Dismissals and Reinstatements of Civil Lawsuits
Within limits, a plaintiff (the person suing) who has filed a lawsuit may then dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily. In addition, the court has authority to order dismissal of a lawsuit under certain circumstances. This article discusses voluntary dismissals by the plaintiff, involuntary dismissals by the court, and the circumstances under which a lawsuit can be reinstated.
Generally, the plaintiff in a civil lawsuit is permitted by law or by court rule to dismiss the lawsuit voluntarily. The plaintiff can dismiss an action without a court order by filing a stipulation of dismissal that is signed by all parties who have appeared in the lawsuit. Most voluntary dismissals are without prejudice, which means that there was no decision on the merits of the case, and the lawsuit can be refiled. The court itself may allow a voluntary dismissal if not all the parties agree to plaintiff’s request for the dismissal. Factors to be considered by the court include the expenses incurred by the defendant (the person being sued) in preparation for trial, excessive delay on the part of the plaintiff, an insufficient explanation for the need to take a dismissal, and prejudice to the defendant. A voluntary dismissal approved by the court is, unless otherwise specified, a dismissal without prejudice, and the lawsuit can be filed again.
Court rules provide for the involuntary dismissal of lawsuits. The defendant can make a motion for involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit for a failure to prosecute. For example, except for cases awaiting trial, civil cases on the court docket in Ohio for six months without any proceedings are dismissed after written notice to counsel. The defendant can also file a motion for involuntary dismissal of the plaintiff’s lawsuit if the plaintiff fails to comply with any order of court. A court has inherent power to dismiss a case because of misconduct, such as a party’s presentation of false evidence or destruction of evidence. Involuntary dismissals are made with prejudice, which means the dismissal operates as a decision on the merits of the case, and the case may not be refiled.
Reinstatements of Lawsuits after Voluntary Dismissals
The plaintiff can seek reinstatement of a lawsuit that has been voluntarily dismissed by filing a written motion within the time period set by law. If defendant objects to the refiling of the lawsuit, the plaintiff must show a good reason for reinstating the lawsuit. Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, excusable neglect, and the mental incapacity of the plaintiff are all considered good reasons for reinstating the lawsuit. Reinstatement will not be granted where the dismissal was the result of tactical mistakes. For example, a trial court refused to vacate a voluntary dismissal where the most likely reason for the dismissal was to avoid the plaintiff’s deposition.
Reinstatements of Lawsuits after Involuntary Dismissals
An application for reinstatement of a lawsuit after an involuntary dismissal must be based on sufficient grounds, such as mistake, inadvertence, surprise, and excusable neglect. The court has discretion in deciding whether to allow reinstatement of the lawsuit. Unless there is an abuse of discretion, the court’s decision will not be reversed on appeal. The courts have held that reinstatement should be refused where the involuntary dismissal was based on the plaintiff’s two-year delay in obtaining substitute counsel. On the other hand, gross negligence of the plaintiff’s attorneys has been held to be a ground for reinstating a lawsuit that had been involuntarily dismissed.