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

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

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Primary Holding

Summary judgment is appropriate when the non-moving party cannot establish the existence of an element that is essential to the claim on which it bears the burden of proof at trial.

Facts

After the death of her husband, Catrett brought a claim against asbestos manufacturers on the grounds that his exposure to their products had caused his death. Celotex, a manufacturer, received summary judgment from the trial court when it pointed out that she could not produce any evidence on whether her husband had been exposed to its products specifically. However, the appellate court ruled that Celotex should not have received summary judgment because it had failed to produce sufficient evidence to disprove Catrett's claims.

Opinions

Majority

  • William Hubbs Rehnquist (Author)
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Thurgood Marshall
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • Sandra Day O'Connor

To proceed to a jury, the plaintiff would have needed to show that the defendant had some level of responsibility for her husband's death. The burden of proof rested on her, and she was unable to establish a genuine issue of material fact.

Concurrence

  • Byron Raymond White (Author)

There are situations in which a defendant should not need to produce rebuttal evidence to receive summary judgment.

Dissent

  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Harry Andrew Blackmun

The grounds for seeking summary judgment were appropriate, but the defendant did not satisfy them because it did not meet its own burden of showing that there was no genuine issue of material fact. This burden remains on the party seeking summary judgment throughout the proceedings.

Dissent

  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

Case Commentary

The evidence on which the widow grounded her claim was inadmissible hearsay, which left her without any basis for proving that the company had contributed to her husband's death. The defendant's ability to show that there were no issues of triable fact was sufficient to grant summary judgment.

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