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Submission of Controversy

A procedure by which the parties to a particular dispute place any matter of real controversy existing between them before a court for a final determination.

Some states have enacted laws that authorize parties in a legal dispute to bypass the normal procedures for resolving a civil lawsuit and use a process called submission of controversy. For a court to hear a case under a submission of controversy, the parties must agree to all the facts and present only questions of law for the court to resolve.

A submission of controversy dispenses with the need for the plaintiff to file a summons and complaint and the defendant to file an answer. Instead, the parties must agree to a statement of facts, because the court does not take evidence in such a proceeding. The agreement to the facts must be absolute, without reservations, and unequivocal and must stipulate all of the facts necessary for a complete determination of the controversy. The parties must also describe a CAUSE OF ACTION, explain why the court has jurisdiction over the parties, and propose what relief is being sought from the court.

Once the facts of the controversy are agreed upon, the court cannot dispute them. It must hold a trial or hearing on the questions of law in dispute and then render a decision that determines how the law applies to the stipulated facts. The inability of the court to judge the facts as a jury would distinguishes the submission of controversy from a trial without a jury.

The statutes that grant this right determine the type of controversies that can be submitted. Submission of controversy is not available in cases when the relief cannot be given or when the controversy involves a matter of public policy. A submission can only be granted when the controversy affects the private rights of the parties.

Like any case presented to a court, the controversy must present a QUESTION OF LAW, which must be real, and it must be one that can be followed by an effective judgment. The parties cannot submit abstract or moot questions for the purpose of obtaining the advice of the court. Nor will a court decide a question of law that does not arise from the facts in the case.

Submission of controversy is not used very often because of the difficulty in getting parties to agree to the facts of the case. Without such an agreement, this procedure cannot be used. Some states have repealed their statutes because the process has fallen into disfavor. ARBITRATION and mediation are more commonly used to resolve disputes informally and without filing a lawsuit. Under both of these ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION mechanisms, the parties may still present their version of the facts, but the process is informal and usually more timely than a submission of controversy.

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