What Happens When a Case is Dismissed in Court

What Happens When a Case is Dismissed in Court

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Having a legal case dismissed can be an extremely frustrating experience. You put significant time and money into pursuing justice only to have the case rejected by a judge without reaching a decision on the merits. Understanding what happens when a case gets dismissed, including the difference between dismissals with or without prejudice, is important for deciding your options going forward.

Reasons a Case Might be Dismissed

There are many reasons why a civil or criminal case could get dismissed by a judge. Some of the most common grounds for dismissal include:

Lack of Jurisdiction

If the court hearing the case lacks proper jurisdiction over the parties or subject matter involved, the judge will dismiss it. For example, a small claims court may lack authority to hear cases above a certain damage amount.

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Failure to State a Claim

Judges will dismiss cases that do not adequately state legal claims even if all facts in the complaint are proven true. There must be recognizable causes of action.

Statute of Limitations Expired

Each legal claim has time limits restricting how long after an event a case can be filed. If these statute of limitations periods have expired, the case will get dismissed.

Failure to Prosecute

Plaintiffs who fail to move their cases forward in a timely manner risk dismissal for failure to prosecute. Defendants sometimes seek these dismissals if plaintiffs are inactive.

Voluntary Dismissal

Parties who filed the lawsuit can choose to voluntarily dismiss their own claims in certain circumstances, leading the judge to grant dismissal.

What Happens When a Case is Dismissed Without Prejudice

If a case gets dismissed without prejudice, it means the person filing the lawsuit can refile or amend the complaint and start the case over. Key implications include:

Case Can Be Refiled

The claims are not precluded from being refiled after fixing the defects that caused dismissal. Filing fees and deadlines essentially reset.

Deadlines Reset

Case deadlines like scheduling orders or discovery cutoff dates will restart if the case gets refiled after a dismissal without prejudice.

No Decision on Merits

A dismissal without prejudice means the issues and claims were not decided. There is no judgment stopping a party from pursuing the claims.

What Happens When a Case Is Dismissed With Prejudice

If a judge dismisses a case with prejudice, it has more permanent implications:

Case Cannot Be Refiled

The parties are barred from filing the same claims against same defendants in the issuing court ever again.

Decision on Merits

Unlike a dismissal without prejudice, cases dismissed with prejudice are typically considered a judgment on the legal merits of the claims.

Claim Precluded Forever

Unless overturned on appeal, a dismissal with prejudice precludes pursuing the same claims forever.

How Judges Determine Type of Dismissal

Judges decide whether to dismiss cases with or without prejudice based on:

Nature of Defect in Case

Technical issues like lack of jurisdiction lead to dismissal without prejudice, allowing cases to be refiled properly. Merits failures lead to dismissal with prejudice.

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Stage of Case

Early stage dismissals tend to be issued without prejudice, while late stage dismissals after significant litigation are more often with prejudice.

Request by Parties

Judges will weigh party requests and agreements around prejudice, but have final say. Defendants typically want dismissal with prejudice.

Fairness Considerations

Judges also consider case-specific fairness around whether refiling should be permitted depending on the defects present.

Getting a Case Reinstated After Dismissal

If a party believes a case was dismissed incorrectly or prematurely before getting their day in court, there are options to get the case reinstated:

File a Motion to Reconsider

Parties can file a motion asking the dismissing judge to reconsider the reasons for dismissal. New evidence or legal arguments may convince them to reinstate the case.

File a Motion to Vacate Dismissal

Similarly, filing a motion to vacate the dismissal can undo it if there were justified legal grounds warranting further litigation.

File an Appeal

Dismissals can be appealed to a higher court seeking reversal of trial judge’s dismissal decision and reinstatement of the claims.

Impact of Dismissal on Statute of Limitations

Case dismissal can directly impact statutes of limitation deadlines:

SOL May Be Tolled

If the dismissal was improper or unfair, the refiling deadlines under the statute of limitations may be put temporarily “on hold” by the court through equitable tolling principles.

