May 19, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Stipulation of Dismissal Was a Self-Executing Dismissal and Required No Further Motion

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in De Leon v. Marcos on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

The Tenth Circuit vacated the district court’s judgment. Petitioner appeals from the district court’s entry of judgment in favor of Respondent. The district court granted Respondent’s motion to dismiss on the merits after the parties had already executed a settlement agreement and filed a stipulation of dismissal. However, the Tenth Circuit found two ambiguities that were raised by the stipulation of dismissal. “First, it invokes Rule 41(a)(2), but that rule contemplates a motion to dismiss filed by the plaintiff in situations other than those set out in Rule 41(a)(1), not a jointly signed stipulation. . . . [T]he procedural posture of the case was such that the parties could have invoked the exception to Rule 41(a)(2), i.e., Rule 41(a)(1), and the stipulation was not styled as plaintiff’s motion. The second ambiguity is that the stipulation provides a space for the district judge’s signature but does not expressly ask the district court to approve the dismissal; in other words, it is not a motion to dismiss as contemplated by Rule 41(a)(2).”

Despite these ambiguities, “it appears that neither of them affected the district court’s interpretation of the stipulation. Instead, the court read the stipulation as conditioned on the filing of a motion to dismiss and assumed that the parties had rescinded the Agreement.” However, the stipulation itself was the “motion” referred to in the stipulation. Therefore, the district court’s conclusion that a separate motion was required was incorrect and there was no reason to conclude that the Agreement had been rescinded. The Court found that the stipulation of dismissal was a self-executing dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) and vacated the district court’s judgment.

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