Arizona Motion to Dismiss: What You Need to Know

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A motion to dismiss is a formal request in a court of law asking the judge to terminate a court action. This type of motion can be made by either party in a civil action or in a criminal action. In the state of Arizona, most motions to dismiss in civil actions are made by the person bringing the action, the plaintiff, before the other party files a response. In criminal cases, an Arizona defendant may make a motion to dismiss even before the case goes to trial.

An Arizona court will grant the motion to dismiss if it finds that there is no valid basis in law for the claims. Anyone considering filing a motion to dismiss in Arizona should obtain a clear understanding of this motion, including permissible grounds for making it and rules and procedures for filing it.

Arizona Civil vs. Criminal Actions

When one person or entity brings a motion against another, it is a civil case. This includes family law matters, like divorces or custody cases. Many civil cases are for compensation for injuries, such as those resulting from an automobile accident, and requests for injunctions to prevent a person from doing a particular action.

The person bringing the case is called the plaintiff, and the party against whom the case is brought is termed the defendant. In civil cases, plaintiffs often seek money damages from defendants.

Criminal cases, in Arizona as elsewhere, are never brought by a private party, but rather by someone representing the government, a district attorney or prosecutor. These cases are brought against people charged with violating a criminal statute, termed defendants, and can result in criminal sanctions such as time in jail or prison.

Arizona Motion to Dismiss

In Arizona, a party can ask a court to bring an end to a case at any point in the suit. They do this by filing a motion to dismiss. If the judge determines that the grounds presented are valid, they will terminate the action by granting the motion. Some Arizona superior courts have forms that should be used to make this motion.

Motions to dismiss fall into two categories: motions to dismiss without prejudice and motions to dismiss with prejudice. If a party asks the court to dismiss without prejudice, it means that the action can be filed again at a later date. A motion to dismiss with prejudice asks for a ruling that the plaintiff's claim be dismissed and can never be brought again.

When a case is dismissed with prejudice, the legal doctrine of ​res judicata​ applies, barring the party to the dismissed action from ever bringing the dismissed claims in a later action. It also bars them from raising any claims that were not included in the dismissed case originally, even if they stem from the same set of facts.

Dismissing Criminal Cases

Note that, in Arizona criminal cases, a case can voluntarily be dismissed with and without prejudice as described in Rule 16.4 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure. A prosecutor can dismiss a criminal case without prejudice and refile the charges later when more evidence is found, as long as it's within the applicable statute of limitations. Or they may dismiss a case with prejudice if evidence establishes that the defendant did not participate in the crime charged.

Grounds for Dismissal

Given the many scenarios in which a motion to dismiss can be made in Arizona, there are obviously a variety of bases for this type of request. Using the procedures set out in Rule 41 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure (R. Civ), anyone bringing a civil lawsuit has the right to dismiss the action by filing a notice of dismissal before the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for summary judgment. Alternatively, if all parties stipulate to a dismissal, an order for dismissal will be ordered by the court.

These types of dismissals are considered dismissals without prejudice. However, the rules provide that if the plaintiff previously dismissed an action that included the same claim, a notice of dismissal is an adjudication on the merits. That means that it is a dismissal with prejudice, and the claims cannot be refiled.

Voluntary Dismissal in Arizona

A party in Arizona can also make a motion to dismiss for reasons involving legal deficiencies or issues with the claims. These can include narrow issues, like improper venue if the case is brought in the wrong county, or improper jurisdiction, if the case is brought in the wrong court. They can also include sweeping issues, like arguments that the complaint fails to state any legal claim on which relief can be granted.

Involuntary Dismissal in Arizona

The party against whom the case is brought can also file a motion to dismiss the claims against them. This is termed an involuntary dismissal, since the plaintiff does not agree to it. The defendant can file this type of motion even before they answer the complaint in certain cases when the plaintiff fails to follow court rules. For example, if the plaintiff files in the wrong court, in the wrong county, or fails to name a party who is deemed necessary under Arizona law, the defendant has grounds for a motion to dismiss.

If it is clear that the statute of limitations has run, the case can be dismissed by motion, both in civil and criminal actions. The statute of limitations provides certain time limits in which a case can be brought and, if those limits have passed, the party loses the right to litigate. For example, in Arizona, the statute of limitations for bringing a case for property damage after an automobile accident is two years. If the person files a case three years later for property damage, it is subject to a motion to dismiss.

Likewise, if the plaintiff "sits on" their claims, filing a suit in time, but failing to prosecute it, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss it. If the plaintiff violates court rules or orders in any other way, the defendant can make a motion under Rule 41(b) for involuntary dismissal. If the defendant's motion succeeds, it operates as a decision on the merits – dismissal with prejudice – unless it is based on a matter easily curable like lack of jurisdiction, improper venue or failure to join a party.

Dismissing Counterclaims and Cross Claims

Rule 41 also allows the dismissal of a claim a defendant makes against the plaintiff or one of the other defendants once they are sued. These are called counterclaims if against plaintiff, or cross claims, if against other defendants.

As with the case of a plaintiff's voluntary dismissal, a defendant's voluntary dismissal of a counterclaim or cross claim pursuant to Rule 41 must be made before a responsive pleading is served. If no responsive pleading to the counterclaim or cross claim was filed, the motion to dismiss must be made before any evidence is introduced at a hearing or trial.