Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1) affixes a bright-line test to limit the right of dismissal to the early stages of litigation, which simplifies a court's task by telling it whether a suit has reached the point of no return. If the defendant has served either an answer or a summary judgment motion it has; if the defendant has served neither, it has not. Up to the point of no return, dismissal is automatic and immediate--the right of a plaintiff is unfettered. A timely notice of voluntary dismissal invites no response from the district court and permits no interference by it. A district court may not vacate a timely filed notice of dismissal. The notice itself closes the file. There is nothing the defendant can do to fan the ashes of that action into life, and a court has no role to play. This is a matter of right running to the plaintiff and may not be extinguished or circumscribed by adversary or court. A proper notice deprives the district court of jurisdiction to decide the merits of the case. After the dismissal, the action no longer is pending in the district court and no further proceedings in the action are proper.
Purchasers of bath and kitchen plumbing fixtures filed putative class action complaints against manufacturers, alleging a price-fixing conspiracy in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1. Seventeen cases were consolidated in the District Court. Instead of filing an answer, defendants moved to dismiss the consolidated and amended complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). The district court indicated that it would grant the motions, but instead of dismissing the consolidated complaint, it gave the purchasers leave to amend the complaint to meet Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requirements. The purchasers filed a voluntary dismissal notice under R. 41(a)(1)(A)(i) before the deadline for filing the amended complaint expired. The manufacturers moved to strike that notice, claiming that it was untimely. They also asked the district court to dismiss the complaint with prejudice in accordance with its prior dismissal order. The purchasers appealed after the district court granted that relief.
Did the district court err in its order striking as untimely the notice of voluntary dismissal filed under Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(i)?
The court found reversible error. The pleading that the purchasers filed under R. 41(a)(1) was a notice of dismissal, not a motion. The notice, if timely filed, would serve to automatically to terminate the suit without prejudice. The notice was timely, as the manufacturers had not yet filed an answer or summary judgment motions and no order disposing of the suit had been entered.