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Palmer v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

August 20, 2019

MICHAEL PALMER, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO DISMISS CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS THE STATE AND JUSTIN GASPER WITHOUT PREJUDICE AND DECLINING TO ADOPT REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION AS MOOT

          BENJAMIN H. SETTLE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Michael Palmer's ("Palmer") unopposed motion for voluntary dismissal of claims against two defendants. Dkt. 94. The Court has considered the pleadings filed in support of the motion and the remainder of the file and hereby grants the motion for the reasons stated herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Palmer initiated this civil rights action pro se on March 30, 2018. Dkt. 1. Palmer alleges multiple violations related to his detention at Grays Harbor County Jail while he awaited trial on criminal charges there in 2017. See Dkt. 1-1. Palmer also makes allegations related to the conditions of his confinement. Id. Relevant to the instant motion, Palmer sued Defendants the State of Washington ("State") and "Nurse Justin" ("Dr. Gasper") (collectively "Defendants"), as well as several people and institutions connected to Grays Harbor County.[1]

         On March 29, 2019, Judge Christel directed service of Palmer's amended complaint to Defendants. Dkt. 40.

         On May 24, 2019, the State moved to dismiss Palmer's claims with prejudice. Dkt. 65.

         On July 11, 2019, Dr. Gasper moved for summary judgment of dismissal with prejudice. Dkt. 88. Also on July 11, 2019, Judge Christel issued a report and recommendation ("R&R") recommending that the Court dismiss Palmer's claims against the State with prejudice.[2] Dkt. 91. Accommodating the time limit for objections pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b), Judge Christel set the R&R for consideration on this Court's July 26, 2019 calendar. Id. at 11.

         On July 16, 2019, Palmer filed the instant motion requesting that the Court "dismiss my claims against the State of Washington and Justin Gasper without prejudice so that they can be litigated in the proper jurisdiction." Dkt. 94 at 1. Neither the State nor Dr. Gasper responded.[3]

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41 sets forth the circumstances under which an action may be dismissed. Under Rule 41(a)(1), a plaintiff may dismiss an action without a court order before a party serves an answer or a motion for summary judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1). However, Rule 41(a)(2) "allows a plaintiff, pursuant to an order of the court, and subject to any terms and conditions the court deems proper, to dismiss an action without prejudice at any time." Zanowick v. Baxter Healthcare Corp., 850 F.3d 1090, 1093 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing Westlands Water DM. v. United States, 100 F.3d 94, 96(9thCir. 1996)).

         In this case, neither the State nor Dr. Gasper filed an answer. However, Palmer moved for dismissal without prejudice after Dr. Gasper moved for summary judgment. Dkts. 88, 94. Thus, a court order is required for Palmer to dismiss his claims against Dr. Gasper. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)-(2).

         Regarding the State, Palmer moved for dismissal without prejudice after Judge Christel issued the R&R recommending that claims against the State be dismissed with prejudice. Dkts. 88, 91. The undersigned has not yet ruled on the R&R. Thus, Palmer may technically obtain dismissal of those claims without a court order under Rule 41(a)(1) because the State filed a motion to dismiss, rather than an answer or a summary judgment motion. However, given the outstanding R&R and because Palmer filed a motion as opposed to a notice of dismissal, the Court will also examine whether voluntary dismissal of Palmer's claims against the Stale is appropriate on the merits.

         In the Ninth Circuit, a district court should grant a motion for voluntary dismissal unless the defendant can show it will suffer some plain legal prejudice as a result of the dismissal. Smith v. tenches, 263 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Waller v. Fin. Corp. of Am., 828 F.2d 579, 583 (9th Cir. 1987)); see also Hamilton v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 679 F.2d 143, 145-46 (9th Cir. 1982). Legal prejudice is "prejudice to some legal interest, some legal claim, some legal argument." Zanowick, 850 F.3d at 1093 (citing Westlands Water Dist., 100 F.3d at 97)).

         In this case, and at this late stage in the litigation, it is likely that both the State and Dr. Gasper object to dismissal of Palmer's claims without prejudice. However, neither Defendant opposed Palmer's motion. While a motion for voluntary dismissal is left to the sound discretion of the district court, see Westlands Water Dist., 100 F.3d at 96, courts should grant dismissal unless the defendant has shown the existence of at least some plain legal prejudice. Lenches, 263 F.3d at 975 (citing Waller, 828 F.2d at 583)). Moreover, under local rule, the Court may consider a failure to respond to a motion as an admission that the motion has merit. Local Rules W.D. Wash. LCR ...


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