Although litigants may disagree on many facts in a case, there are often many other facts that are not in dispute. For example, parties may agree that they were in a certain place at a certain time, but disagree about what took place. To reduce the amount of evidence that parties need to show at trial, and to focus the proceedings just on the matters at issue, courts often permit or require parties to agree through a stipulation that various facts are true.
Why should you read this post about stipulated facts?
You want to make sure each sentence is true before you sign it.
You want to know why lawyers wouldn’t agree to basic facts that are obviously true.
You want to know why trials are so long and boring when the parties could have just stipulated to so much of the facts.
The Format and Effect of a Stipulation
Stipulated facts often come in the form of numbered paragraphs. While some of the numbered paragraphs may contain several sentences, it is common for each paragraph to have only one sentence or one main fact.
Because both sides need to agree on the stipulation, they are often drafted in a neutral, non-argumentative way. So instead of stating “The defendant wrongfully trespassed on the innocent plaintiff’s property,” as a complaint may say, the stipulation may instead say, “The defendant walked into the living room at 35 Main Street.”
At the bottom of the stipulation, attorneys for each side sign. Once parties agree to stipulated facts, the stipulation becomes evidence that the fact is true that can be used against any of the parties to the stipulation. Moreover, a party may ask the judge to prohibit the other party from introducing contrary evidence, as the stipulated fact is no longer in dispute.
The Benefits of Stipulated Facts
The major benefit of a stipulation is that it relieves the parties of having to introduce evidence about a particular subject. This may be helpful if there are subjects that are boring, technical, or less important than others. For example, if parties to a litigation disagree about the meaning of certain contract terms, they may stipulate that the contract they are discussing is their actual contract and that it is binding. This way they can focus their case on the meaning of the terms and not about details like when it was signed, who had the authority to sign it, and proving that it is authentic.
By reducing the scope of evidence at trial, a party may also reduce the costs of a trial and the length of litigation. This is because it takes time to prepare evidence and testimony on a subject and to prepare rebuttal evidence and testimony. When the parties limit the amount of evidence at trial, they avoid preparation time and the time it takes at trial to present the evidence. Less work then translate to lower costs.
Stipulated facts may help parties avoid discovery and trial altogether. There are some cases in which the parties agree on the facts but disagree on the law, such as cases in which the plaintiff alleges a statute is unconstitutional. Instead of paying for discovery, trial preparation, and trial, and waiting months or years for those procedures to complete, the parties can move for summary judgment and the court can proceed directly to applying the law to the stipulated facts.
In reality, the parties often agree about many facts in a case. They often agree about who they are, the general timeline of the case, and (sometimes privately) acknowledge bad facts that hurt their own case. But reality does not mean that the parties will stipulate to everything they believe is true.
Instead, parties may disagree about what to include in a stipulation because they want the overall narrative of the case to only include the facts that they believe are relevant. They may fear that adding a bunch of irrelevant facts will give a reader the false impression that those facts are important or that the truly important facts are equally irrelevant. They may also avoid conceding bad facts, even if there is no serious dispute to them, because they want to avoid conceding their relevance or because they do not want to make the opponent’s job easier.
They may also consider not stipulating to favorable facts. This may sound counterintuitive, because a party should want a guarantee that the court will accept favorable facts to be true. But a party may want to preserve its ability to present favorable facts to a jury, and to do so more dramatically than just by dryly describing them in a way that satisfies opposing counsel.
Because of strategic concerns like these, stipulated facts are often brief and cover only small aspects of a case.