Attorney Myers: Can a judge refuse to hear the plaintiff's evidence, listen to the defendant, and then rule for the defendant? My friend had to go to court after the defendant filed some papers. The judge asked my friend if she had any evidence and she said "yes." The defendant asked for a "judgment summary," and the judge stated that the case could go no further until this was considered. Thirty days later, in another hearing, there was discussion about the case, and then the case was dismissed. The judge never heard her evidence. Is this right? How can this happen? She did not have an attorney.
This is the kind of scenario where I would have had to be in the courtroom, or I would have to see the court documents to give a true picture of what happened.
Having said that, reading between the lines, my guess is that what happened is that the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment. Under court rules, this motion claims that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the defendant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. The defendant presents all of its facts through an affidavit, or by way of the pleadings, or papers filed by both sides previously.
Then, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to contest those allegations. The plaintiff responding to a motion for summary judgment does not actually bring physical evidence into the courtroom. But, the plaintiff must, at the very least, present an argument that there are genuine issues of material fact. This is done with an affidavit, or even multiple affidavits from the witnesses, supporting the facts that your friend contended were disputed.
Again, my educated guess from not having been there is that your friend did not present an affidavit pointing out disputed issues. If she did, she did not make the required showing that any issues in dispute were important to the case. These rulings can be appealed. But, there is a very short appeal period, usually 30 days.
Folks should not represent themselves in court. The reason is that despite its appearance to the outsider, litigation is more than just piles of paper. There is strategy, law, rules, discovery, motion practice, and a lot more.
Motions for summary judgment are designed for elimination of cases from the system where the parties agree to all of the important facts, or fail to dispute the facts in the record of the case. Most states have their own version of this procedure, patterned after Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Your friend apparently had an end run pulled on her. I did not feel fully comfortable with the innards of litigation until I had done it for a few years for a busy civil litigation firm in Boston. So, I have condolences for people who jump into the deep end with no experience.
Attorney Myers is rated "excellent" by the online AVVO attorney rating service, and is a member of the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.