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Plaintiff Can’t Be Dismissive of Her Own Case

Posted by Frank Steinberg | Mar 01, 2010 | 0 Comments

One of the dangers of litigation for plaintiffs is that, once you start a fight, you can't necessarily stop it.  That could spell trouble for one former Crowell & Moring (a big law firm) employee, who sued her ex-employer for age discrimination.

This post from the Blog of Legal Times lays out the basics.  Plaintiff sued in state court; the employer removed the case to federal court and filed an answer.  Six months later the plaintiff decided that she wanted to dismiss the complaint voluntarily and filed a motion to do so.  The court denied the motion, on the procedurally correct ground that that once an answer is filed a case cannot be dismissed unilaterally by the plaintiff.  Thus, the order forced the action to continue. 

Here the story gets fuzzy.  It's not clear whether the court denied plaintiff's motion to dismiss for some deficiency in her application, or because the defendant objected to the dismissal.  If the latter, why would a defendant turn down a "get out of jail free card" in the form of a voluntary dismissal?  They might, I suppose, just be trying to make the plaintiff or her attorney sweat a bit.  But another possibility is that, because an age discrimination case is a fee-shifting case, the defendant may think that  it will prevail on the merits and can force the plaintiff to pay their attorney's fees.  It's rare for courts to award counsel fees in favor of defendants, but it does happen occasionally.  If that is what's in play (and I admit that I'm speculating), the litigation could be financially catastrophic for the plaintiff.  Few individuals — and especially those who have lost their jobs — have the financial resources to reimburse the hundreds of thousands of dollars that defendants routinely spend to defend discrimination cases.  Talk about shooting yourself in the foot.

So for plaintiffs and their lawyers, it's important not to start a fight precipitously.  Once you start the boulder of litigation rolling down the mountain, you may not be able to stop it without getting crushed.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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