The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide that, under appropriate circumstances, either the plaintiff or the defendant may seek and obtain a summary judgment.' The detailed requirements of Rule 56 have been discussed elsewhere, and they will not be discussed herein other than as they aid in delineating the area covered by summary judgments. In determining the scope of Rule 56, the purpose of the rules as a whole must be considered as well as the effect of the discovery procedures of the rules. In addition the summary judgment rule must be explicitly distinguished from a motion for judgment on the pleadings provided elsewhere in the rules.
At common law the purpose of pleadings was to arrive at an issue of law or fact. If a party challenged the legal sufficiency of an opponent's pleading by demurrer, an issue of law was thus raised and decided by the judge. However, if a pleading were met by a denial, an issue of fact was thus raised to be decided by the jury. The complicated rules that followed from this system, and the importance attached to departures from the rules led to the establishment in many states of a system of procedure and pleading enacted by act of the legislature.
Henry N. Williams,
The Scope of Summary Judgment under the Federal Rules,
5 Vanderbilt Law Review
Available at: https://scholarship.law.vanderbilt.edu/vlr/vol5/iss3/17