A dismissal without prejudice is a dismissal of a legal case that permits the plaintiff to bring the claim again, unlike a dismissal with prejudice, in which the matter is considered final. There are a number of reasons for a case to be dismissed without prejudice, including on the plaintiff's request or because the judge feels that the plaintiff cannot prove the case. For defendants, it is important to be aware that this type of dismissal carries some risks because it leaves them exposed to the possibility that another case will be filed.
In legal terms, “prejudice” has to do with rights and privileges. In this case, it indicates that the privileges and rights of the plaintiff are not waived, truncated, or terminated. This allows the plaintiff to refile in the future, if this is desired. When a judge dismisses with prejudice, it indicates that the right to bring suit again on the same claim has been terminated and the dismissal is final.
Sometimes, a plaintiff will request a dismissal without prejudice to allow him to refile the case. Another reason to actively request this type of dismissal might be if the plaintiff and the defendant can reach a settlement, which would make the legal case unnecessary. Judges may also determine that there are problems with the case that merit a dismissal. Cases can be dismissed before they even start, or at any point during the presentation of the case in court.
When a case is dismissed without prejudice because a settlement has been reached, it leaves the possibility of refiling open. This is to the advantage of the plaintiff because it means that, if the other party fails to uphold the terms of the agreement, the plaintiff can bring the case back to court. In this case, the plaintiff would file a motion for a dismissal, which would likely be granted after the reaching of a settlement had been demonstrated.
On the other hand, judges will dismiss with prejudice when they feel that the matter can be taken no further, even with a refiling. If the plaintiff filed a nuisance suit, failed to abide by the rules of the court, or acted in bad faith, the judge will be more likely to dismiss with prejudice so that the case cannot be taken before a court again. Once dismissed with prejudice, the issue is considered settled in the eyes of the law, no matter how the parties to the suit might feel.