What is a Motion to Dismiss?

A motion is a request your lawyer files with the court asking for a ruling on a particular matter. A motion to dismiss is sometimes filed in the very early stages of the litigation, before the parties have conducted discovery. The material presented in the complaint and any exhibits to the complaint are the focus of the motion. In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court looks only at the material presented in the complaint, along with any attached exhibits.

The court may grant the motion to dismiss — ending the litigation — if the facts present, when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, fail to meet certain legal thresholds required for bringing a claim. Motions to dismiss are usually based on the following legal deficiencies:

  1. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction: the court doesn't have the power to rule on the controversy. For example, state law may require a special court to determine certain matters, such as requiring that a probate court, rather than a general civil court, decide a complaint involving the interpretation of a will.
  2. Lack of personal jurisdiction: the court does not have the power to make decisions affecting the defendant personally. If you have been sued in a state circuit court in Ohio, for example, you must have sufficient minimum contacts with that state for its courts to have personal jurisdiction over you. If the lawsuit was over an automobile accident that occurred in New Jersey and you live in New York, you would have grounds to argue that the Ohio court doesn't have jurisdiction over you.
  3. Improper venue. "Venue" refers to the location of the court. Improper venue is distinct from the issue of personal jurisdiction — even if a court has personal jurisdiction over you, the venue may be legally improper. For instance, if you were involved in an accident near your home in western Kentucky, but suit was brought against you in the Federal Circuit Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, even though Kentucky courts may have personal jurisdiction over you, the venue may be improper. A frequent solution to this problem is not to dismiss the case, but to order that it be transferred to the proper venue.
  4. Insufficiency of process or insufficient service of process. A case may be dismissed if there is a technical defect in the summons (which is rare) or if you were not properly served with the summons and complaint (which is common). Service may be improper for a number of reasons, so be sure to tell your lawyer about how you were served and any odd circumstances so your lawyer can determine whether it could lead to the case being dismissed.
  5. Failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In some cases, your lawyer may conclude that the facts set forth in the complaint do not state a legal claim for relief. For example, the complaint may allege that you did some negligent act that injured the plaintiff. The law may provide that you don't have any responsibility to look out for the plaintiff under the circumstances described in the complaint. If you don't have a legal responsibility, you cannot be held liable for the plaintiff's injuries.
  6. Failure to join a necessary party. Sometimes the plaintiff doesn't sue the right people, or sues only some of them. When a transaction or occurrence involves multiple parties, they should all be made part of the lawsuit. While a court may dismiss the action, more often courts simply instruct the plaintiff to bring in the other people involved.

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