The term “disposition” can have several different meanings in the legal world, depending on the issue being discussed. For example, a disposition in a court case means that the court has come to a final decision on the case, and so the case can be closed. Disposition can also refer to the act of transferring property to another person in real estate law. To explore this concept, consider the following disposition definition.

Definition of Disposition


  1. (Litigation) The court’s final determination of the case at issue.
  2. (Real Estate Law) The act of transferring or surrendering a piece of property to another person by way of a will or deed.


1325-1375       Middle English (disposicioun)

Case Disposition

When a court comes to a final ruling in a case, this is known as the case disposition. The final ruling may not necessarily resolve all of the underlying issues that are before the court. However, because the court’s ruling is final, the case is marked off as being “disposed” because the main issue is considered settled. Consider the following court disposition example:

Tom and Kathy have appeared several times in divorce court, and they have submitted all of the necessary paperwork. The judge reviews the paperwork and signs off on it, then marks the case as “disposed” because Tom and Kathy are now divorced.

There is nothing more the court can do for them. There are still some remaining issues with regard to Tom’s weekly visitation schedule with his children, but the parties agree to work it out through their attorneys and without court intervention.

In a criminal case, a case disposition refers to the sentencing of the defendant or some other such settlement that can mark the case as resolved. Once the defendant has been sentenced the court issues a court disposition, which means the court can officially take that case off of its plate and move on to another one.

Disposition of Assets

The disposition of assets is the process of getting rid of assets either by selling them or otherwise transferring them to another person. For example, a disposition of assets can refer to the sale of a house and some of its contents (like furniture) from one person to another. The reason for the fancy title, rather than just saying that someone sold something, is that for a “disposition” to take place, the person had to have made an investment in an asset and is then selling that asset. For this reason, the selling of stock is also referred to as a disposition of assets.

Dispositive Motion

A dispositive motion is a type of motion that a lawyer can file asking the court to essentially put an end to the case. A dispositive motion can be filed as one of two types: a motion to dismiss, or a motion for summary judgment. A motion to dismiss does just that – it asks for a dismissal of the case altogether. A court can dismiss an action for several reasons that are procedural in nature, including:

  • Whether the action was properly served upon the defendant(s)
  • Whether the court the action has been brought before has jurisdiction to decide the case
  • Whether the case is being brought in the correct venue (the district or county where the incident occurred)

A motion for summary judgment, on the other hand, asks the court to make a decision based on the facts that have been laid out before it. A motion to dismiss is usually filed at the beginning of the case, while a motion for summary judgment is usually filed after all of the arguments have been heard.

The judge can make a decision on a dispositive motion with or without prejudice. If the decision is made with prejudice, this means that the plaintiff cannot refile his case. If it is made without prejudice, however, then the plaintiff is permitted to refile after fixing his errors (like originally filing the case in the wrong jurisdiction).

While they may sound similar, a disposed case is not the same as a dismissed one. When a case is dismissed, the court has thrown the case out without entertaining a final hearing on the matter. Usually when a case is dismissed, it is because of a procedural reason. When a case is disposed of, however, the court has made a decision based on the merits of the case. A dismissed case cannot be reopened. A disposed case, however, may be reopened, depending on the terms of the disposition.

Certificate of Disposition

A certificate of disposition is an official court document that addresses what happened in a criminal case once the matter has been concluded. The certificate of disposition lists the crime the defendant was charged with, as well as the charge he was officially convicted of, the date he was convicted, and the sentence he received.

A certificate of disposition is normally required when the defendant attempts to get a new job after being convicted. More than likely, he will be asked for a certificate of disposition for each of the crimes he was convicted of. He will then have to obtain these from the clerk of the appropriate court. If the case has been sealed, this means that not just anyone can review the documents. The defendant would therefore have to provide photo ID and a notarized statement to the clerk before being given a copy of his certificate(s).

Disposition Hearing

A disposition hearing is a hearing at which the sentencing of a juvenile offender takes place. Here, rather than jail time, the defendant will be sentenced to a treatment and rehabilitation program. For example, a disposition hearing, just like a regular hearing, consists of both the district attorney and the minor defendant presenting evidence to a judge in support of the decision they hope the judge will make. The judge is then tasked with deciding several things, including:

  • How to protect the community as a whole
  • How the defendant should be made to atone for his actions
  • The most appropriate sentence for a minor defendant

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • 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.
  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Notary – A person who is authorized to perform certain tasks, such as drafting or certifying contracts, deeds, and other legal documents.