Another Reason to File an Answer: Voluntary Dismissal Does not Make Defendant Prevailing Party

By David Hricik, Mercer Law School

In Haynes Holding Group LLC v. ESR Performance Corp. et al (C.D. Cal. 8:21-cv-02033 JVS (JDEx) (I can’t find a free version of the opinion), after the patentee sued, the defendant served a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.  The defendant did not file an answer and then move to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, leaving the patentee free to file a notice of voluntary dismissal, which it did, since the defendant had not answered.

The defendant then argued it was a prevailing party under Section 285 and entitled to fees. Judge Selna (correctly in my view) reasoned that because the dismissal by operation of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was without prejudice, and so the patentee could sue on the same claim, the defendant had not prevailed and denied the motion. In part, the court reasoned:

Cases across multiple districts align in holding that voluntarily dismissing a case without prejudice does not render the other party the “prevailing party,” whereas dismissing with prejudice or filing for the dismissal of previously-voluntarily-dismissed claims. See, e.g., Realtime Adaptive Streaming LLC v. Netflix, Inc., 2020 WL 7889048 at *4-5 (C.D. Cal. Nov. 23, 2020) (holding that filing for the dismissal of previously- voluntarily-dismissed claims constitutes an adjudication on the merits); Mixing & Mass Transfer Tech., LLC v. SPX Corp., 2020 WL 6484180 at *3 (D. Del., Nov. 4, 2020) (finding that neither a party’s voluntary dismissal or the court’s dismissal without prejudice would materially alter the legal relationship of the parties because “neither dismissal would prevent Plaintiff from reasserting those same claims against Defendants in another action”); Internet Media Interactive Corp. v. Shopify, Inc., 2020 WL 6196292 at *3 (D. Del. Oct. 22, 2020) (holding that plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal with prejudice rendered the defendant the prevailing party because “Defendant can no longer be subject to the particular claim of infringement asserted in Plaintiff’s Complaint”).

Of course, there are reasons (e.g., the cost of investigation) to not answer but only to move to dismiss, but taking that path and then moving for prevailing party status  is not a viable option.

About David

Professor of Law, Mercer University School of Law. Formerly Of Counsel, Taylor English Duma, LLP and in 2012-13, judicial clerk to Chief Judge Rader.