When a judge denies a defendant’s motion to dismiss, the case will continue because defendant did not convince the judge to terminate the case.  The plaintiff has not won (yet).

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 continues instead of ending early.   The plaintiff did not win the case, however, the defendant failed to convince the judge that the case (or at least one of the claims in the case) must end.

In a motion to dismiss, a defendant asks a judge to end all or part of plaintiff’s case

A defendant typically brings a motion to dismiss early in the litigation.  The defendant is asking the judge to end plaintiff’s case because there is a defect in plaintiff’s claim or because of another issue that requires the case to end.

For example, a defendant may argue that the plaintiff’s complaint is meritless on its face.  The defendant also might argue that the court lacks personal or subject matter jurisdiction, meaning that plaintiff brought the case in the wrong court.  

But if the judge denies the motion, it does not mean that either the plaintiff or the defendant won.  The case will simply continue.

Example:  David’s Motion to Dismiss is Denied so Patty’s Case Continues

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 certain details in her complaint because she is alleging fraud.   Patty must allege when, where, and how the fraud took place.

If Patty’s complaint does not include these details, David could ask the judge to dismiss the fraud claim. But if the judge denies David’s motion, then Patty’s case will continue  to the next stage of the litigation.  Patty has not won her case yet. The case is not over – – Patty must still prove her claims if the case goes to trial.

Follow this link to learn more about major stages of a civil litigation.

So what Happens if a Court Grants a Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss?

The answer depends on whether the court granted the motion to dismiss with prejudice or not.  If a court grants the motion to dismiss with prejudice, then plaintiff’s claim is terminated.  

For example, let’s say Patty sues David for fraud in federal court and fails to satisfy the particularity requirements of Rule 9(b) because she does not allege when or how the fraud occurred.  If David moves to dismiss Patty’s complaint and the court grants the motion to dismiss without prejudice, then Patty will have an opportunity to amend her complaint and try again. 

On the other hand, if the judge grants the motion to dismiss with prejudice, then Patty’s case is over.  She can appeal if she thinks the judge made a mistake but otherwise her fraud case is done.

Also, keep in mind, that if the court grants the motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, then the plaintiff will probably be allowed to sue defendant again, but in a different court.


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