When students read a U.S. court decision where a judge “denies a motion to dismiss,” it may appear that the judge is ruling that the plaintiff won her case.  That’s not accurate.

In a civil litigation when a judge denies a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the case will continue instead of ending early.   The plaintiff did not win the case.  On the other hand, the defendant failed to convince the judge that the case (or at least one of the claims in the case) must end.

A defendant typically brings a motion to dismiss early in the case.  The defendant is asking the judge to end the case because there is a significant problem.  For example, a defendant may argue that the plaintiff’s Complaint has important defects.  The defendant also might argue that the court lacks personal or subject matter jurisdiction.

For example, let’s say Patty sues David for fraud in a United States federal court.

Rule 9 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires Patty to include additional detail in her Complaint because she is alleging fraud.   Patty must allege when, where, and how the fraud took place.  If the Complaint does not have this detail David could ask the judge to dismiss the case.  David wants the judge to end Patty’s fraud case.

If the judge denies David’s motion Patty’s case will continue  to the next stage of the litigation.  But Patty has not won her case.

As a practical matter, perhaps David will be more willing to settle the case because the judge denied his motion to dismiss.  But the case is not over – – Patty must still prove her claims if the case goes to trial.