Dismissed with Prejudice

Dismissed with prejudice means that a civil lawsuit has been dismissed based on merits of the case after a judgement has been issued. When a case is dismissed with prejudice, the plaintiff is barred from filing a lawsuit on the same issue at a later date. To explore this concept, consider the dismissed with prejudice definition.

Definition of Dismissed with Prejudice


  1. The dismissal of a lawsuit based on merits of the case where the plaintiff is prevented from filing a future lawsuit on the same grounds.

What is a Dismissal

A civil lawsuit may be dismissed without completing the process and obtaining a judgment. This may be done voluntarily by the plaintiff for a variety of reasons, and such a voluntary dismissal may be with or without prejudice. Voluntarily dismissing a case with prejudice means the plaintiff does not intend, or has no grounds to; re-file the lawsuit at a later date. Voluntarily dismissing a case without prejudice leaves the option of re-filing open.

Example of voluntary dismissal without prejudice:

Harold files a civil lawsuit in small claims court after Ben crashes his car into Harold’s carport. Prior to the court date, Harold receives news that, in addition to the damage to the carport, there is significant damage to that corner of Harold’s house. Estimates for repair amount to more than the maximum small claims amount of $5,000. Harold may voluntarily dismiss his case without prejudice so that he can re-file the claim in regular civil court.

Example of voluntary dismissal with prejudice:

Maggie moved out of her rented apartment five months ago, but her landlord has refused to return her security deposit with no explanation. Maggie filed a lawsuit in small claims court requesting a refund of her $1,500 security deposit, plus an additional $1,500, as her state allows tenants to collect double the amount of the deposit when the landlord fails to refund the deposit and provide a statement of any amount retained within 30 days.

A few days before the hearing, Maggie receives a check from the landlord for the full amount of her deposit. Maggie may choose to go ahead with the hearing, with the goal of being awarded the additional $1,500, or she may choose to dismiss the case with prejudice, giving up her right to claim it in the future.

Involuntary Dismissal

In some situations, it is possible for a judge to dismiss the case against the plaintiff’s wishes. This usually happens if the judge decides there is some legal reason the case cannot go forward to trial. A judge may issue an involuntary dismissal with or without prejudice, depending on the reason for the dismissal. Oftentimes, the judge will advise the plaintiff of the problem with the case, and give him an opportunity to fix it and refile the case. This would be a dismissal without prejudice.

Sometimes, a judge dismisses a case with prejudice, effectively bringing the hammer down on the case permanently, as the plaintiff is prohibited from filing the same action again in the future. This may occur if there is a problem with the case than simply cannot be cured, or it may be because the plaintiff has already been given a chance to fix the problem, but has not. An involuntary dismissal with prejudice may be ordered for any number of reasons, which the judge will specify. Such a dismissal can be appealed to a higher court, but it is not possible to simply start over by re-filing the case with a few changes.

Involuntary Dismissal of a Criminal Case

While rare, it is possible for a judge to dismiss a criminal case with prejudice. This may occur, for instance, if the prosecution has caused or allowed a delay in the criminal proceedings, which has violated the defendant’s right to a speedy trial.

Filing a Motion to Dismiss

A voluntary dismissal is obtained by filing a motion to dismiss with the court. When filing a motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must specify whether he is requesting the case be dismissed with prejudice, or without prejudice. A motion to dismiss, while often filed early in the proceedings, it can be filed at any point, up to the completion of trial on the matter.

It is not uncommon for parties to a civil lawsuit to engage in settlement negotiations right up to the end. If an agreement is reached, the plaintiff is expected to file a motion to dismiss with prejudice, which prevents him from re-filing the claim if he later changes his mind. Once a motion to dismiss has been granted by the judge, the lawsuit ends immediately.

Withdrawal of Motion to Dismiss

While parties to a lawsuit may agree on settlement terms, they also change their minds. In the event a plaintiff has filed a motion to dismiss, then the settlement agreement breaks down, he may file a withdrawal of motion to dismiss. This can only be done before the motion to dismiss has been granted by the judge, however. A withdrawal of motion to dismiss may be filed in other situations. This might occur if a plaintiff, who planned on withdrawing his small claims case to move it to regular civil court, changes his mind, and wishes to continue in small claims.

For example:

Ellen has filed a small claims court lawsuit for the costs of repairs to her car after Nancy ran a stop sign, hitting Ellen’s car. The repair costs are estimated at $4,200. After filing the case, Ellen realizes that her medical costs for the whiplash she sustained in the accident should be paid by the defendant as well. She files a request for dismissal without prejudice, intending to re-file the case in regular civil court.

A few days later, Ellen changes her mind, as the whiplash costs amounted to only a couple hundred dollars, and she would rather get the case settled sooner rather than later. Ellen must file a withdrawal of motion to dismiss with the small claims court. If granted, Ellen’s case will be heard on its previously scheduled date in small claims court.

Paula Deen Case Dismissed with Prejudice

In 2013, a lawsuit was filed against celebrity chef Paula Deen by a former employee, who claimed Deen had made racist comments in her presence. In a deposition related to the lawsuit, Deen admitted having used racial slurs in the past, but made it clear she did not use such terms any longer. The lawsuit, filed during a very racially-charged time in the U.S., toppled Ms. Deen’s multi-million dollar food empire before the parties reached a settlement in August 2013.

The judge approved the request to dismiss the case with prejudice after the parties reportedly agreed to settle without an award of any costs or attorney’s fees of any kind by the court. This dismissal bars the plaintiff from bringing the case back to the courts.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Civil Lawsuit – A lawsuit brought about in court when one person claims to have suffered a loss due to the actions of another person.
  • Defendant – A party against whom a lawsuit has been filed in civil court, or who has been accused of, or charged with, a crime or offense.
  • Judgment – A formal decision made by a court in a lawsuit.
  • Plaintiff – A person who brings a legal action against another person or entity, such as in a civil lawsuit, or criminal proceedings.
  • Trial – A formal presentation of evidence before a judge and jury for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence in a criminal case, or to make a determination in a civil matter.