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Worrell v. Harshe

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 5, 2017





          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This opinion arises from Plaintiffs' Motion to Withdraw the Complaint with Prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). The Court notes this case is unusual for two reasons: First, Plaintiffs are seeking a voluntary dismissal with prejudice. Second, Defendant opposes the motion. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion to Withdraw the Complaint with Prejudice is granted.


         The following facts come from Plaintiffs' April 2016 complaint. Plaintiffs and Defendant are associated in several entities providing mental health services in New Jersey. Plaintiffs allege Defendant accessed Plaintiffs' Yahoo e-mail accounts without consent to gain a business advantage over Plaintiffs. Plaintiffs alleged violations of 18 U.S.C. § 2511 of the Electronic Communications Protection Act and of 18 U.S.C. § 2701 of the Stored Communications Act. Plaintiffs also brought claims for libel and slander.[1]

         In a June 28, 2017 Scheduling Order, the parties were “directed to engage in electronic discovery related to the claims and defenses in the case.” On September 8, 2017, Plaintiffs moved to withdraw their complaint with prejudice. The motion is opposed by Defendant, who argues the motion is an attempt to avoid Defendant's discovery request for Plaintiffs to produce a computer tower.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2) provides, in pertinent part: “[A]n action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.”[2] “A motion for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) lies within the sound discretion of the district court.” Dodge-Regupol, Inc. v. RB Rubber Prods., 585 F.Supp.2d 645, 652 (M.D. Pa. 2008). “The purpose of the grant of discretion under Rule 41(a)(2) . . . is primarily to prevent voluntary dismissals which unfairly affect the other side, and to permit the imposition of curative conditions.” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, 9 Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. 2d § 2364 n.19).


         “Numerous courts, including courts within the Third Circuit, have held that a court lacks the discretion to deny a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2) when the plaintiff requests that the dismissal be made with prejudice.” Sypniewski v. Warren Hills Reg'l Bd. of Educ., No. 01-3061, 2006 WL 208562, at *3 (D.N.J. Jan. 26, 2006). Indeed, the denial of such a motion could constitute an abuse of discretion by the district court. John Evans Sons, Inc. v. Majik-Ironers, Inc., 95 F.R.D. 186, 190-91 (E.D. Pa. 1982) (“A different situation may be presented where the plaintiff moves to dismiss with prejudice. A trial court may abuse its discretion in denying such a motion where dismissal would terminate the entire action since courts should not conduct useless trials.” (quoting 5 Moore's Federal Practice para. 41.05[1] at 41-74)). Similarly, a judge of this Court, in Sypniewski, found that “a motion for voluntary dismissal with prejudice eliminates [a court's] discretion to deny such a motion” and could “constitute an abuse of discretion.” 2006 WL 208562, at *4[3]; accord Sheridan v. Fox, 531 F.Supp. 151, 155 (E.D. Pa. 1982) (“If dismissal with prejudice would dispose entirely of a case, it may always be an abuse of discretion to deny dismissal.”).

         Accordingly, “[w]here the plaintiff has consented to dismissal with prejudice and the defendant will not face a second lawsuit on plaintiff's claim, the Court should grant the motion for dismissal so long as it is not unfair to the defendant to do so.” Gilbreth Int'l Corp. v. Lionel Leisure, Inc., 587 F.Supp. 605, 614 (E.D. Pa. 1983).

         Defendant's claim of prejudice is that Defendant will be unable to obtain the discovery ordered. Defendant cites the following cases for the proposition that “[a] plaintiff cannot use voluntary dismissal to prevent adverse discovery rulings”: Alliance for Global Justice v. District of Columbia, No. 01-811, 2005 WL 469593 (D.D.C. Feb. 7, 2005); In re Vitamins Antitrust Litigation, 198 F.R.D. 296 (D.D.C. 2000); and In re Wellbutrin XL Antitrust Litigation, 268 F.R.D. 539 (E.D. Pa. 2010).

         In Alliance for Global Justice, there was a discovery dispute between the parties, in which the plaintiffs “argued that the plaintiffs who had voluntarily dismissed themselves from the case had no obligation to provide further discovery responses.” 2005 WL 469593, at *1. The court noted that the voluntary dismissal of various plaintiffs did “not end the case, ” and the defendants were “still in the process of defending the federal court action that was filed against them.” Id. at *3. The court determined that “permitting plaintiffs to avoid their discovery obligations would cause undue prejudice to the defendants.” Id. The ...

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