Deadline Depends on Type of Dismissal

The statute of limitations deadlines are more likely to be restarted with a dismissal issued without prejudice rather than with prejudice, allowing parties to refile claims.

Financial Impacts of Case Dismissal

Beyond the emotional letdown, case dismissal can hit parties hard financially by causing:

Pay Opposing Party’s Legal Fees

Contracts or statutes often allow prevailing parties to recoup legal fees from the losing party after dismissal. Defendants will seek these cost awards.

Forfeit Court Costs

Any court costs like filing fees paid upfront typically cannot be recovered after dismissal.

Still Responsible for Own Lawyer

Even if the case ends, you must still pay legal bills owed to your attorney following dismissal. This compounds the loss.

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Emotional Impact of Case Dismissal

Suffering dismissal of a case clients have invested so much hope and money pursuing exacts an emotional toll, including:


The frustration of having case preparation, discovery, motion practice for naught is immense after dismissal. Plaintiffs feel robbed of justice.


Clients are understandably disappointed at having the legal claims they expected to advance thrown out by the court without recourse.

Sadness and Stress

Letdown from a dismissed case can lead plaintiffs to experience profound sadness, anxiety, stress, and depression especially after extended litigation.

Deciding Whether to Refile Case

Plaintiffs deciding next steps after dismissal should carefully weigh:

Evaluate Reason for Dismissal

Understand exactly why case got dismissed, whether reasons were technical or meritorious, and if defects can be fixed in refiling. Research the dismissal grounds thoroughly in making refiling decision.

Consider New Evidence

Determine if any new evidence or witnesses have emerged to bolster legal theories and correct past evidentiary weaknesses that got case dismissed.

Assess Legal Costs

Before sinking more legal costs into continuing lawsuit, honestly assess budget and whether potential damages warrant spending thousands refiling.

Alternatives to Refiling

Instead of refiling dismissed claims again, parties might pursue alternatives like:

Settlement Negotiations

Dismissal often kickstarts productive settlement talks allowing creative solutions not permitted during litigation.

Mediation or Arbitration

Mediators and arbitrators can resolve disputes through simpler, faster processes compared to refiling dismissed suit.

Moving On

After a negative emotional experience with dismissal, many choose to cut losses and move on rather than refile litigation.

When Refiling Makes Sense

Despite costs, refiling a dismissed lawsuit may make strategic sense if:

Dismissal Was Procedural

A case dismissed over a technical defect like using wrong form gets refiled easily. The substance was not originally rejected.

Strong Case on Merits

Plaintiffs should revisit the underlying strength of their original case and refile strong merits lawsuits dismissed prematurely.

Within Statute of Limitations

The claims must still fall within the applicable statute of limitation rules to warrant refiling litigation.


Having a case dismissed, whether with or without prejudice, always involves frustrating financial and emotional consequences. Carefully analyzing the dismissal grounds and evaluating strategic options for appeals, settlement talks, mediation, or case refiling will guide next steps. Understanding precisely how courts treat dismissed cases provides clarity during difficult times.


Can you appeal a case dismissed with prejudice?

Yes, a party can file an appeal seeking to overturn a trial judge’s dismissal with prejudice decision. Appeals courts review these dismissals closely to ensure proper standards were applied.

What happens if court fees are not paid on a dismissed case?

If court fees remain unpaid after case dismissal, courts typically forward debts to collections and negatively impact credit ratings. Consequences escalate if debts remain ignored including potential contempt orders.

Can evidence be used from a dismissed case?

If a case gets refiled after dismissal, evidence properly submitted in earlier litigation can usually still get used to support legal claims in the new case. Prior testimony transcripts, documents produced, and declarations remain viable as evidence.

Who decides if a case is dismissed with or without prejudice?

The trial judge has discretion in deciding whether civil case dismissals should be issued with or without prejudice based on the case facts and procedural history. Their dismissal orders will expressly state which type applies.

Can settlement agreements end a dismissed case?

Yes, parties often reach post-dismissal settlements to creative solutions not permitted during litigation. These contractual agreements can provide closure for all sides without refiling.

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