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What does it mean if a case is dismissed “without” prejudice?

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

A case being dismissed without prejudice is one possible outcome to a civil or criminal case that has significant implications for both the plaintiff and the defendant. This article aims to clear up what it means when a court dismisses a case without prejudice, exploring the circumstances that lead to such a decision, its impact on all parties involved, and the potential future actions that can be taken.

Unlike a dismissal “with prejudice,” which bars the plaintiff from filing another lawsuit on the same claim, a dismissal “without prejudice” leaves the door open for the case to be brought before the court again. This can occur for a variety of reasons, such as procedural issues, the need for additional evidence, or other factors that do not directly address the merits of the case. 

Understanding this concept is vital for anyone navigating the legal system, whether you’re involved in a lawsuit, studying law, or simply interested in how the judicial process works. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the legal framework surrounding dismissals without prejudice, including key definitions, examples from case law, and practical implications for both plaintiffs and defendants.

Understanding Case Dismissal Without Prejudice in California

Dismissal without prejudice is a legal term indicating that the case has been dismissed but can be reopened at some point. Cases may be dismissed without prejudice at a prosecutor’s request, or they may be dismissed at the judge’s discretion.

Reasons for Dismissal Without Prejudice

Several scenarios can lead to a case being dismissed without prejudice in California, including:

  • Procedural Missteps: Common reasons for dismissal involve procedural issues, such as failing to file the lawsuit within the statutory time limits (known as statutes of limitations), not properly serving the defendant, or filing incorrect paperwork.
  • Insufficient Evidence: A case may also be dismissed if the court finds that there is not enough evidence to support the plaintiff’s claims. In such instances, the dismissal without prejudice allows the plaintiff to gather more evidence and refile.
  • Voluntary Dismissal: Plaintiffs may choose to voluntarily dismiss their case without prejudice for various strategic reasons, such as needing more time to prepare their case or wishing to refile in a more favorable jurisdiction.

A closer look at reasons for Dismissal Without Prejudice

The most common reasons for a case being dismissed without prejudice revolve around procedural issues, insufficient evidence, and strategic legal decisions. Here’s a closer look at each of these reasons:

  1. Procedural Issues: One of the primary reasons for dismissal without prejudice involves procedural missteps in the legal process. This can include:
    • Failure to properly serve the defendant with the lawsuit in accordance with the court’s rules.
    • Filing a case in the wrong jurisdiction or venue, where the court does not have the authority to hear the case or it is not the most appropriate location.
    • Missing deadlines, such as those set by statutes of limitations, which are laws that set the maximum time after an event within which legal proceedings may be initiated.
    • Inadequate pleadings that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted or that lack necessary details and specificity.
  2. Insufficient Evidence: A case may be dismissed without prejudice if the plaintiff has not presented enough evidence to prove their claim. This can occur in the early stages of a case if a court finds, perhaps during a preliminary hearing or a motion to dismiss, that the plaintiff’s evidence is insufficient to justify moving forward to trial. Dismissal without prejudice in this context allows the plaintiff the opportunity to gather more evidence and possibly refile the case.
  1. Strategic Legal Decisions: Sometimes, plaintiffs choose to have their cases dismissed without prejudice for strategic reasons. For example:
    • They may realize that they need more time to gather additional evidence or to better prepare their case.
    • They might decide to renegotiate a settlement with the defendant outside of court after initial legal proceedings highlight strengths and weaknesses in their case.
    • Plaintiffs may also dismiss and refile to switch to a more favorable jurisdiction or to correct errors in their initial lawsuit filing.
  2. Mutual Agreement: In some cases, both parties may agree to dismiss the case without prejudice, often as part of a negotiation or settlement process where the dispute is resolved outside of court, or in anticipation of resolving it in a different manner.
  3. Lack of Jurisdiction: Although less common, a court may dismiss a case without prejudice if it determines it lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter or the parties involved, allowing the plaintiff to refile in the correct court.

Dismissal without prejudice is a tool that can be used to address these and other issues without permanently closing the door on the plaintiff’s claims. It provides flexibility in the legal system to ensure that cases are decided on their merits rather than being unduly affected by technical and procedural errors.

The Process and Implications of Refiling

Refiling a case after a dismissal without prejudice is subject to certain rules and limitations. Plaintiffs must be mindful of the applicable statute of limitations, which may continue to run from the time the original claim arose. In California, specific laws determine these time frames, and failing to refile within the allowable period could prevent the case from being heard.

