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What Is a Motion To Dismiss?

If you're being sued, you might feel overwhelmed by the possibility of a costly and lengthy legal battle. Before going on trial, you might wonder about other alternative options. One of these options is to file a motion to dismiss the case. This type of motion offers a potential exit from the legal proceeding without going through a prolonged trial.

In this article, you will learn about the basics of a motion to dismiss and how it can be helpful to your case.

Motion to Dismiss: The Basics

motion to dismiss is a formal request by a party to the court to dismiss a case. This pretrial motion is often filed before a criminal or civil case begins. Often, the defendant files this type of motion shortly after receiving the complaint and before engaging in further legal proceedings. This strategy usually challenges the case before discovery and other pretrial activities. In some instances, filing the motion later in the proceeding could result in a waiver of some defenses.

A party files a motion to dismiss if the party believes that the complaint is invalid, the basis of which can be on various legal grounds. For example, before disgraced comedian Bill Cosby's retrial, his defense team filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the sexual assault alleged in the criminal complaint had happened outside of the statute of limitations. But the judge dismissed the motion. The judge ruled that the argument over the date of the alleged assault was a disputed issue for trial and could not be decided on the motion.

Grounds for Filing a Motion To Dismiss

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) contain the guidelines for filing a motion to dismiss. Some common grounds include the following:

  • Voluntary dismissal: This allows the plaintiff to file a voluntary dismissal, with or without a court order. The plaintiff can only file voluntary dismissal before the opposing party serves an answer or files a motion for summary judgment.
  • Involuntary dismissal: This allows the defendant to dismiss the case if the plaintiff fails to prosecute the case or comply with the FRCP or a court order.
  • Lack of subject matter jurisdiction: If the court does not have the authority to hear the specific type of case, the party may file a motion to dismiss based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
  • Lack of personal jurisdiction: Similarly, a court must have personal jurisdiction over a defendant to decide involving the defendant. A court has personal jurisdiction over a party when they are a resident or have "sufficient minimum contacts" with the jurisdiction where the lawsuit has been filed.
  • Improper venue: This ground challenges the geographical location of the trial. The party argues that the case was in the wrong court.
  • Insufficient service of process: The defendant may claim that the plaintiff failed to serve the legal documents properly, a requirement for the court to exercise its jurisdiction over the defendant.
  • Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted: A plaintiff must comply with various requirements when filing a complaint, including a valid cause of action. The court may grant a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's complaint fails to allege all the elements of a claim adequately. Or the court may grant it if the complaint fails to allege a measurable injury.
  • Failure to join a party under Rule 19: This ground asserts that a party failed to include a person who should have been a party to the case, and such a person could affect the case's outcome.

For other grounds for filing a motion to dismiss, remember to check the state law's civil or criminal rules of procedure where you filed the case. You can check the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to learn more about whether the case is in federal court.

How to File a Motion To Dismiss

This section outlines the procedural steps that happen when you file a motion to dismiss.

Filing the Motion To Dismiss

Generally, a defense attorney files the defendant's motion to dismiss before filing an "answer" to the complaint. It's crucial to include the reason for the dismissal of the case in the filing of initial documents. If a party fails to do so, it could result in a waiver of those grounds.

Serving the Motion

After the moving party files the motion with the court, they must serve it to the opposing party. This ensures that the opposing party has enough opportunity to answer the motion.

Opposing Party Responds to the Motion

The opposing party often has a set period to file a response to the motion. In the response, the opposing party argues against the grounds for the motion for dismissal presented by the moving party.

The Court Reviews and Decides the Motion

The court will review the motion to dismiss and the opposing party's response. The judge will then review each party's legal argument and decide the motion based on the documents and pleadings submitted by the party. Sometimes, the court may also hold an oral argument to determine the motion's merits.

After Decision Procedure

If the court denies the motion to dismiss, the defendant should file an answer to the complaint within a given period. For instance, under the FRCP, the defendant must file an answer within 14 days after the denial of the motion to dismiss. After the court denies the motion to dismiss, the case moves forward with the legal process, discovery, and trial.

Ruling on a Motion To Dismiss

When ruling on a motion to dismiss, courts generally assume that the facts and allegations in the complaint are true. They will view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. So, it's typically challenging to prevail on a motion to dismiss.

If the court grants the motion, it can dismiss the case either with or without prejudice. If the court grants the motion and dismisses the case “without prejudice," the plaintiff can fix the deficiencies in the complaint and file it again. But if the court dismisses the case “with prejudice," then the court determines that the case is defective or serious procedural violations were present. So, the party cannot refile the case, and the lawsuit is conclusively closed.

It's also possible for the court to dismiss a case sua sponte, meaning without being prompted by either party. The court has this option when grounds for a case dismissal exist. For example, if neither party objects to the venue where someone filed the case, the court may still dismiss the case for improper venue.

Should You File a Motion to Dismiss? Speak to a Lawyer To Learn More

Whether you are the moving party or the opposing party in a case involving a motion to dismiss, it's best to contact a litigation and appeals attorney. They can give you legal advice specifically tailored to your situation. A litigation and appeals attorney can also help you understand the legal implications of your case. They can also guide you on the benefits and risks of filing a motion to dismiss.

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