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What is Dismissal Without Prejudice?

A man packing up item from his desk after dismissal without prejudice

Dismissal without prejudice in a civil case means that a plaintiff is allowed to re-file a claim at a later time. There are various reasons for a case to be dismissed without prejudice. Usually, the most common reason is that the court doesn't think the plaintiff can prove his/her case. The defendant doesn't go unaffected by this type of dismissal. The chance that the plaintiff can re-file at a later date often leaves a defendant exposed to a possible future lawsuit. Below are a few of the more commonly asked questions regarding a dismissal without prejudice.

What is a dismissal hearing?

A dismissal hearing usually occurs when a case has been untouched for a long time and the plaintiff hasn't attempted to prosecute the case. In this type of situation, the court will put the case on a dismissal docket. The plaintiff must then appear in court and explain what they plan to do. If they are going to prosecute the case, when is this likely to begin, and what they plan to do in the matter. However, if the plaintiff doesn't make an appearance on the court date, the case will be dismissed "with prejudice". This means that the case cannot be re-filed. If a long period of time has passed, the plaintiff may not plan on pursuing the case any longer. As far as you needing to be present at the hearing, you may want to contact the court clerk to find out if your presence is required.

I had a collection case dismissed without prejudice two years ago, can they reopen without notifying me?

When a case has been dismissed "without" prejudice it means that at any time in the future, the case could be reopened by either the party or their successors. In other words, if a collection agency buys the debt, they can seek payments for that debt. In order for a case to be closed and unable to re-open, it would have to be dismissed "with prejudice". Many people get the two confused and think that without prejudice means that the case will be closed and cannot be re-opened. If you are potentially going to be on the receiving end of a lawsuit, you would want the case to be dismissed with prejudice.

My son received a notice of voluntary dismissal without prejudice three years ago can they do this and what are his options?

A collection agency could still attempt to collect on a debt even if the case had been dismissed. However, if the case was dismissed without prejudice, it is very possible for a lawsuit to be re-filed against your son. In order to be protected from a lawsuit, a case would have to be dismissed with prejudice in order to keep the case from re-opening.

I was just informed by the plaintiff's attorney that they are dropping a lawsuit against me "without prejudice", how do I protect myself from another suit from the plaintiff? 

If a case was dismissed without prejudice, it usually means that there was no determination of the merit of the case and that either party could re-open the case at a later time. This means that res judicata would not apply. Res judicata is a case that has received a final judgment and can no longer be appealed. You can attempt to ask the court to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice in order to avoid the lawsuit being re-filed.

Provisions of dismissal without prejudice, statute of limitations, dismissal with prejudice and individual circumstances can often lead to confusion about your rights and legal obligations. If you have questions regarding dismissal without prejudice, you should always seek the legal insight of an Expert to clarify your doubts.

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