The party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of production, i.e., of making a prima facie showing that it is entitled to summary judgment. This may be done either by demonstrating there is no genuine issue of fact and that as a matter of law, the moving party must prevail or by demonstrating the nonmoving party has not produced evidence relating to an essential element of the issue for which it bears the burden. Once either showing is made, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party who must demonstrate facts supporting each element for which it bears the burden as well as establish the existence of genuine issues of material fact.
Purchaser brought a negligence claim against the engineering firm alleging that Environmental Clean Up Responsibility Act (ECRA) submissions made by the engineering firm on behalf of the prior corporate owner were materially false and misleading in that they failed to identify mercury contamination. The engineering firm argued that it merely provided assistance to the prior owner in facilitating its "cessation of operations" under ECRA, and thus, it owed no duty to prospective purchasers. The court denied the engineering firm's motion for summary judgment, holding that the firm owed a duty to the purchaser who relied upon a review of the owner's ECRA submissions in making the decision to purchase the premises and convert them for residential use.
Did the court err in denying the engineering firm’s motion for summary judgment?
At the summary judgment stage, a court may not weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations--these tasks are left to the factfinder. Therefore, to raise a genuine issue of material fact, "'the [summary judgment] opponent need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence proffered by the movant,' but simply must exceed the 'mere scintilla' standard.". ("The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [nonmovant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmovant].") "Although a 'scintilla of evidence' supporting the non-movant's case is not sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment, it is clear that a district court should not weigh evidence and determine the truth of the matter itself, but instead should determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial."
If the court determines that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, then summary judgment may be granted.