In a recent decision, the Seventh Circuit clarified the proper standard for deciding a motion for summary judgment. Many litigants and lawyers alike believe that the existence of a factual dispute is sufficient to stave off summary judgment and proceed to trial. However, the Seventh Circuit took the opportunity to reaffirm once again that the existence of factual disputes alone will not preclude summary judgment. Instead, the facts in dispute must be material in nature to prevent entry of summary, often referred to by courts as “genuine issues of material fact.” While acknowledging the existence of factual disputes aplenty in the First Amendment suit, the Seventh Circuit nonetheless ruled that the District Court properly entered summary judgment for the defendants because the plaintiff failed to identify any genuine issues of material fact in the case.
The plaintiff company lost its business licenses to operate two restaurants in the small Chicago suburb of Worth after supporting a political candidate running against the incumbent Village President, Mary Werner. After losing its business licenses, the company, FKFJ, Inc., filed suit against the Village of Worth and Werner under 42 U.S.C. 1983, alleging that the Village and Werner violated its First Amendment rights by retaliating against the company for supporting Werner’s opponent in the election. The case proceeded through discovery and the defendants then filed for summary judgment. FKFJ opposed summary judgment arguing that there were numerous factual disputes in the case. Despite FKFJ’s contention, the District Court granted summary judgment for the Village and Werner.
FKFJ appealed the entry of summary judgment arguing that the District Court erred by ignoring genuine disputes of material fact and making improper credibility determinations at the summary judgment stage. In support of its appeal, FKFJ pointed to a number of factual disputes that it claimed precluded the entry of summary judgment in the case. FKFJ argued that the issue of whether Werner possessed ill-will toward the plaintiff and its owners was a factual dispute sufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Continue reading ›