On April 20, 2015 Angela Stanton’s attorney, James Radford tweeted: “Receiving questions re hearing in Parks v. Stanton today. Judge heard argument, denied motion for summary judgment, sets case up for trial.” Should court watchers anticipate vibrant and spectacular fireworks in the courtroom? Not so fast.
The Gwinnett County State Court heard arguments on April 20, 2015 and reviewed Defendant Angela Stanton’s motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff Phaedra Parks’ defamation lawsuit. (Click here to read my in-depth analysis of Angela’s motion in my blog posted March 16, 2015). Now that the Court rejected Angela’s motion, the value of Phaedra’s defamation case has increased considerably.
Summary judgment in litigation tips the scales first in favor of the defendant and then, if denied, in favor of the plaintiff. The mere filing of a summary judgment motion allows defendant to delay recovery and increase plaintiffs’ legal expenses. The denial of summary judgment, on the other hand, typically serves as the catalyst for a defendant to decide it is better to settle rather than risk an adverse ruling at trial.
In 2008, The New York Times described a Journal of Empirical Legal Studies report that found most of the plaintiffs who decided to pass up a settlement offer and went to trial ended up getting less money than if they had taken the offer. Lady Justice has spoken.
READ: Judge Denies Phaedra Parks’ Motion To Dismiss & Motion For Summary Judgment In Angela Stanton Case
A quick refresher on Phaedra’s lawsuit against her ex-best friend Angela Stanton: Phaedra sued Angela for defamation, after Stanton wrote and published a book, “Lies of a Real Housewife: Tell the Truth and Shame the Devil,” in which she portrayed Phaedra as being engaged in criminal activity. Many “Real Housewives of Atlanta” fans are eager to see if Plaintiff Parks will testify at trial and what kind of sheath dress she will wear. I am sorry to dash your champagne wishes and caviar dreams but the likelihood of a trial is pretty infinitesimal.
In another tweet from April 20, Terry (@Terrolsf) tweeted @JamesRadfordJr “Will Parks be compelled to testify or can she just decide to abandon the case and settle out of court?” Mr. Radford responded, “the parties can always settle, but it looks like we are going to trial.”
I am all for strategic moves based on legal predictions because it provides us lawyers with a plan of attack for our clients, but there is no substitute for evaluating the future based on statistics. Nearly 90% of all civil cases settle. Settlement dominates the outcomes of civil litigation in the United States. Trials represent a diminishing fraction of case dispositions. Therefore, lawyers must be prepared to engage in settlement talks. The chances of Phaedra C. Parks v. Angela Stanton, 12-C-06313-S3 settling is good. Summary judgment denials make settlement objects in the mirror closer than they appear.
What happens after a motion for summary judgment is denied? The summary judgment tool seeks to eliminate groundless and burdensome litigation. By extension, the court ruling in favor of Phaedra says to Angela that Phaedra’s case is winnable, or at least not unfounded. When a judge denies summary judgment because there are factual issues for a jury to resolve, the case progresses until settlement or trial. In the majority of cases, a denial of summary judgment produces a new opportunity for the parties to settle.
Many things can happen between the denial of summary judgment and a trial, such as gathering more evidence through additional depositions, mediation, and settlement conferences.
I know what you are thinking: There is no way two women who have such obvious resentment towards one another could sit down and negotiate nicely. But hotly contested and highly impassioned disputes are resolved frequently. Moreover it is likely that the lawyers – rather than the parties – will be at the majority of settlement conferences. That should remove some passion and allow the lawyers to focus on justifying their respective settlement demands.
There can be informal or formal face-to-face negotiation between attorneys only, face-to-face negotiation with attorneys and parties, and judicial settlement conferences. Negotiated settlements can be reached with or without judicial assistance. Based on my experience litigating cases since 2009, I would venture to speculate that most lawyers welcome having judicial involvement.
The parties here have a sincere interest in seeking a negotiated resolution now that there has been a ruling on a dispositive motion. The judiciary may actively urge litigants to settle their claims as they are called for trial on the calendar. Some judges consider it their duty to encourage rather than to discourage parties to compromise as a way to resolve conflict. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Rule 16) even provide that the court can direct/order parties and attorneys engaged in civil litigation to appear before a conference facilitating the settlement of the case.
Settlement conferences are a wonderfully helpful tool to move along the discussion because a neutral judge with personal knowledge of the case can give the lawyers clues and cues as to how a jury might view the evidence. I have seen time and again lawyers have an epiphany while listening to a judge talk about the merits of the case. It is not unusual for a lawyer to walk into one of these conferences and say, “My client is not settling. I have no authority to resolve this case.” Then, after the obstinate attorney hears the judge’s impartial reflection of the merits he/she magically obtains authority to settle.
Now there is the possibility that the parties in Parks v. Stanton do not have enough information from which to make informed settlement decisions or engage in hardy settlement discussions. It has been Angela’s position from the get-go that Phaedra stonewalled the discovery process and failed to answer questions. But judicial civil case settlement conferences can be conducted to maximize their usefulness without seriously threatening the impartial role of the judiciary as lawyers are asked to go back to the drawing board and try and work out a deal.
The rules in each jurisdiction differ but generally there are instances prior to trial in which settlement of the action shall be discussed at a conference and times where disposition of the action must be on the agenda. Since there is no limit to the number of conferences that the judge may elect to order, the judge can effectively order a settlement conference at virtually any time from filing of the request for judicial intervention until the trial itself. (Cases even settle after jury selection.)
I want to leave you with one final thought from media personality Wendy Williams, who offered up the following words of wisdom on The Wendy Williams Show this week: “Apollo actually gives you [Phaedra] a storyline.” Does the mother of Mr. President and Mr. Vice President want to take this case to trial? Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think will happen in Parks v. Stanton.