A lawsuit is closed in court by filing either a dismissal or a judgment. Dismissals and judgments are filed either “with prejudice” or “without prejudice.” This legal language is important because it indicates whether the closed lawsuit may be reopened at a later date. Cases dismissed “with prejudice” generally may not be reopened. A judge will only reopen a case dismissed with prejudice in narrow, specific circumstances. Cases dismissed “without prejudice” may be reopened for any reason.
Procedures for Reopening a Closed Lawsuit
Determine how the case was closed. Whether the case was closed with or without prejudice is clearly stated in the judgment or dismissal. Generally, this information is noted in the same area where the judge's signature appears. If a party does not have a copy of the judgment or dismissal, the court clerk can provide the information by phone or in person.
Re-file the lawsuit. If a case was dismissed without prejudice, the case can simply be re-filed. The same procedures apply for re-filing as when it was originally filed. Namely, you deliver a summons and complaint to the court clerk and pay a filing fee. The caveat being a lawsuit dismissed without prejudice may generally be re-filed only once. Therefore; if a party attempts to re-file a case a second time, he has to provide a reason to the court, rather than simply following standard filing procedures.
Schedule a motion hearing before the judge. Cases dismissed with prejudice may only be reopened with a judge’s permission. A motion hearing must be scheduled with the court to present the arguments for reopening the case. Different courts have varying rules regarding motion requests, and applicable deadlines for filing them. A party should visit a court clerk and inquire about the court’s motion requirements. Once the paperwork is filed and a date is set, the opposing parties must be served with copies of the paperwork and the date and time of the hearing.
State your arguments. Most courts have the power to reopen a case closed with prejudice if a mistake, fraud, or misconduct by the other party occurred during the lawsuit. Also, new evidence found that was not previously discovered may also be grounds to reopen a case. State laws promulgating when a judge may reopen a case differ. Therefore, a party should research his local law to learn all the arguments available for reopening a case. If the lawsuit was filed in federal court, a federal code of law applies.
Seek legal counsel. Reopening a case can be complicated and involve intricate legal procedures and arguments. Consulting an attorney maximizes the chances of success and ensures all applicable laws are properly followed.