Summary Judgment Rule 56(c) Cases

Rule 56(c)(2) reads: "The motion for summary judgment, with all supporting materials, including any briefs, shall be served at least ten (10) days before the time fixed for the hearing, except that a court may conduct a hearing on less than ten (10) days' notice with the consent of the parties concerned. Subject to subparagraph (f) of this rule, any statement or affidavit in opposition shall be served at least two (2) days prior to the hearing." In applying the provisions of Rule 56(c), trial courts are given limited discretion. Kelly v. Harrison, 547 So. 2d 443, 445 (Ala. 1989). In fact, this Court has stated that a trial court may, within its discretion, dispense with the hearing altogether and rule on the motion without any further proceedings. See Pate v. Rollison Logging Equip., Inc., 628 So. 2d 337, 341 (Ala. 1993). But once a hearing is set, the requirements of procedural due process change accordingly. Because Rule 56(c)(2) specifically provides that a nonmoving party has until two days before the date of the hearing to file "any statement or affidavit in opposition" to the motion, we conclude that the trial court erred by ruling eight days before the date of the scheduled hearing. Rule 1(c), Ala. R. Civ. P., mandates that the Rules of Civil Procedure be construed to "secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Applying the provisions of that rule to the facts of this case, we conclude that a nonmoving party has a right to expect that a trial judge, having set a date for a hearing on a summary-judgment motion, will not issue a ruling before that party has had an opportunity to timely respond to the motion. Consequently, the only just decision is to reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand this case for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.