When a plaintiff brings a civil claim against a defendant, the plaintiff may not have the option of pursuing further legal action if he or she settles the matter or wins at trial. However, some procedural issues may lead to “dismissal without prejudice,” which essentially means that the court dismisses the plaintiff’s claim, but the plaintiff still has the option of filing a new lawsuit for the same claim.
When a judge dismisses a case “with prejudice,” that means the judge permanently dismisses the case. The plaintiff cannot pursue another lawsuit for the same claim after a judge dismisses it with prejudice. If a judge decides to dismiss a case with prejudice this typically means that some legal reason prevents the plaintiff from pursuing another lawsuit for the same claim. It’s also possible for a judge to dismiss a case with prejudice due to a filing from the other side. For example, the defendant in the case may file a motion to dismiss and if the judge finds the reasoning sound, he or she will likely dismiss the case with prejudice.
A dismissal without prejudice is essentially a temporary dismissal. The judge may notice a weakness in the pleadings or identify some issue with the evidence that requires correction before the case can move forward. A prosecutor may also voluntarily dismiss a case without prejudice if the prosecution is not ready for trial on the date the judge specifies. A voluntary dismissal issued by a prosecutor is generally solely for the prosecutor’s convenience; this type of dismissal without prejudice allows the prosecution to refine their case and better prepare for trial.
If you are a plaintiff and a judge dismisses your case without prejudice or your lawyer files for a motion to dismiss without prejudice, this will allow you more time to prepare your case, gather more evidence, and proceed with the lawsuit once you are better prepared. However, a plaintiff should know that a dismissal without prejudice does not toll the statute of limitations.
The statute of limitations for taking legal action for a civil claim varies from state to state, and some states have different statutes of limitations for different types of claims. For example, the most commonly used statute of limitations for personal injury claims is two years starting on the date an injury occurs. However, if the defendant in such a claim would be a government entity, then the statute may be much shorter. The plaintiff must file a new lawsuit within the same statute of limitations that applied to the original lawsuit after a dismissal without prejudice.
There are some factors that may come into play that could toll the statute of limitations. For example, the plaintiff’s attorney may discover that the defendant attempted to conceal relevant information after a dismissal without prejudice, or the defendant could have fled out of state. Depending on state law, these issues could potentially extend the statute of limitations and enable the plaintiff to file a second lawsuit for the same claim.
If a judge dismisses a case with prejudice, the case is effectively closed. The plaintiff may not open a new claim for the same allegations. However, the plaintiff’s attorney could potentially file a second lawsuit for different charges that the facts of the original case support, effectively circumventing the double jeopardy rule. If this isn’t possible, then the only option remaining would be to appeal the dismissal with a higher court.
An experienced attorney will be able to help a client understand his or her options after any case dismissal. Procedural errors and other legal reasons may justify a judge’s decision to dismiss a case, and the plaintiff’s attorney will need to determine the best course of action available after any type of dismissal. For more information on steps to take following a dismissal without prejudice, contact our Houston defense lawyers today and set up your free consultation.