Have questions about what a motion means in legal terms? Read our guide to get answers to the most common questions people ask about the legal definition and purpose of a motion in law.

Plus, you will learn all about the different types of motions, how to file one with a court clerk, and serve one to the opposing party in a lawsuit.

What Does a Motion Mean In Legal Terms?

In legal terms, a motion refers to a formal written request made to a court by one party in a lawsuit, asking the court to take a specific action or rule on a particular issue generally before trial begins. It is a written or oral application made during litigation, seeking a decision from the court on matters such as evidence, procedure, or legal interpretation.

The opposing party typically can respond to the motion before the court decides. Pre-trial motions play a crucial role in shaping the course and outcome of a legal case.

What Is the Purpose of a Motion?

The purpose of a motion as a procedural tool is to request a specific action or decision to be ordered by a court before a trial starts. It allows parties involved in litigation to file a formal request (in writing) for action to be taken by the presiding judge, which can directly impact the result of litigation.


What Are the Different Types of Legal Motions?

There are many types of legal motions, with the following list containing the most common ones:

  1. Motion to dismiss: This motion asks the court to dismiss the case entirely, usually because the plaintiff’s complaint is legally insufficient or lacks merit and is often referred to as asking the case to be “thrown out.”
  2. Motion for summary judgment: This type of frequently filed motion seeks a judgment to be made by the court in favor of the requesting party without a trial, arguing that there are no genuine disputes of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
  3. Motion to suppress evidence: This motion asks the court to exclude specific evidence from the trial, usually because it was obtained illegally, is irrelevant, or violates the defendant’s constitutional rights. In criminal cases, defense attorneys file to suppress evidence to protect their client, the defendant, as the evidence could be incriminating and harmful to their defense strategy.
  4. Motion for a new trial: This motion requests a new trial, typically based on errors made during the original trial, such as the admission of improper evidence or misconduct by the jury. Both the plaintiff and defendant can make this request for there to be a new trial.
  5. Motion for judgment as a matter of law: Also known as a directed verdict, this motion asks the court to enter a judgment in favor of one party before the case is presented to the jury, arguing that there is sufficient evidence to support their claim against the opposing party.
  6. Motion for discovery: This motion seeks the court’s permission to obtain additional evidence or information from the opposing party in a lawsuit through the discovery process. The evidence can be used to build a legal strategy and provide insight into how the other side of the suit intends to argue its case.
  7. Motion for injunction: This motion asks the court to order a party to stop doing something or take a specific action, typically to prevent irreparable harm or to enforce a legal right, which is “injunctive relief.” In contrast to a motion for judgment, injunctions do not include a request for monetary damages.
  8. Motion for class certification: In class action lawsuits, this motion asks the court to certify a class of plaintiffs, allowing the case to proceed on behalf of a larger group of individuals with similar claims being led by a lead plaintiff(s).

Motion Legal Definition and Meaning

Are Motions Legally Binding?

Motions are not legally binding regarding legislative bodies and courts of law, as they are formal proposals made by individuals or groups within a legislative or judicial setting to initiate or suggest a course of action. However, once a motion is passed or adopted by the appropriate body, it can have legal consequences.

For example, if a motion is granted in a court of law, it can become a court order or ruling, which is legally binding and enforceable. Similarly, if a motion is passed in a legislative body, it can become law and have legal effect.

So, while motions are not legally binding, they can lead to legally binding outcomes depending on the context in which they are made and the subsequent actions taken.

What Is the Difference Between Motion and Appeal?

Motion and appeal are two legal terms that refer to different processes within both the civil and criminal legal systems.

  • Motion: A motion is a formal request made to a court, usually by one of the parties involved in a case, asking the court to take a specific action or rule on a particular issue. Motions are typically made before a trial begins. Although, motions for new trials can only be made after a bench or jury trial ends, which is not the same as an appeal.
    Examples of commonly filed motions include a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment, a motion for continuance, or a motion to suppress evidence. Judges can decide whether or not to grant motions, which can affect the outcome of a case, including if there will be a new trial.
  • Appeal: An appeal is a legal process by which a party dissatisfied with a court’s decision can request a higher court to review and potentially overturn that decision. An appeal is made after a trial has concluded and a final judgment has been entered. The party seeking the appeal, the appellant, must file a notice of appeal with the appropriate appellate court, outlining the issues they believe were incorrectly decided by the lower court.
    The appellate court will then review the trial court’s decision and may either affirm it, reverse it, or remand the case back to the trial court for further proceedings in a lower court. Appellate courts do not try cases.

What Is the Difference Between a Motion, a Complaint, or a Petition?

Motion, complaints, and petitions are different legal documents that are commonly used in various stages of a legal process.

