Legal Memorandum: Interpretation of a Written Contract

Issue: What is the standard for summary judgment related to the construction or interpretation of a written contract in New Jersey?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Standard for summary judgment; Construction or interpretation of a written contract; Intention of the parties
Jurisdiction: New Jersey
Cited Cases: 346 N.J. Super. 167; 225 N.J. Super. 230; 477 U.S. 242; 142 N.J. 520; 17 N.J. 67; 85 N.J. 171; 176 N.J. 25; 183 N.J. 428
Cited Statutes: N.J. Ct. R. 4:46‑2(c)
Date: 03/01/2009

"Summary judgment is designed to provide a prompt, businesslike and inexpensive method of resolving cases."  Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co., 17 N.J. 67, 74 (1954).  Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact in the record:

The judgment or order 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 challenged and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment or order as a matter of law.

N.J. Ct. R. 4:46‑2(c).

Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), outlined the standard for deciding a summary judgment motion:

[A] determination whether there exists a "genuine issue" of material fact that precludes summary judgment requires the motion judge to consider whether the competent evidential materials presented, when viewed in the light most favorable to the non‑moving party, are sufficient to permit a rational fact[ ]finder to resolve the alleged disputed issue in favor of the non‑moving party.

The determination to be made is whether the evidence "’is so one‑sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.’"  Id. at 533 (quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251‑52, (1986)).  "[A]n opposing party who offers no substantial or material facts […]

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