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Phelps v. Does

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 4, 2018

ERIC JON PHELPS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN AND JANE DOES, 1-99, Defendants.

          KANE, J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is a fee-paid civil action, which commenced on November 30, 2017, when the plaintiff, Eric Jon Phelps, filed his pro se complaint with the Clerk of Court. (Doc. 1). On May 3, 2018, Phelps filed a pro se motion styled “Motion to Dismiss Without Prejudice [for] Failure to Properly Set the Court [and] Failure to State a Claim.” (Doc. 17). Although the motion is mostly just the recitation of pseudo-legal nonsense, [1] it clearly concludes with a request that we dismiss this case without prejudice.

         This Court has an obligation to liberally construe pro se pleadings and other submissions. See generally Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 244-46 (3d Cir. 2013). Phelps does not cite the rule itself- indeed, he appears to eschew the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure altogether, in favor of some imaginary tapestry of arcane procedural rules woven from random statutes and common law maxims taken out of context-but it is clear to us that the intent of his motion is to effect the voluntary dismissal of this action, without prejudice, pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1). “Rule 41(a)(1) allows a plaintiff who complies with its terms to dismiss an action voluntarily and without court intervention.” Manze v. State Farm Ins. Co., 817 F.2d 1062, 1065 (3d Cir. 1987). Specifically, Rule 41(a)(1) provides, in relevant part:

[T]he plaintiff may dismiss an action without a court order by filing . . . a notice of dismissal before the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for summary judgment . . . . Unless the notice or stipulation states otherwise, the dismissal is without prejudice. But if the plaintiff previously dismissed any federal- or state-court action based on or including the same claim, a notice of dismissal operates as an adjudication on the merits.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1).

         Without exception, the effect of the filing of a Rule 41(a)(1) notice of voluntary dismissal before service of an answer or a motion for summary judgment is “automatic: the defendant does not file a response, and no order of the district court is needed to end the action.” In re Bath & Kitchen Fixtures Antitrust Litig., 535 F.3d 161, 165 (3d Cir. 2008).

         Moreover, “the notice results in dismissal without prejudice (unless it states otherwise), as long as the plaintiff has never dismissed an action based on or including the same claim in a prior case.” Id. “[T]he defendant has only two options for cutting off the plaintiff's right to end the case by notice: serving on the plaintiff an answer or a motion for summary judgment.” Id.

         As the Third Circuit has further explained:

The Rule “affixes a bright-line test to limit the right of dismissal to the early stages of litigation, ” which “simplifies the court's task by telling it whether a suit has reached the point of no return. If the defendant has served either an answer or a summary judgment motion it has; if the defendant has served neither, it has not.” Up to the “point of no return, ” dismissal is automatic and immediate-the right of the plaintiff is “unfettered.” A timely notice of voluntary dismissal invites no response from the district court and permits no interference by it. A proper notice deprives the district court of jurisdiction to decide the merits of the case.

Id. at 165-66 (citations omitted) (quoting other sources).

         Because the defendants have not filed an answer to the petition or a motion for summary judgment-indeed, no defendants have yet been served with original process-Phelps's motion to dismiss without prejudice (Doc. 17), liberally construed as a Rule 41(a)(1) notice of voluntary dismissal, is “self-effectuating” and thus acts to terminate the action. See Aamot v. Kassel, 1 F.3d 441, 445 (6th Cir. 1993) (holding that a Rule 41(a)(1) notice is “self-effectuating”).

         Accordingly, it is recommended that:

1. The plaintiff's motion to dismiss without prejudice (Doc. 17) be CONSTRUED as a notice of voluntary dismissal pursuant ...

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