Law School Case Brief
Cray Commc'ns v. Novatel Comput. Sys - 33 F.3d 390 (4th Cir. 1994)
The moving party on a summary judgment motion need not produce evidence, but simply can argue that there is an absence of evidence by which the nonmovant can prove his case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 does not require the moving party to negate the elements of the nonmoving party's case; to the contrary, regardless of whether the moving party accompanies its summary judgment motion with affidavits, the motion may, and should, be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c), is satisfied.
Appellee manufacturer Cray Communications, Inc. (formerly known as Dowty Communications) brought a diversity action, sounding in contract, against appellant distributor Novatel Computer Systems, Inc. Novatel counterclaimed, alleging fraud and breach of contract. The district court granted Cray-Dowty's motion for partial summary judgment on Novatel's counterclaims and dismissed Novatel's fraud counterclaim for lack of evidentiary support. The district court also limited any potential recovery on Novatel's contract counterclaim to those remedies expressly provided in the parties' contract. The district court also denied Novatel's motion for permission to supplement the record and for reconsideration. On appeal, Novatel claimed that the district court misapplied the Supreme Court of the Unites States' seminal summary judgment decision in Celotex Corp. v. Catrett (1986). Specifically, Novatel argued that Dowty-Cray was required to support its summary judgment motion with evidence tending to negate Novatel's fraud claim; when Dowty-Cray failed to submit such evidence, Novatel was excused from its burden of producing any contrary evidence.
Did the district court properly apply the Celotex burden-shifting framework in granting partial summary judgment to Dowty-Cray on Novatel's counterclaims for fraud and breach of contract?
The United States Court of Appeals found that appellant Novatel "has gotten the holding of Celotex precisely backwards." Here, the district court applied the burden-shifting structure of Celotex properly. Appellee Dowty-Cray's opening memorandum included statements that alone sufficed to support its motion for summary judgment and to shift the burden of production to Novatel. In its opposition, Novatel made no effort to call the district court's attention to evidence in the record that Dowty-Cray had overlooked. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's grant of partial summary judgment motion to Dowty-Cray because Novatel failed to satisfy its burden of production under FRCP 56, as interpreted in Celotex and its progeny. Next, the Court affirmed the district court's denial of Novatel's motion for permission to supplement the record and for reconsideration. Novatel's memorandum in support of its motion for reconsideration did not direct the district court to specific factual evidence tending to create a genuine dispute over a material fact.
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