A decade after the United States Supreme Court’s holding in
Scott v. Harris (2007) 550 U.S. 372 (“Scott”), a California District Court follows suit, finding that a party cannot
create a genuine issue of material fact at summary judgment by submitting
testimony or declarations that are contradicted by video footage. (Swigart v. Bruno (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 529, 534 (“Swigart”).
Scott, the Supreme Court held that summary judgment is appropriate where videotape
evidence blatantly contradicts a non-moving party’s version of events.
In the context of summary judgment motions, the moving party must support
its motion with substantive evidence; whether it be in the form of declarations,
discovery responses or other tangible evidence. In general, when a moving
party supports its motion with expert declarations, that party is entitled
to summary judgment unless the other, non-moving party, presents conflicting
evidence sufficient to create a triable issue of fact. Indeed, contradictory
expert declarations are often a way for the non-moving party to
create a dispute as to the material facts of the case. If a dispute over material
facts is established, those facts must be viewed in the light most favorable
to the nonmoving party, which most often results in the denial of the motion.
Scott Court turned this standard on its head in the context of video evidence
by opining that facts should be viewed “in the light depicted by
the videotape.” (Scott, supra, 550 U.S. at 381.) Through this analysis, the Supreme Court held that summary
judgment was appropriate where videotape evidence obviously contracted
the non-moving party’s version of events, notwithstanding the presentation
of evidence in support of that position.
Expanding upon principles set forth in
Swigart Court reasoned that, to extent witness testimony was inconsistent with
video footage, it could properly decline to consider the inconsistency
as a disputed fact. Instead, the Court “relied on the evidence in
the video” as dispositive. (Swigart, supra, 13 Cal.App.5th at 534, fn. 4.) Interestingly, neither opinion directly
discussed whether the evidence presented to refute the video footage was
sufficient to create a triable issue. Like in
Swigart decision gives California defendants a powerful tool to overcome plaintiffs’
self-serving witness and expert declarations in the face of video evidence
to the contrary.
As more and more of daily life is caught on tape - whether by virtue of
everyone having a recording device on their person at all times or by
the ever-increasing use of CC TV - video footage is poised to be at the
heart of many legal disputes to come. With California courts are often
reluctant to grant well-founded motions for summary judgment for fear
of denying a party her “day in court,” and likely for a fear
of being overturned on appeal,
Swigart serve as prime examples that common-sense reasoning is alive and well…if
you capture it on tape.