Motions to Dismiss: Stopping the Lawsuit
When someone gets sued, a common response is to want to push the case to trial as quick as possible. Our long, proud tradition of American justice has made many of us prefer the outcome of a trial over the pretrial legal wrangling that many view as “technicalities.” Somewhere along the way, the idea of overcoming a lawsuit through the proper application of legal procedure challenging the validity of the suit has gained a negative connotation. However, this impression is largely off base, and likely the result of a misunderstanding of pretrial procedures, such as the motion to dismiss. So, what is a motion to dismiss, when and why is it used, and what can it do for a case?
What is a Motion to Dismiss?
A motion to dismiss challenges the legal sufficiency of the allegations set forth in a lawsuit. It asks a court to look at the Complaint or Petition—i.e., the legal paperwork that sets forth the allegations of the lawsuit—and determine if, when those facts are considered in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, they set forth facts sufficient to state a cause of action. In other words, if the court considers all of the allegations true, are they enough to form the basis for a legally recognized legal claim? If not, the court should dismiss the lawsuit.
Dismissal usually comes in one of two varieties: with or without prejudice. A dismissal with prejudice means that the case completely lacks any merit and there is no way it could be corrected to create a viable lawsuit. Obviously, this is a pretty harsh ruling, as it basically ends the case. Thus, in most situations, courts will grant a motion to dismiss without prejudice, allowing the plaintiff to refile the offending pleadings in an attempt to frame the allegations in such a way that they might actually state a cause of action.
As noted, many people feel that winning cases through pretrial procedures somehow constitutes a cheat, or winning on a “technicality.” Courts think so, too, which is why there is a great deal of case law requiring judges to grant motions to dismiss without prejudice except in cases where no amount of adjustment to the allegations would be sufficient to state a cause of action.
When and Why Use a Motion to Dismiss? What Can It Do for a Case?
Typically, a motion to dismiss must be filed immediately after the complaint or petition, or the right to raise issues with the pleadings will be waived. From the court’s perspective, a motion to dismiss is a tool to ensure that the matters at issue in a lawsuit are properly framed. Each party needs to have adequate notice of the exact facts that the other party claims create the basis of the lawsuit. If necessary facts are missing from the pleadings, a motion to dismiss can help the parties avoid having to guess at what is being alleged. It also makes it possible for the responding party to adequately craft defenses, focus discovery, and determine which facts are actually in dispute.
From a tactical perspective, motions to dismiss serve several functions. First, they can slow down a lawsuit, forcing the plaintiff to amend its pleadings until it adequately states a cause of action. Unskilled parties or less adept attorneys could end up spending a lot of time trying to get the pleading portion of the case right. This can break the plaintiff’s momentum, demoralize the plaintiff, and potentially cost a lot of money in attorney fees. It is not uncommon for a plaintiff to give up in frustration after realizing that the facts simply do not support the claim it is trying to make.
Second, motions to dismiss force plaintiffs to concisely state the facts on which they intend to rely. This prevents any later “wiggle room,” so the plaintiff cannot use alternative facts in order to support its claim.
Of course, a final reason for filing a motion to dismiss is to challenge a truly preposterous lawsuit. If no set of facts could possibly support a particular legal claim, a motion to dismiss is an efficient way to end the case at its outset. This is a means of preventing frivolous lawsuits and unnecessary burdens on the legal system and the defendant’s time and money.
Get Help with Your Legal Needs Now
As this discussion probably reveals to you, pretrial procedures can be complicated and nuanced. If you have been sued, even if you feel the lawsuit is completely without merit, you should take it seriously. That means having qualified, competent, and experienced legal counsel advising and representing you every step of the way. John J. Zidziunas & Associates has the experience you need to help you with your legal dispute. Contact us now for a no-cost 30 minute consultation, either by email or by calling 973-509-8500.
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