The Tribune had a story today about the landowner lawsuit challenging Cascade County's zone change paving the way for construction of the coal plant.

In the story, Karl Puckett pointed out that the landowners have moved for summary judgment on their claims that the County acted wrongfully. He stated: "In summary-judgment motions, the parties agree on the facts of the case but not the interpretation of the law. If a judge grants a summary-judgment motion, a case can be settled before going to trial."

Um, sorry. That's not really correct.

In a summary judgment proceeding, one party or the other will argue that there are no fact issues. The parties rarely "agree on the facts of the case," and alleging the existence of a fact issue is a very common way that parties avoid or oppose a summary judgment motion. The parties may or may not agree on what the law is.

The purpose of a trial is to find the facts. If the facts are not in dispute, then a trial is not necessary.

Here's an example. Assume there is an auto accident in an intersection between two vehicles; both drivers claim to have had the green light. The drivers are the only two witnesses. In such a case, summary judgment would not be appropriate because there is a fact question, i.e., who had the green light. The jury (or judge) would listen to the testimony and decide who had the green light.

Assume the same set of facts, except now there are other witnesses and all testify that Driver A had the green light. Well, now summary judgment would be appropriate because there is no fact issue for trial.

In either such case, the parties agree on the law: the driver who ran the red light is in the wrong.

So the reporter was close, but, as Maxwell Smart might say, he missed it by that much.

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