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Dismissal of District Court Action with Prejudice Was Abuse of Discretion

April 11, 2005

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Last Month at the Federal Circuit - May 2005

Judges: Linn (author), Michel, and Gajarsa

In Bowling v. Hasbro, Inc., No. 04-1364 (Fed. Cir. Apr. 11, 2005), the Federal Circuit reversed a district court’s dismissal with prejudice of Plaintiff’s patentinfringement suit. Michael Bowling had sued Hasbro, Inc. (“Hasbro”) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on September 16, 2003. However, Bowling did not serve Hasbro with the Complaint. On January 26, 2004, the district court issued an order to show cause, requiring Bowling to explain why his suit should not be dismissed for failure to serve Hasbro within the 120 days provided in Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). After Bowling failed to respond to the order, the district court dismissed the action with prejudice.

The Federal Circuit reversed the district court’s dismissal, stating that the district court had abused its discretion. Applying regional circuit law, the Federal Circuit considered the five factors that the Ninth Circuit considers in deciding whether dismissal is appropriate: (1) the public’s interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court’s need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to defendant; (4) the availability of less drastic alternatives; and (5) the public policy of disposing of the case on its merits. The Federal Circuit noted that the district court had weighed these five factors in deciding to dismiss Bowling’s case with prejudice. However, the Court ultimately held that Ninth Circuit law generally emphasized the notions of warning and consideration of less drastic alternatives than dismissal with prejudice. Noting that Rule 4(m), which the district court relied upon as a predicate for dismissal, does not authorize dismissal with prejudice, the Federal Circuit held that the district court had abused its discretion. Because the district court had failed to provide Bowling with sufficient notice that his suit would face the extreme result of dismissal with prejudice, and because Bowling’s behavior was deemed not overly egregious, the Federal Circuit reversed the dismissal and remanded the case.