A summary order is a legal decision which is issued without an opinion. Generally, summary orders cannot be cited in other legal cases, and they do not set a precedent. Courts at various levels can use summary orders to handle the disposition of simple legal cases. Such orders are commonly utilized to make efficient use of judicial time by moving straightforward cases through quickly so that the court can focus on more complex legal matters.
Terms such as summary opinion, nonopinion, summary disposition, affirmance without opinion, unpublished order, abbreviated disposition, unpublished opinion, or disposition without opinion may be used to refer to a summary order. In all cases, the court hands down a decision without offering an opinion with the decision, or with a very limited opinion. For example, the judge might make a brief statement when issuing the decision, and this statement provides any additional information which the judge may think is relevant.
This differs from a summary judgment. In a summary judgment, one of the parties in a case moves to have the case decided before it goes to trial. If the motion is accepted, the court rules on the case without having evidence and other information presented. In a summary order, the court has heard the case and reviewed related materials, and it issues a judgment on the basis of this information.
One case in which summary orders may be used frequently is in appeals courts. These courts usually have a high caseload, and they cannot necessarily handle every case which comes to them. If the judges are unanimous in their decision, or feel that there are no new legal issues or matters brought up in an appeal, they can issue a summary order to decide the case and move it through, allowing them to focus on cases which require more complex legal analysis because they set precedents or bring up challenges to the law.
As with other types of judgments, a summary order can be appealed at a court on a higher level. Although the judgment may not be “published,” however, it is a standing legal decision which will hold unless a higher court reverses it or new information comes forward to suggest that there were problems with the trial which might invalidate the decision. There may also be grounds to challenge a motion for summary order if one side or the other feels that there are legal issues to be decided, and that an opinion is necessary to contextualize the decision.