The decision to refile should be made after careful consideration of the case’s merits, potential legal challenges, and the financial and emotional costs associated with continuing litigation. For defendants, a dismissal without prejudice means that the case is not conclusively resolved, and they may need to prepare to defend against the same allegations in the future.

Legal counsel plays a vital role in navigating the implications of a dismissal without prejudice. Attorneys can provide crucial advice on correcting procedural errors, strengthening a case’s evidence, and understanding the strategic implications of refiling. Both plaintiffs and defendants should consult with their lawyers to make informed decisions about the next steps.

What is the difference between dismissed without prejudice for a civil vs criminal case?

The distinction between a case being dismissed without prejudice in civil versus criminal contexts is significant due to the differing nature, objectives, and consequences of civil and criminal proceedings. Here’s an overview of how dismissal without prejudice applies and varies between these two types of cases:

Civil Cases

  • Nature and Objective: Civil cases involve disputes between individuals or entities, typically over issues like contracts, property, and personal injury. The objective is often to seek redress, such as compensation or specific performance.
  • Dismissal Without Prejudice: In civil cases, dismissal without prejudice allows the plaintiff the opportunity to refile the case. This can occur for various reasons, including procedural errors (e.g., incorrect paperwork, failure to serve the defendant properly), the need for additional evidence, or strategic legal considerations. The main consequence of such a dismissal is that the plaintiff can address the issues that led to the dismissal and attempt to bring the case again, provided they do so within any applicable statute of limitations.

Criminal Cases

  • Nature and Objective: Criminal cases are brought by the state against individuals or entities accused of violating laws, with the aim of achieving public justice and, when appropriate, punishing the accused. The stakes are higher, often involving potential loss of liberty for the defendant.
  • Dismissal Without Prejudice: In the criminal context, a dismissal without prejudice means the prosecutor can refile charges against the defendant if new evidence comes to light or if certain legal issues that led to the dismissal are resolved. Reasons for dismissal might include insufficient evidence to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, procedural issues (such as violations of the defendant’s rights), or strategic decisions by the prosecution. Unlike in civil cases, the decision to dismiss and the possibility of refiling are typically at the discretion of the prosecutor, not the accused.

Key Differences

  1. Initiator of Action: In civil cases, the plaintiff decides to file and potentially refile the case. In criminal cases, the decision lies with the government’s prosecution.
  2. Implications of Refiling: The ability to refile a case in a civil context often depends on correcting the initial cause of dismissal, like amending a faulty complaint or gathering more evidence. In criminal cases, the prosecution must weigh the likelihood of overcoming the initial reason for dismissal against the principle of double jeopardy, which, while not applicable until a trial commences (jury selection or first witness sworn), guides prosecutorial discretion regarding refiling.
  3. Consequences: The potential consequences of refiling are typically financial or injunctive in civil cases (e.g., damages, restitution, or specific action/inaction). In criminal cases, the consequences for the defendant can include imprisonment, fines, probation, or other penalties.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for parties involved in either type of case, as the implications of a dismissal without prejudice vary greatly between civil and criminal law, reflecting the different goals, processes, and impacts on the parties involved.


In navigating the complexities of the legal world, understanding the nuances of how cases are dismissed can significantly impact the strategies of both plaintiffs and defendants. The concept of a case being dismissed without prejudice offers a unique blend of challenges and opportunities, whether you find yourself entangled in the intricate web of civil litigation or facing charges in the criminal justice system. This pivotal legal determination opens various paths for those seeking justice, correction, or another chance to present their case more effectively.

As we’ve explored the implications of cases dismissed without prejudice, it’s clear that such dismissals carry nuanced consequences and require careful consideration of future legal actions. Whether you’re contemplating refiling a case, addressing procedural errors, or simply seeking to understand your rights and options, the guidance of experienced legal counsel is invaluable.

For those with lingering questions or in need of expert legal advice tailored to the unique circumstances of their case, reaching out to a reputable law firm is a prudent next step. J&Y Law Firm stands ready to offer its expertise and support. With a deep understanding of both civil and criminal law, our seasoned attorneys can provide the clarity and direction you need to navigate the legal system confidently. 

If you find yourself thinking about the ramifications of a case dismissed without prejudice or any other legal inquiries, do not hesitate to contact us at (323) 202-2305. Our team is here to assist you in making informed decisions and pursuing the most favorable outcomes for your legal matters.

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.