Motions to Dismiss in Civil Lawsuits

The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to ask the judge to either dismiss certain claims or the entire case. It allows resolving claims without lengthy discovery or trial. It can save time and resources by narrowing the issues in the case. It is important as it looks at and addresses claims in a case that are either invalid or should be dismissed on legal grounds. It is a motion that is usually filed early by either party in a civil lawsuit. The plaintiff will file it if they believe certain defenses are legally invalid while a defendant will file the motion if they believe there are legal grounds to have a claim or even the whole case dismissed by the court.

Rule 12 Legal Grounds for a Motion to Dismiss in a Civil Lawsuit

Motions to dismiss in civil lawsuits typically follow a framework outlined by either the federal rules of civil procedure or a particular State’s rules of civil procedure. Depending on the court involved in the case, all motions to dismiss are governed by the rules of civil procedure either set by the State legislature or adopted uniformly for federal courts. In the federal courts, a motion to dismiss is governed by Rule 12 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. These are commonly very similar to State laws as well although there often are much more nuanced rules. Here are a few grounds for filing a motion to dismiss:

Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

In a federal civil case, subject matter jurisdiction looks at the court’s ability to adjudicate a specific type of claim. Filed under Rule 12(b)(1), the motion asks the court to dismiss a claim as it does not have the authority to hear the matter. Subject matter jurisdiction can be two types. The first is general and the second is limited jurisdiction. Under general jurisdiction, state courts can hear a wide variety of claims which include both state and federal law. Federal courts, however, are more limited and can only hear cases that are within their authority. That authority is determined by Congress which limits the federal court jurisdiction by what’s permitted under statute or by the constitution. In federal court, this defense can be raised at any time during the litigation process or the court on its own volition may dismiss the case if subject matter jurisdiction is absent.

Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

Under rule 12(b)(2) the court must have personal jurisdiction over a party. The rule requires the court to have authority to decide the merits of the case over a defendant. To exercise that authority, the court must determine whether the defendant has minimum contacts with the place where the court sits. If so, then the court can exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant. If the defendant is a non resident, the court can still exercise jurisdiction but only if the defendant has sufficient contacts with the forum state. Contacts may be minimal if the defendant’s actions arise out of or are related to the defendant’s contacts with the state.

Improper Venue

In federal court, the venue looks at where the case should be filed. It is governed by 28 U.S. Code 1391. Venue is decided where any defendants reside if all are from the same state, where a substantial part of the events or omissions occurred, or where a substantial part of the subject property is situated. If there is no proper venue, then the court looks at whether it has personal jurisdiction over the defendant. If an improper venue is raised, the court can transfer the case to the proper federal court.

Insufficient Process or Service of Process

Insufficient service of process happens when a party does not serve the other party with documents that don’t follow the rules of the court. If the other party receives improper service, they can file a motion to dismiss the documents. If granted, the party who initially filed has to re-file. This adds both additional cost and time to the process. If, however, the party fails to raise the defense in its response, it is waived.

Failure to State a Claim Upon Which Relief Can Be Granted (Rule 12(b)(6) in the U.S.)

Failure to state a claim for relief focuses on the insufficiency in a complaint. It asks the court to dismiss the complaint as it lacks sufficient facts or legal elements to support a valid cause of action. It does not address the factual allegations of the case but rather focuses on the adequacy of those allegations. A 12(b)(6) motion can be filed before the filing of an answer. It is often used and usually occurs early in the litigation. The motion is rarely granted as it deprives a party of their day in court.

Failure to Join a Necessary Party

Joining a necessary party is vital for the fact finder to render a verdict. It refers to parties whose interests are specifically affected by the outcome of the case. Rule 19 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states the requirements for joinder as follows:

  1. A person who is subject to service of process and whose joinder wont deprive the court of subject-matter jurisdiction must be joined as a party if:
  2. In their absence, the court cannot provide complete relief among the existing parties.
  3. They claim an interest related to the case, and their absence would practically impair their ability to protect that interest or leave existing parties at risk of inconsistent obligations.

If a party has not been joined and is necessary, the court can order them included in the case. If a party refuses to join, they can be joined as an opposing party or as an involuntary party. If a party objects to the venue, and joiner would make the venue improper, the court must dismiss that party.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations creates a maximum time for a case to be initiated in a court of law. These time limits are usually but not always set by each state. In civil cases that range is from one to ten years. These limits prevent stale claims by requiring a case to commence legal action in the appropriate court of law. A motion to dismiss a statute of limitations violation, argues that a party did not timely file the case within the specified time limit. If granted,the court will dismiss the case as not timely filed.

Failure to Prosecute

Failure to prosecute occurs when a party fails to continue pursuing the case. This occurs when a plaintiff initiates a lawsuit but fails to proactively move the case forward. It usually happens when a plaintiff does not appear at trial, pursue the case for an unreasonably long time, or follow a court order or rule. The result of a failure to prosecute may be a dismissal of the case by the court. This dismissal, if not specified, will be an adjudication on the merits preventing the plaintiff from refiling the case.

Lack of Standing

Lack of standing refers to the right of a party to file a lawsuit against another party. In order to file the case, a party must have a direct and legal interest in the matter. They must have suffered injury caused by the other party which can be addressed by the court. If a party lacks standing, the court will dismiss the case either by motion or by its own order.
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Dennis P. Sawan

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