Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiffs moved to voluntarily dismiss their lawsuit without prejudice after Defendant presented evidence it was the wrong party and a key witness had died. Defendant argued this would be unfair to the Defendant.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A defendant is not harmed by voluntary dismissal if (1) the plaintiff is diligent in bringing the motion, (2) the plaintiff was not been unduly vexatious, (3) the lawsuit has not progressed too far, (4) the defendant will not face duplicative expenses if the lawsuit is brought again, and (5) the plaintiff has an adequate reason to bring the motion.
The purpose of such awards is generally to reimburse the defendant for the litigation costs incurred, in view of the risk (often the certainty) faced by the defendant that the same suit will be refiled and will impose duplicative expenses upon him.View Full Point of Law
Landowners (Plaintiffs) brought a claim against Pittston Co. (Defendant) in 2000 to recover the costs of environmental damages. No action was taken on the suit until 2001, when Plaintiffs amended the complaint and began responding to Defendant’s discovery requests. In 2002, Plaintiffs moved for voluntary dismissal without prejudice because Defendant had presented evidence it was the wrong party and a key witness had died. Defendant argued that voluntary dismissal would be unfair to the Defendant.
Can the Plaintiffs’ lawsuit be voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, if the Defendant is not harmed by the dismissal? Is the Defendant entitled to an award of costs and fees, if the lawsuit is voluntarily dismissed without prejudice?
Yes, the lawsuit should be voluntarily dismissed. Yes, the Defendant is entitled to an award of costs and fees if it can produce an affidavit supporting the amount of costs and fees requested.
Relying on the five factors from Zagano v. Fordham University, the Court determined that voluntary dismissal without prejudice would not harm the Defendant because: (1) the Plaintiff diligently brought the motion by filing it immediately after learning key information; (2) there was no evidence the case was brought to harass the Defendant; (3) the case was nearly two years old but had accomplished little, so this factor did not weigh against party; (4) the Defendant will not face duplicative expenses if the suit is relitigated because they can rely on the work they’ve already done; and (5) the Plaintiff offered an adequate explanation for dismissal, based on the deceased witness and confusion over the correct defendant.
Additionally, the Court determined that while a defendant is generally entitled to an award of costs or fees after a suit is voluntarily dismissed without prejudice, the Defendant must submit affidavits of the expenses used on litigation thus far.