1982, almost two years after the commencement of the lawsuit, the District Court granted all of the motions filed by the various defendants. The court explained that it was granting petitioner's summary judgment motion because

there [was] no showing that the plaintiff was exposed to the defendant Celotex's product in the District of Columbia or elsewhere within the statutory period.

App. 217.2 Respondent

Page 321

appealed only the grant of summary judgment in favor of petitioner, and a divided panel of the District of Columbia Circuit reversed. The majority of the Court of Appeals held that petitioner's [106 S.Ct. 2552] summary judgment motion was rendered "fatally defective" by the fact that petitioner "made no effort to adduce any evidence, in the form of affidavits or otherwise, to support its motion." 244 U.S.App.D.C. at 163, 756 F.2d at 184 (emphasis in original). According to the majority, Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,3 and this Court's decision in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159 (1970), establish that

the party opposing the motion for summary judgment bears the burden of responding only after the moving party has met its burden of coming forward with proof of the absence of any genuine issues of material fact.

244 U.S.App.D.C. at 163, 756

Page 322

F.2d at 184 (emphasis in original; footnote omitted). The majority therefore declined to consider petitioner's argument that none of the evidence produced by respondent in opposition to the motion for summary judgment would have been admissible at trial. Ibid. The dissenting judge argued that

[t]he majority errs in supposing that a party seeking summary judgment must always make an affirmative evidentiary showing, even in cases where there is not a triable, factual dispute.

Id. at 167, 756 F.2d at 188 (Bork, J., dissenting). According to the dissenting judge, the majority's decision "undermines the traditional authority of trial judges to grant summary judgment in meritless cases." Id. at 166, 756 F.2d at 187.

We think that the position taken by the majority of the Court of Appeals is inconsistent with the standard for summary judgment set forth in Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.4 Under Rule 56(c), summary judgment is proper

if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP