Question of Fact

AuthorJeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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An issue that involves the resolution of a factual dispute or controversy and is within the sphere of the decisions to be made by a jury.

A question of fact is a factual dispute between litigants that must be resolved by the jury at trial. It is an issue that is material to the outcome of the case and requires an interpretation of conflicting views on the factual circumstances surrounding the case.

A question of fact is best understood by comparing it to a QUESTION OF LAW. Whether a particular issue in a civil case is a question of fact or law is significant because it can determine whether a party wins the case on SUMMARY JUDGMENT. Summary judgment is a judgment on the merits of the case without a trial. A civil respondent may move for summary judgment at any time after the suit has been filed, but a plaintiff generally must wait a short period after filing the suit (for the defendant to respond) before moving for summary judgment. In determining whether to grant a motion for summary judgment, a court may consider admissions by the parties in their pleadings, answers to interrogatories and depositions, and affidavits of personal knowledge of facts.

A court will order summary judgment in a civil case if there is no genuine issue of fact and, based on the undisputed facts, the moving party

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is entitled to summary judgment as a MATTER OF LAW. If a case does not involve any questions of fact, the only issues are questions of law, so the fact-finding process of a trial is not needed.

To illustrate, suppose that a plaintiff files suit to enforce an agreement to buy a plot of real estate. The respondent declares in her answer that the agreement was oral, and the plaintiff does not deny that the agreement was oral. The court could then order summary judgment in favor of the respondent because a contract for the sale of land must be in writing to be enforceable. Assuming that no other issues are involved, the admission that the agreement was oral eliminates the only material question of fact in the case. The only issue the court would have to decide would be a question of law: whether an oral agreement for the sale of land is enforceable. It is not, so the plaintiff would lose the case without the benefit of a trial because there are no material facts for a fact finder to decide.

Even if a plaintiff challenges a respondent's answer, a respondent may still win summary judgment by...

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