Celotex Corp. v. Catrett
477 U.S. 317 (1986)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

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

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett

No. 85-198

Argued April 1, 1986

Decided June 25, 1986

477 U.S. 317

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 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. 477 U. S. 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 477 U. S. 318

make a sufficient showing on an essential element of its case with respect to which it has the burden of proof. Pp. 477 U. S. 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. 477 U. S. 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. 477 U. S. 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. 477 U. S. 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. 477 U. S. 328. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 329. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 477 U. S. 337.

Page 477 U. S. 319

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), rev'd on other grounds sub nom. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp.,475 U. S. 574 (1986). [Footnote 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 477 U. S. 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. [Footnote 2] Respondent

Page 477 U. S. 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 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, [Footnote 3] and this Court's decision in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co.,398 U. S. 144, 398 U. S. 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 477 U. S. 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. [Footnote 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 material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."

In our view, 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,

Page 477 U. S. 323

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 make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof. "[T]h[e] standard [for granting summary judgment] mirrors the standard for a directed verdict under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a). . . ." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., ante at 477 U. S. 250.

Of course, a party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. But unlike the Court of Appeals, we find 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" (emphasis added), suggests the absence of such a requirement. And if there were any doubt about the meaning of Rule 56(c) in this regard, such doubt is clearly removed by Rules 56(a) and (b), which provide that claimants and defendants, respectively, may move for summary judgment "with or without supporting affidavits" (emphasis added). The import of these subsections is that, regardless of whether the moving party accompanies its summary judgment motion with affidavits, the motion may, and should, be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied. One of the principal purposes of the summary judgment rule is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported

Page 477 U. S. 324

claims or defenses, and we think it should be interpreted in a way that allows it to accomplish this purpose. [Footnote 5]

Respondent argues, however, that Rule 56(e), by its terms, places on the nonmoving party the burden of coming forward with rebuttal affidavits, or other specified kinds of materials, only in response to a motion for summary judgment "made and supported as provided in this rule." According to respondent's argument, since petitioner did not "support" its motion with affidavits, summary judgment was improper in this case. But as we have already explained, a motion for summary judgment may be made pursuant to Rule 56 "with or without supporting affidavits." In cases like the instant one, where the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the "pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file." Such a motion, whether or not accompanied by affidavits, will be "made and supported as provided in this rule," and Rule 56(e) therefore requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the "depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file," designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial."

We do not mean that the nonmoving party must produce evidence in a form that would be admissible at trial in order to avoid summary judgment. Obviously, Rule 56 does not require the nonmoving party to depose her own witnesses. Rule 56(e) permits a proper summary judgment motion to be opposed by any of the kinds of evidentiary materials listed in Rule 56(c), except the mere pleadings themselves, and it is from this list that one would normally expect the nonmoving party to make the showing to which we have referred.

Page 477 U. S. 325

The Court of Appeals in this case felt itself constrained, however, by language in our decision in Adickes v. S. H. Kress & Co.,398 U. S. 144 (1970). There we held that summary judgment had been improperly entered in favor of the defendant restaurant in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In the course of its opinion, the Adickes Court said that

"both the commentary on and the background of the 1963 amendment conclusively show that it was not intended to modify the burden of the moving party . . . to show initially the absence of a genuine issue concerning any material fact."

Id. at 398 U. S. 159. We think that this statement is accurate in a literal sense, since we fully agree with the Adickes Court that the 1963 amendment to Rule 56(e) was not designed to modify the burden of making the showing generally required by Rule 56(c). It also appears to us that, on the basis of the showing before the Court in Adickes, the motion for summary judgment in that case should have been denied. But we do not think the Adickes language quoted above should be construed to mean that the burden is on the party moving for summary judgment to produce evidence showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, even with respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof. Instead, as we have explained, the burden on the moving party may be discharged by "showing" -- that is, pointing out to the district court -- that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.

The last two sentences of Rule 56(e) were added, as this Court indicated in Adickes, to disapprove a line of cases allowing a party opposing summary judgment to resist a properly made motion by reference only to its pleadings. While the Adickes Court was undoubtedly correct in concluding that these two sentences were not intended to reduce the burden of the moving party, it is also obvious that they were not adopted to add to that burden. Yet that is exactly the result which the reasoning of the Court of Appeals would produce; in effect, an amendment to Rule 56(e) designed to

Page 477 U. S. 326

facilitate the granting of motions for summary judgment would be interpreted to make it more difficult to grant such motions. Nothing in the two sentences themselves requires this result, for the reasons we have previously indicated, and we now put to rest any inference that they do so.

