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Celotex Corp. v. Catrett

Supreme Court of the United States

April 1, 1986, Argued ; June 25, 1986, Decided

No. 85-198


 [*319]  [***271]  [**2550]    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  [**2551]  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). 2 We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict, 474 U.S. 944 (1985),  [****6]  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  [***272]  "failed to produce evidence that any [Celotex] product . . . was the proximate cause [****7]  of the injuries alleged within the jurisdictional  [*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,  [****8]  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. 3 [****10]  Respondent  [*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  [**2552]  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, 4 and this Court's decision in  [***273]  Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159 (1970), establish that "the party opposing the motion for summary judgment bears the burden of responding only after the moving party has met  [****9]  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 F.2d, at 184  [*322]  (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 "[the] 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.

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477 U.S. 317 *; 106 S. Ct. 2548 **; 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 ***; 1986 U.S. LEXIS 118 ****; 54 U.S.L.W. 4775; 4 Fed. R. Serv. 3d (Callaghan) 1024



Disposition:  244 U. S. App. D. C. 160, 756 F.2d 181, reversed and remanded.


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Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Supporting Materials, Discovery Materials, Discovery, Methods of Discovery, General Overview, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Appropriateness, Genuine Disputes, Legal Entitlement, Materiality of Facts, Burdens of Proof, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Trials, Judgment as Matter of Law, Directed Verdicts, Pleading & Practice, Motion Practice, Time Limitations, Affidavits, Motions for Summary Judgment, Judgments, Opposing Materials, Evidentiary Considerations, Governments, Courts, Authority to Adjudicate, Pleadings, Complaints, Requirements for Complaint