The Irrepressible Myth of Celotex: Reconsidering Summary Judgment Burdens Twenty Years after the Trilogy

66 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2005 Last revised: 19 Jul 2014

See all articles by Adam Steinman

Adam Steinman

University of Alabama - School of Law

Date Written: August 13, 2010


Twenty years ago, the Supreme Court decided a trilogy of cases on summary judgment. These cases have had a profound impact on federal litigation. Empirical data presented in this article demonstrate that federal courts have cited these three cases more than any Supreme Court decisions in history. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett is widely recognized as the most significant decision of the trilogy, both because it expanded the availability of summary judgment and because it remains the Court's most current instructions on how burdens are allocated between the party seeking and the party opposing summary judgment. However, Celotex failed to clarify many important aspects of summary judgment procedure, leading to competing myths within both the academy and the judiciary. The prevailing myths of Celotex are based principally on scholars' and judges' own views about how summary judgment procedure ought to operate in the federal system. This article takes a more traditional approach that is long overdue in this area: treating Celotex as an object of interpretation rather than an empty vessel for achieving policy preferences. Using basic interpretive values - consistency with prior decisions, consistency with governing textual sources, and internal coherence - this article challenges the current myths and offers a fresh interpretation of Celotex that cogently resolves that case's many ambiguities. The resulting approach to summary judgment would provide a sensible middle ground between the two dominant views of Celotex.

Keywords: Summary Judgment, Celotex, Catrett, Supreme Court, Citation Count, Rehnquist, Civil Procedure, Rule 56, Federal Court, Trilogy

JEL Classification: K10, K19, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Steinman, Adam, The Irrepressible Myth of Celotex: Reconsidering Summary Judgment Burdens Twenty Years after the Trilogy (August 13, 2010). Washington & Lee Law Review, Vol. 63, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Adam Steinman (Contact Author)

University of Alabama - School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 870382
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
United States

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