Our conclusion is bolstered by the fact that district courts are widely acknowledged to possess the power to enter summary judgments sua sponte, so long as the losing party was on notice that she had to come forward with all of her evidence. See 244 U.S.App.D.C. at 167-168, 756 F.2d at 189 (Bork, J., dissenting); 10A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2720, pp. 28-29 (1983). It would surely defy common sense to hold that the District Court could have entered summary judgment sua sponte in favor of petitioner in the instant case, but that petitioner's filing of a motion requesting such a disposition precluded the District Court from ordering it.

Respondent commenced this action in September, 1980, and petitioner's motion was filed in September, 1981. The parties had conducted discovery, and no serious claim can be made that respondent was in any sense "railroaded" by a premature motion for summary judgment. Any potential problem with such premature motions can be adequately dealt with under Rule 56(f), [Footnote 6] which allows a summary judgment motion to be denied, or the hearing on the motion to be continued, if the nonmoving party has not had an opportunity to make full discovery.

In this Court, respondent's brief and oral argument have been devoted as much to the proposition that an adequate showing of exposure to petitioner's asbestos products was

Page 477 U. S. 327

made as to the proposition that no such showing should have been required. But the Court of Appeals declined to address either the adequacy of the showing made by respondent in opposition to petitioner's motion for summary judgment or the question whether such a showing, if reduced to admissible evidence, would be sufficient to carry respondent's burden of proof at trial. We think the Court of Appeals, with its superior knowledge of local law, is better suited than we are to make these determinations in the first instance.

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure have for almost 50 years authorized motions for summary judgment upon proper showings of the lack of a genuine, triable issue of material fact. Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. l; see Schwarzer, Summary Judgment Under the Federal Rules: Defining Genuine Issues of Material Fact, 99 F.R.D. 465, 467 (1984). Before the shift to "notice pleading" accomplished by the Federal Rules, motions to dismiss a complaint or to strike a defense were the principal tools by which factually insufficient claims or defenses could be isolated and prevented from going to trial, with the attendant unwarranted consumption of public and private resources. But with the advent of "notice pleading," the motion to dismiss seldom fulfills this function any more, and its place has been taken by the motion for summary judgment. Rule 56 must be construed with due regard not only for the rights of persons asserting claims and defenses that are adequately based in fact to have those claims and defenses tried to a jury, but also for the rights of persons opposing such claims and defenses to demonstrate in the manner provided by the Rule, prior to trial, that the claims and defenses have no factual basis.

Page 477 U. S. 328

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

[Footnote 1]

Since our grant of certiorari in this case, the Fifth Circuit has rendered a decision squarely rejecting the position adopted here by the District of Columbia Circuit. See Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190 (1986).

[Footnote 2]

JUSTICE STEVENS, in dissent, argues that the District Court granted summary judgment only because respondent presented no evidence that the decedent was exposed to Celotex asbestos products in the District of Columbia.See post at 477 U. S. 338-339. According to JUSTICE STEVENS, we should affirm the decision of the Court of Appeals, reversing the District Court, on the "narrower ground" that respondent "made an adequate showing" that the decedent was exposed to Celotex asbestos products in Chicago during 1970-1971. See ibid.

JUSTICE STEVENS' position is factually incorrect. The District Court expressly stated that respondent had made no showing of exposure to Celotex asbestos products "in the District of Columbia or elsewhere." App. 217 (emphasis added). Unlike JUSTICE STEVENS, we assume that the District Court meant what it said. The majority of the Court of Appeals addressed the very issue raised by JUSTICE STEVENS, and decided that

"[t]he District Court's grant of summary judgment must therefore have been based on its conclusion that there was 'no showing that the plaintiff was exposed to defendant Celotex's product in the District of Columbia or elsewhere within the statutory period.'"

Catrett v. Johns-Manville Sales Corp., 244 U.S.App.D.C. 160, 162, n. 3, 756 F.2d 181, 183, n. 3 (1985) (emphasis in original). In other words, no judge involved in this case to date shares JUSTICE STEVENS' view of the District Court's decision.