  1. Motion: A motion is a formal written request submitted to a court during an ongoing legal proceeding. It is typically made by one of the parties involved in the case and seeks a specific ruling or action by the court. Motions can be filed to request things like dismissing a case, requesting evidence, changing a court date, or asking for a judgment in favor of the moving party.
  2. Complaint: A complaint is a legal pleading filed by the plaintiff (the person initiating the lawsuit) to start a civil lawsuit. It outlines the allegations and legal claims against the defendant. A complaint typically includes a statement of facts, the legal basis for the claims, and the relief sought, which is known as a “prayer for relief.”
    It must be served to the defendant and includes a set deadline by which it must respond. That deadline is 21 days for all defendants, except for the United States, which has 60 days to respond.
  3. Petition: A formal written request submitted to a court or administrative body by a petitioner seeking a specific legal action or order. Petitions can be used in various contexts, such as family law (i.e., child custody, adoption, or a dissolution of marriage), probate (e.g., wills or estate administration), immigration (i.e., visa applications), or administrative law (e.g., to call upon a government agency to take action). Petitions generally require a response or decision from the court or administrative body and can be denied.

How To Prepare a Legal Motion?

Preparing a legal motion involves several steps. The following list of steps is a general outline to help you understand the process:

  1. Research and understand the law: Before drafting a motion, it is crucial to research and understand the relevant laws, statutes, rules, and case precedents that apply to your case. This will help you build a solid legal argument and support your motion effectively.
  2. Identify the purpose of the motion: Determine the specific relief or action you seek from the court through your motion. It could be requesting a dismissal of a case, asking for more time to respond, seeking an injunction, etc. Clearly define the purpose to guide your drafting process.
  3. Format and caption: Format your motion in accordance with the court’s rules and guidelines. Typically, you must include a caption stating the court’s name, the parties involved, and the case number. Use standard fonts and double spacing.
  4. Draft the heading and introduction: Begin with a heading that includes the title of the motion, such as “Motion to Dismiss” or “Motion for Summary Judgment.” Then, provide an introduction that briefly summarizes the background of the case and the reasons for filing the motion.
  5. State the legal argument and supporting facts: Present your argument clearly and concisely. Support your argument with relevant facts, legal authority, and citations to applicable statutes and case law. Arrange your arguments logically and use headings and subheadings to make it easier for the court to follow.
  6. Include a conclusion: Conclude your motion by summarizing the request you seek from the court. Clearly state what specific action you want the court to take, such as granting the motion, dismissing the case, or ordering a specific remedy.
  7. Attach supporting documents: If necessary, attach any supporting documents relevant to your motion. This could include affidavits, exhibits, contracts, or other evidence that supports your arguments.
  8. Review and edit: Carefully review your motion for errors, inconsistencies, or unclear language. Edit and proofread the document to ensure it is well-written, organized, and persuasive.
  9. File the motion with the court: File the original motion and any required copies with the appropriate court clerk. Pay any necessary filing fees and obtain a file-stamped copy as proof of filing.
  10. Serve the motion: Once the motion is finalized and filed with the court clerk, serve a copy to all parties involved in the case, following the court’s rules for service. Keep a record of the date and method of service.

How To File a Legal Motion?

Filing a legal motion involves several steps. The following is a general guide on how to file a legal motion:

  1. Research: Thoroughly research the relevant jurisdiction’s laws, rules, and procedures governing motions. This will help you understand the requirements and standards for filing a motion.
  2. Identify the appropriate motion: Determine the specific type of motion you need to file based on the circumstances of your case. Common types of motions include motions to dismiss, for summary judgment, to suppress evidence, or for a new trial.
  3. Draft the motion: Prepare a written document that clearly and concisely states your legal argument. Include a heading with the court’s name, case number, and the title “Motion to [state the relief you are seeking].” Clearly state the legal basis for your motion, supporting facts, and any relevant case law or statutes. Be sure to follow the specific formatting rules required by the court.
  4. Attach supporting exhibits and documents: Gather any necessary documents for your motion. This may include affidavits, exhibits, legal briefs, or relevant court orders. Attach these documents to your motion.
  5. File the motion with the court: Take the original motion and supporting documents to the clerk’s office of the appropriate court. Pay any filing fees the court requires, and ask the clerk to stamp and date your documents as proof of filing. Keep a copy of the filed motion for your records.
  6. Schedule a hearing (if necessary): If your motion requires a court hearing, check the court’s rules for scheduling procedures. Typically, you must request a hearing date from the court and notify the opposing party.
  7. Serve the opposing party: You are required to serve a copy of your motion and any supporting documents to the opposing party or their attorney. Follow the specific service rules, typically mailing or delivering the documents to the opposing party’s address on record and to their attorney’s office if they have one.
  8. Attend the hearing: On the scheduled date, appear in court and present your arguments to the judge. Be prepared to respond to any objections or counter-arguments from the opposing party.

What Does It Mean When a Motion Is Denied?

When a motion is denied, the court has rejected the request made by the moving party in a legal proceeding. The court has determined that the motion lacks merit or does not meet the legal requirements to be granted. This decision indicates that the court will not take the proposed action or give the relief sought by the party making the motion.

What Makes a Motion Moot?

In legal terms, a motion becomes moot when a judge does not grant the motion. Generally, mootness arises when a legal dispute or controversy no longer exists or has been resolved.

Specifically, a motion is considered moot when it is denied or is no longer applicable or relevant because the circumstances or events that gave rise to it have changed.

For instance, when a settlement is agreed upon between the parties in a lawsuit, a motion for discovery becomes moot, and the court will not grant the request without ruling on its merits due to the motion now being irrelevant.

Written by Aaron R. Winston
Last Updated: November 21, 2023 5:05pm CST