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Thurman v. St Louis County

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

October 24, 2019

ST. LOUIS COUNTY, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Adrianna Thurman's Request to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 41(a) [57]. The Court grants Thurman's motion to dismiss.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Thurman filed her original complaint on April 5, 2019, asserting claims for declaratory judgment and damages under the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. All properly-served defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Thurman then requested and received leave to amend her complaint. Thurman filed her first amended complaint on June 17, 2019. Again, all defendants moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Thurman then requested leave to file a second amended complaint, but the Court denied that request without prejudice for failure to comply with this Court's Judge's Requirements. On September 16, 2019, Thurman filed the present motion, asking the Court to dismiss the action without prejudice. In opposition, Defendant Jennifer Bello-Kottenstette argues that the case should be dismissed with prejudice because Thurman's deadline to file an amended pleading stating a viable cause of action has passed.[1] Doc. 58. On September 26, 2019, the Court ordered Thurman to show cause why dismissal should be entered without prejudice. Both Thurman and Bello-Kottenstette have filed memoranda in response to the Court's Show Cause Order.

         II. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1) permits a plaintiff to dismiss an action, without a court order and without prejudice by filing either (i) a notice of dismissal before the opposing party has served either an answer or a motion for summary judgment, or (ii) a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared. Except for the narrow circumstances described in Rule 41(a)(1), “an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2).

         The district court has discretion in deciding whether to allow a plaintiff to voluntarily dismiss an action under Rule 41(a)(2). Blaes v. Johnson & Johnson, 858 F.3d 508, 512 (8th Cir. 2017). The district court “has a range of choice, and [ ] its decision will not be disturbed as long as it stays within that range and is not influenced by any mistake of law.” Id. When deciding whether to grant a motion for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2), the court must consider the following factors: 1) whether the party has presented a proper explanation for its desire to dismiss; 2) whether a dismissal would result in a waste of judicial time and effort; and 3) whether a dismissal will prejudice the defendants. Id. “Courts generally will grant dismissals where the only prejudice the defendant will suffer is that resulting from a subsequent lawsuit.” Adams v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., 863 F.3d 1069, 1079 (8th Cir. 2017). However, a party may not voluntarily dismiss merely to escape an adverse decision or to seek a more favorable forum. Hamm v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer Pharm., Inc., 187 F.3d 941, 950 (8th Cir. 1999).


         Thurman requests dismissal “pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)”. Doc. 57. Because neither of the circumstances described in Rule 41(a)(1) apply here, the Court treats Thurman's request for dismissal as made pursuant to Rule 41(a)(2). Therefore, dismissal requires leave of Court.

         A. Explanation for Request to Dismiss

         The Court first considers whether Thurman has presented a proper explanation for her desire to dismiss. Thurman's initial Request for Dismissal, Doc. 57, made no attempt to explain or justify her request for dismissal. In response to this Court's Show Cause Order, Thurman's attorney, Chelsea Merta, argues that the case should be dismissed without prejudice because her failure to file timely responses to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss was a result of excusable neglect. Doc. 60. Specifically, Ms. Merta represents that she was unable to file any documents with this Court because all of her electronic devices-including laptops, cell phones, and tablets-were temporarily inaccessible because they were impounded as part of an unrelated legal proceeding to which Ms. Merta is a party. Id., at 1-2.

         The Court credits Ms. Merta's explanation and finds that Thurman (by counsel) was generally unable to make any filings with this Court between August 15, 2019 and September 16, 2019. However, while this explains why Thurman did not timely respond to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, it does not, standing alone, explain why Thurman now desires to dismiss the action. The Court finds sufficient explanation for Thurman's request to dismiss in the following portion of Ms. Merta's response to the Show Cause Order:

Immediately upon receipt of Counsel's electronic devices, on September 16, 2019, Counsel called Plaintiff and advised her of the situation related to the court filings and deadline. With consent of Plaintiff, Counsel filed with this Court the Voluntary Notice of Dismissal on about September 16, 2019.

Doc. 60, at 2. While perhaps less explicit than it should be, this explanation directly ties Thurman's decision to dismiss the case to Ms. Merta's failure to meet filing deadlines because of her own legal troubles, from which the Court infers that Thurman desires to dismiss the case due to her counsel's demonstrated inability to effectively carry out the representation. The Court finds no indication that Thurman seeks dismissal merely to seek a more favorable forum. Nothing in the record indicates ...

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