It can take months or even years to resolve a court case. This can be both financially and emotionally draining to everyone involved in the lawsuit. If you decide you no longer want to continue a case at some point during the process, or if you and the other party reach a settlement, you can drop your lawsuit by filing a request for voluntary dismissal.
The voluntary dismissal of a court case means that the party who initially filed the lawsuit drops his claims. If you filed the case and the person you sued did not file any claims of his own -- called counterclaims -- the dismissal would result in the entire case being dropped. If the person you sued did file one or more counterclaims against you, your request to dismiss would only drop your own claims. The case would still proceed to address his claims. Although state laws vary, most voluntary dismissals are done "without prejudice." This means you have the right to refile. If you ask for your claim to be dismissed "with prejudice" or if the court orders this -- such as because you've already dismissed the matter before -- you can't refile.
Request for Dismissal
Although the exact procedure can vary by state, the first step to getting your case voluntarily dismissed usually involves completing and filing a request for dismissal. Many courts have these forms available online or at the courthouse. Ensure you get the right form for the court where your case is pending. For example, many courts have different forms for small claims cases than for family law matters. Provide your name and the name of the person you're suing in the written request, as well as the case number assigned to your matter. You may also need to provide a reason for why you want your claims dropped. An example might be if you've already been paid the amount you're requesting in damages.
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If you filed the lawsuit, some states allow you to dismiss the case without a court order if the person you sued either agrees or has not filed any counterclaims. In all other cases, you need the court's approval. This is done by filing a proposed order with the court, which is a form that can often be obtained from the court clerk. If the other person has filed a counterclaim, the court will need to make sure that his claim can be kept alive after dropping your claims.
Dismissal of Appeal
You also may request voluntary dismissal of an appeal. An appeal occurs when a person involved in a lawsuit disagrees with the outcome and wants a review of the decision from a higher court. The person asking for the appeal can generally request a voluntary dismissal at any time before the higher court makes its decision. While state laws can vary, you must typically obtain the permission of the person not appealing the case and have them sign a written stipulation. This stipulation also may need to include a description of how the costs of the appeal -- such as attorneys fees and filing fees -- are to be divided. The stipulation is then attached to a written motion that sets forth the reason for the dismissal. If you cannot find a motion form for the appellate court in your state, you might want to consult an attorney for some tips on drafting the motion.
Wayne Thomas earned his J.D. from Penn State University and has been practicing law since 2008. He has experience writing about environmental topics, music and health, as well as legal issues. Since 2011, Thomas has also served as a contributing editor for the "Vermont Environmental Monitor."