A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is a defense asserting that even if all the factual allegations in a complaint are true, they are insufficient to establish a legal cause of action. In civil court, a lawsuit is initiated by the filing of the complaint.

If a lawsuit is filed against you or someone you know and there is no legal relationship between you and the plaintiff that would give rise to the claim for relief, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim may be an option.

When the complaint is filed, it alleges claims against a defendant. That defendant has certain options in how to respond to those claims. The defendant can answer the complaint and admit the allegations, or they can deny the allegations or the defendant can attack the complaint about insufficiency, usually by a motion to dismiss.

There are six different ways there are six main bases to file a motion to dismiss:

  • Lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter;
  • Lack of jurisdiction over the person;
  • Insufficiency of process;
  • Insufficiency of service of process;
  • Failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted;
  • Failure to join an indispensable party; and
  • Failure to state a claim

One of the most frequent reasons for filing a motion to dismiss is the failure to state a claim. The failure to state a cause of action pertains to pretrial motions. It specifically deals with motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

A motion to dismiss is a pretrial motion that can be filed in some cases. Every jurisdiction has different civil procedure rules that govern motions to dismiss and other motions. For example in the state of California, a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is called a demurrer. The title may be different in other states. A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim is a court document stating that the plaintiff has not listed a legitimate cause of action in their complaint.

Courts may dismiss a case for failure to state a claim for the reasons listed below:

  • To prevent the filing of frivolous lawsuits, and abuses of the legal system; and
  • To identify cases that can be terminated before they start and to help the parties and court save time and resources.

What Are the Requirements for Failure to State a Claim?

Failure to state a claim is often raised as a sort of defense to the plaintiff’s complaint. If the pretrial motion is granted, the case will be dismissed. To grant the motion, the court must find that the plaintiff’s complaint does not constitute a legal claim. Examples of this include:

  • The plaintiff is alleging conduct that does not amount to a violation of law
  • The plaintiff did not list all of the elements of proof for the violation
  • No measurable injury has been indicated in the complaint

One example of a failure to state a claim is when one party files a personal injury claim based on negligence. Negligence requires that the defendant breached their duty of care to the plaintiff. In this scenario, if the defendant did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, then the court might find a failure to state a claim and immediately dismiss the case. An example of this is where the plaintiff tries to sue the defendant for failing to help them repair their car, where the defendant was under no contractual obligation to do so.

Another common example where a failure to state a claim occurs takes place in contract law. This can happen for instance when one party claims that another party breached the contract but there are no facts that could show the plaintiff and defendant had a contract. In cases where the failure to state a claim is based on a procedural problem, the court will sometimes allow the plaintiff to amend their complaint, rather than dismiss the claim altogether.

Depending on the jurisdiction the failure to state a claim can be an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is a defense in which the defendant introduces evidence, which, if found to be credible and will absolve criminal or civil liability, even if it is proven that the defendant committed the alleged acts.

What is the Proper Way to State a Claim?

To properly state a claim the claimant must present sufficient legal facts. The claim cannot be frivolous and must have a legal connection between the events that took place. Furthermore, the claim must state all of the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant, and must also specify what remedy the plaintiff wants. The court will address whether a valid claim when viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. As stated above, after the claim is filed the defendant can answer the allegations or raise a defense.

What is a Response to a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim?

If a motion to dismiss based on failure to state a claim is filed by the defendant then the plaintiff has a couple of options. The two main options are simply responding to the motion to dismiss by arguing that the claims attacked do sufficiently allege a claim for relief, or the plaintiff may amend the complaint to cure any deficiencies.

Amending the complaint– When addressing the response to a complaint to a motion to dismiss the claimant has the option to amend the complaint as a matter of right. A failure to state a claim pertains to a motion to dismiss. This is because amending the complaint gives the plaintiff another chance to replace the original complaint if they fail to state a claim.

The plaintiff should make sure to address all errors in the motion to dismiss in amending the complaint. If the mistakes are not met the defendant may file another motion to dismiss and the plaintiff no longer can amend the complaint and it may result in a motion to dismiss by the court.

One final point to keep in mind when deciding whether to amend the complaint is whether the plaintiff should be aware of if the defendant files an answer at the same time as a motion to dismiss. If the defendant does this, the plaintiff can longer have the right to amend the complaint since a responsive pleading has been filed.

Should I Hire a Lawyer for Help with Pretrial Motions?

If you are considering filing a civil lawsuit and have questions about pretrial motions you should consider discussing your options with an experienced lawyer. While it is possible to represent yourself, the majority of people who file a civil lawsuit in the United States do so with the assistance of an attorney.

Furthermore, because filing a civil law lawsuit can be a complex legal matter, finding the right attorney is important. An attorney in your area and with the right type of experience can help you decide whether or not to file a civil lawsuit.