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Using Motions to Get a Lawsuit Dismissed Early in California

By: Angelita Chavez | June 15, 2021

By: Varduhi Danielyan

When faced with a lawsuit, defendants and their defense attorneys often aim to defeat the case as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Motions are one way to accomplish that goal, since they may be effective at getting certain lawsuits dismissed during the early stages of litigation. In California, a motion for sanctions may be one of the most successful methods for dismissal.

A lawsuit begins when a plaintiff files a complaint against a defendant. The defendant is then expected to file a responsive pleading, which is a formal response to the complaint. The responsive pleading can be in the form of an answer, a demurrer, or a motion. Parties to a case may use motions to ask the judge for specific relief, such as case dismissal. 

Motions usually contain a written brief which explains the legal argument for case dismissal. The opposing party will usually have the chance to write an opposition to the motion. Next, the judge may schedule an oral argument, where each party’s attorney can explain their position. Finally, the judge will make their decision, which the parties may appeal.


If a complaint does not list all the elements of a legal claim, the defendant may file a demurrer alleging that:

  1. The complaint does not contain any facts to bring a claim, or
  2. Even if all the facts in the complaint are true, the facts are still insufficient to make a claim.

Complaints are rarely dismissed based on demurrers in California. In most cases when a demurrer is filed, the plaintiff can amend and improve their complaint. While a demurrer allows the defendant to learn more facts about the case, the time and expense of filing one are generally not worth that benefit.


Motions to dismiss assert that the plaintiff’s claim is irrelevant or invalid, but usually not based on the facts of the complaint. Motions to dismiss are filed for a range of reasons, which may include:

  • Statute of limitations expiration: The case does not fall within California’s time limit for filing.
  • Lack of subject matter jurisdiction: The court does not have the authority to hear this type of case.
  • Lack of personal jurisdiction: The defendant does not have sufficient minimum contacts in the jurisdiction where the lawsuit was filed.
  • Improper Venue: A different court has personal jurisdiction over the defendant and should hear the case.

While motions to dismiss can be effective at getting a case dismissed in its early stages, many cases do not have the flaws required.  


Motions for summary judgement can be used when there are no disputes between the parties over the facts of the case. The party bringing the motion believes that the facts support a ruling in their favor. These motions present facts and deposition testimony with the goal of having a court dismiss a case in its entirety.

Motions for summary judgement are costly and time-consuming because they are based on all the facts the parties have gathered during discovery. Additionally, it is uncommon for courts to grant these motions in their entirety. If there is even one fact that can be disputed in a trial, the court will likely allow the case or at least part of the case to proceed.


Motions for sanctions[1] are often the most effective and least expensive means of getting a case dismissed in California. In these motions, defense attorneys argue that:

  • The plaintiff has filed a frivolous complaint,
  • The court should dismiss the lawsuit, and
  • The court should sanction the plaintiff’s attorney for filing a baseless complaint.

The defendant must serve the motion on the plaintiff before filing and allow the plaintiff 21 days to respond. During these 21 days, a plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss the case, or they may even discuss a reasonable settlement with the defendant. Otherwise, the motion will proceed, and the plaintiff must demonstrate that their case is not meritless.

Motions for sanctions are far less expensive than motions for summary judgment because attorneys do not need to prepare a separate statement. Furthermore, unlike demurrers or motions to dismiss, a court can consider facts in its ruling on a motion for sanctions. Even though motions for sanctions are more difficult to win, they generally trigger negotiation between the parties. If granted, a motion for sanctions gets the case dismissed with sanctions awarded against the losing party and its attorney. Such sanctions are generally monetary and awarded to the winning party for reasonable expenses and attorney’s fees incurred when presenting or opposing the motion.


For help with litigation matters, please contact your trusted Chugh, LLP attorney

[1] Pursuant to C.C.P. Section 128.7.

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