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End a Civil Action without a Trial
Settlement of a Civil Action
Most cases end in a "settlement" rather than going to trial. A settlement is an agreement between the parties to end the lawsuit. It is common for parties to talk about settling almost from the start of the lawsuit. A case can settle at any time, including before filing the pleadings with the Court.
Parties may be asked several times at different stages of the case to try to settle your dispute. The judge may require both parties to meet or attend mediation to try to reach a settlement. The judge may also schedule a "Pre-Trial Conference" to talk with the parties about the trial issues and evidence and take steps to speed up the actual trial. You should go to the Pre-Trial Conference prepared to offer a solution to settle the case, and be ready to consider settlement offers from the other side. Each time you go to court, including the final trial, you can expect the judge to ask you and the other party what you have done to try to settle the case.
A settlement allows the parties to find creative solutions that fit their needs, and also allows the parties to have a "known" result in their case. Going to trial and letting the Judge or jury decide is always a gamble. If you and the other party reach an agreement before the trial day, contact the judicial officer's clerk right away.
Motions in Civil Actions
Pre-trial motions can resolve many important questions about your lawsuit. A motion is a written request served on the other party and filed with the court asking the judge to make a decision on a particular issue (e.g., what evidence can be admitted or excluded, who can testify as a witness, etc.). NOTE: The courts do NOT publish sample forms and instructions for pre-trial motions. You should talk with a lawyer, or you may be able to find sample forms at a law library.
Dispositive motions can end a case before trial if the judge decides in favor of the party who filed the motion. The following motions are dispositive:
Motion to Dismiss
A Defendant can serve and file a Motion to Dismiss the case when she believes that the Plaintiff's complaint is legally faulty in some way.
Motion for Summary Judgment
The purpose of a trial is to have the judge or jury decide what the facts are in a case; if the key facts are not in dispute, there is no need for a trial.
A party can serve and file a Motion for Summary Judgment if she believes that there are no important facts in dispute and that the agreed-upon facts support a judgment in her favor.
The Motion for Summary Judgment asks the judge to look at the undisputed facts and apply the law to those facts, and argues that the law requires a judgment in favor of the party who filed the Motion for Summary Judgment.
The party opposing a Motion for Summary Judgment has to show the judge that there are key facts in dispute and that a trial is necessary. Or, the party opposing the motion can agree that the facts are not disputed, but argue that the law requires a judgment in his favor.
Motion for Default Judgment
If the Defendant fails to respond to the Plaintiff's Complaint within the time limit stated in the Summons, the Defendant is in "default." See MN Rules of Civ. Pro. 55.
The Plaintiff can request a "default judgment" against the Defendant. Depending on the type of relief requested in the Complaint and other circumstances, the Defendant may or may not be notified before the default judgment is granted. See MN Rules of Civ. Pro. 55.
IMPORTANT: If you are served with Motion papers, you should get legal advice right away.
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) processes are other ways people can resolve legal problems without going to trial. Parties are generally required to try ADR in civil cases before the case can go to trial. ADR involves an independent third person, called a "neutral," who tries to help resolve or narrow the areas of conflict. "Mediation" is one type of ADR. The parties may agree to use ADR, or the judge may require it.
For more information, see the ADR section of this website and MN Gen. Rule of Prac. 114.
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