Primary tabs

A dismissal refers to the court’s decision to terminate a court case without imposing liability on the defendant. The court may dismiss a case in response to a defendant’s motion to dismiss or do so sua sponte. According to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP) 41(a), a plaintiff may also voluntarily dismiss an action by choosing to drop the case or by reaching an out of court settlement with the defendant. 

There are many reasons for a court to dismiss a case, both procedural and substantiveFRCP Rule 12 provides the list of grounds for dismissal in federal court, which includes a lack of jurisdictionimproper service of processfailure to join a party, and a plaintiff’s failure to state a claim for relief. Additionally, under FRCP Rule 41(b) a defendant can move to dismiss if a plaintiff fails to prosecute, comply with court rules, or court order.

State procedural rules often have similar provisions to FRCP. A court can choose to dismiss a case with prejudice or without prejudice

  • A case dismissed with prejudice is considered a final ruling on the merits of that case. 
  • A case dismissed without prejudice is not considered a ruling on the merits and the plaintiff is free to file a new lawsuit on the same grounds if they wish to do so. 

[Last updated in September of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]