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What Is a Dismissal With Prejudice?

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  • Originally Written By: Jodee Redmond
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 August 2014
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A dismissal with prejudice is a legal procedure that a judge can use when dismissing or ending a case to prohibit the matter from being tried again. This mechanism is most common in U.S. law, but can also be found in many countries that follow English Common Law, including the UK, Australia, and India. It only attaches when cases have been dismissed, not when they’re decided or resolved; dismissals usually happen because of an error or other mistake. Dismissed cases have been thrown out of court, and the attachment of “with prejudice” means that they can’t be brought back and retried. Prejudice can attach in both criminal and civil cases, and can also be something that parties voluntarily agree to during settlement negotiations.

Understanding Why Cases Get Dismissed

Dismissals are really different from decisions because, when a case is dismissed, nothing has usually been decided. Rather than determining that a party s guilty or not guilty, for instance, or that a party should or shouldn’t be held liable, the judge determines that the matter can’t be decided at all. Sometimes this is because of flawed evidence or problems with the jury. It’s not always something that can be avoided.

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Prejudice usually enters in when the judge feels that the problems with the case are directly related to some sort of bad conduct. It may be that the entire action was brought in “bad faith,” which often means that there wasn’t really a legal problem at the root of the dispute. It may also be because of a lawyer’s poor conduct or inappropriate questioning, or some seriously flawed presentation of evidence. In any event, a judge won’t usually dismiss a case “with prejudice” unless he or she feels that the problems with the case are so intrinsic that the case can never be resolved, and as such it should never be able to be brought again. This is often designed both as a way to prevent the court’s time from being wasted in the future and also a means of punishing the party who caused the issues in the first place.

Civil Matters

Dismissal with prejudice is most common in civil matters, which is to say in cases that revolve around personal disputes or more minor infractions. In these cases the action serves to stop the plaintiff, who is the person bringing the case and claiming to have suffered a loss or injury, from starting another lawsuit based on the same incident. Judges typically have to have a list of reasons why the case should be dismissed in the first place, and also why that dismissal should be permanent, but in most instances these relate to the integrity of the claim from the outset. Lawsuits that are frivolous or petty are common examples. Attaching the “with prejudice” label to these is essentially the judge’s way of saying that the case had no business every being tried, and will never be able to be tried again.

As Applied to Criminal Cases

Judges sometimes dismiss criminal cases with prejudice, and in these instances the defendant — the person who was charged with the crime — is usually able to go free and can’t be tried for the same crime again, at least not in the same court. There are a couple of reasons why this might happen, but it usually relates to serious procedural problems with the case and how it was brought. Judges aren’t usually in the practice of prohibiting crimes from being tried, and in most cases they reserve the “prejudice” ruling for cases that were either frivolous or not grounded in real evidence, or that they otherwise felt were a waste of time and resources.

The result is usually somewhat similar to the legal doctrine of “double jeopardy.” In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and some other jurisdictions, a person cannot be tried for the same crime twice. Once the individual has been found either guilty or not guilty, the judgment effectively forms a dismissal with prejudice insofar as that particular matter can’t be brought again or tried in a different light, unless something so radical presents itself as to change the entire angle of the case and nature of the charge — and this is very rare.

In Negotiations and Settlements

Parties can also use prejudice during their own out-of-court negotiations. Especially in more minor disputes, it’s common for parties to try and settle matters on their own; this is often a lot less expensive than putting on a trial, and can lead to more favorable results, too. When the parties agree to a resolution, the case is usually dismissed, and adding prejudice in these circumstances is a way for both sides to be sure that their agreement is permanent.

The question of whether to agree to a dismissal with prejudice or one without prejudice is something that each party to a lawsuit needs to consider carefully. Getting expert legal advice from an attorney will help to make the options clearer. Once prejudice attaches, it’s really difficult to go back and reinitiate things, even if the circumstances have changed.

Difference From “Without Prejudice”

A dismissal without prejudice is a different matter. Both actions end the same way — the case is thrown out of court without a resolution either way — but the difference comes with what can happen next. When a judge determines that the dismissal should be without prejudice, the plaintiff is able to re-file if he or she wishes. This is common for procedural errors or problems that weren’t really any party’s fault.

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Discuss this Article

anon964113
Post 6

If a criminal case is dismissed with prejudice due to negotiations, does that mean the defendant is guilty?

anon951974
Post 5

Can I file a motion to dismiss with prejudice when I am waiting for his ( the judge's) decision from our real hearing? (first hearing for the plaintiff). We've had, I think, three previous hearings since 2010. The judge at first was furious at me and I couldn't figure out why. Then he caught where the plaintiff had done something wrong! So I would like to end it now.

popcorn
Post 3

@letshearit - Unfortunately if it states "dismissal without prejudice", versus "dismissal with prejudice", it means that they can reopen the case at a later date.

This may be a case where they have decided to let things go because they had the wrong person or something, but just in case, they want to keep the possibility alive that they could pursue legal action in the future. In any case, I would keep the letter.

letshearit
Post 2

If you receive a notice from a credit card company that a case has been dismissed without prejudice, does this mean you definitely do not have to worry anymore?

Should I keep the letter on file for any future contact with the credit card company as proof that they have decided to forgo any additional action against me?

I really would like to have peace of mind that this is all indeed settled and I can get on with life.

Sara007
Post 1

If a case has been finished and dismissal with prejudice determined, does new evidence override the effect of this ruling? Or is this an end of the line type of ruling that means there is absolutely no chance of the issue ever seeing the light of a courtroom again?

I am curious if a good lawyer would be able to help retry an issue, with new evidence, if they change the terminology of the case and present it from a different angle.

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