[Footnote 3]

Rule 56(e) provides:

"Supporting and opposing affidavits shall be made on personal knowledge, shall set forth such facts as would be admissible in evidence, and shall show affirmatively that the affiant is competent to testify to the matters stated therein. Sworn or certified copies of all papers or parts thereof referred to in an affidavit shall be attached thereto or served therewith. The court may permit affidavits to be supplemented or opposed by depositions, answers to interrogatories, or further affidavits. When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but his response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If he does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against him."

[Footnote 4]

Rule 56(c) provides:

"The motion shall be served at least 10 days before the time fixed for the hearing. The adverse party prior to the day of hearing may serve opposing affidavits. The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith 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. A summary judgment, interlocutory in character, may be rendered on the issue of liability alone although there is a genuine issue as to the amount of damages."

[Footnote 5]

See Louis, Federal Summary Judgment Doctrine: A Critical Analysis, 83 Yale L.J. 745, 752 (1974); Currie, Thoughts on Directed Verdicts and Summary Judgments, 45 U.Chi.L.Rev. 72, 79 (1977).

[Footnote 6]

Rule 56(f) provides:

"Should it appear from the affidavits of a party opposing the motion that he cannot for reasons stated present by affidavit facts essential to justify his opposition, the court may refuse the application for judgment or may order a continuance to permit affidavits to be obtained or depositions to be taken or discovery to be had or may make such other order as is just."

JUSTICE WHITE, concurring.

I agree that the Court of Appeals was wrong in holding that the moving defendant must always support his motion with evidence or affidavits showing the absence of a genuine dispute about a material fact. I also agree that the movant may rely on depositions, answers to interrogatories, and the like, to demonstrate that the plaintiff has no evidence to prove his case, and hence that there can be no factual dispute. But the movant must discharge the burden the Rules place upon him: it is not enough to move for summary judgment without supporting the motion in any way or with a conclusory assertion that the plaintiff has no evidence to prove his case.

A plaintiff need not initiate any discovery or reveal his witnesses or evidence unless required to do so under the discovery Rules or by court order. Of course, he must respond if required to do so; but he need not also depose his witnesses or obtain their affidavits to defeat a summary judgment motion asserting only that he has failed to produce any support for his case. It is the defendant's task to negate, if he can, the claimed basis for the suit.

Petitioner Celotex does not dispute that, if respondent has named a witness to support her claim, summary judgment should not be granted without Celotex somehow showing that the named witness' possible testimony raises no genuine issue of material fact. Tr. of Oral Arg. 43, 45. It asserts, however, that respondent has failed on request to produce any basis for her case. Respondent, on the other hand, does not contend that she was not obligated to reveal her witnesses and evidence, but insists that she has revealed enough to defeat the motion for summary judgment. Because the Court of Appeals found it unnecessary to address this aspect

Page 477 U. S. 329

of the case, I agree that the case should be remanded for further proceedings.

JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE BLACKMUN join, dissenting.

This case requires the Court to determine whether Celotex satisfied its initial burden of production in moving for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff lacked evidence to establish an essential element of her case at trial. I do not disagree with the Court's legal analysis. The Court clearly rejects the ruling of the Court of Appeals that the defendant must provide affirmative evidence disproving the plaintiff's case. Beyond this, however, the Court has not clearly explained what is required of a moving party seeking summary judgment on the ground that the nonmoving party cannot prove its case. [Footnote 2/1] This lack of clarity is unfortunate: district courts must routinely decide summary judgment motions, and the Court's opinion will very likely create confusion. For this reason, even if I agreed with the Court's result, I would have written separately to explain more clearly the law in this area. However, because I believe that Celotex did not meet its burden of production under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, I respectfully dissent from the Court's judgment.

Page 477 U. S. 330

I

Summary judgment is appropriate where the court is satisfied "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." Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 56(c). The burden of establishing the nonexistence of a "genuine issue" is on the party moving for summary judgment. 10A C. Wright, A. Miller, & M. Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727, p. 121 (2d ed.1983) (hereinafter Wright) (citing cases); 6 J. Moore, W. Taggart & J. Wicker, Moore's Federal Practice

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