Know The Territory

In the opening song in Meredith Wilsons musical, The Music Man, we learn the key to success for a travelling salesman. You Gotta Know the Territory, an experienced salesman advises.

Know the Territory. Thats a key to lawyering sometimes, too. Sometimes, a court has local rules and specific expectations. Knowing them can make or break a case.

For example, in the Northern District of Illinois, a party moving for summary judgment must file a Local Rule 56.1 Statement, which is a sentence-by-sentence list of uncontested facts with citations to supporting evidence.[1] To oppose that summary judgment motion, Local Rule 56.1 requires the respondent to answer each factual proposition point-by-point, with citations to evidence for each fact, to demonstrate any contested issues of fact in the record.[2] A case recently affirmed in the Seventh Circuit underscores why a party must follow Local Rule 56.1 on a summary judgment motion in Chicago.

The case is Curtis v. Costco Warehouse Corp.,[3] an employment discrimination lawsuit brought by a former Costco employee. When Costco moved for summary judgment, the worker responded by objecting to many of the fact statements in Costcos Local Rule 56.1 Statement, and responded to many others by cross-referencing other court papers that cited evidence relating to that factual proposition. The worker did not directly admit or deny many of Costcos statements of fact, and he did not offer a clearly-designated set of evidence to identify each triable issue of fact. Not pleased with the workers approach, the trial court judges decision includes several pages describing the workers violations of Local Rule 56.1. The judge noted that the purpose of Local Rule 56.1 is to provide a clear designation of the evidence that is relevant, so that the judge can avoid wading through arguments and cross-references when determining whether a fact is in dispute. For that reason, among others, the trial court judge granted Costcos summary judgment motion, dismissing the workers claim. Recently, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit wholeheartedly affirmed that approach, emphasizing that trial courts can expect strict compliance with Local Rule 56.1.[4]

There are a few lessons.

First, lawyers should be extra vigilant to know local rules and to know what a judge expects. Accepted practice in one courthouse may lead to trouble in another. An experienced local counsel or a senior colleague may have valuable insights about local practice.

Second, under Local Rule 56.1 in Chicago, a party opposing summary judgment must cite specific evidence on each disputed issue of fact. Objections and cross-references are not enough.

And third, obeying local rules is important. Violating a local rule can end a case.

In short, You Gotta Know the Territory.

[1] N.D. Ill. Local Rule 56.1 (a)(3).

[2] N.D. Ill. Local Rule 56.1 (b)(3)(B).

[3] Curtis v. Costco Warehouse Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134182 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 24, 2014).

[4] Curtis v. Costco Warehouse Corp., 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 20446 (7th Cir. Nov. 24, 2015).