To be effective, a stipulation of dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 must be signed by all parties who have appeared in an action, even if there are multiple defendants and fewer than all of them are being dismissed. City of Jacksonville v. Jacksonville Hospitality Holdings, L.P., 2023 WL 5944193 (11th Cir. Sept. 13, 2023).
The City of Jacksonville sued three parties for damages relating to the contamination of soil and groundwater. The defendants filed counterclaims, and one of them filed a third-party complaint against six third-party defendants, one of which filed its own counterclaims. As the case proceeded, the parties filed stipulations of (purported) dismissal pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(1)(A)(ii)—but each of those stipulations was signed by fewer than all parties involved in the case (for example, by only the plaintiff and the particular defendant being dismissed). Once the dispute (seemed to be) resolved, one of the original defendants filed a notice of appeal challenging the district court’s denial of its motion to voluntarily dismiss one of the third-party defendants—as a result of which, the defendant claimed, it had incurred sanctions for bad-faith litigation that might have been avoided if the motion had been granted. But the first question for the Court of Appeals was whether it had appellate jurisdiction. Continuing its campaign to enforce Rule 41, the court determined that it did not.
The court’s opinion, written by Judge Wilson, began by noting that under a “plain reading” of Rule 41(a)(1)(A), the rule authorizes dismissal of “an action,” but not of individual claims. But there is a “longstanding exception” to that rule: “Rule 41(a) allows a district court to dismiss all claims against a particular defendant.” The rule also addresses who must sign a stipulation of dismissal—“all parties who have appeared.” Different courts have applied that language in different ways. The Fifth Circuit, the court noted, had “briefly stated” in a footnote that even in a multi-defendant case, only the dismissed defendant must sign the stipulation. Other cases, including an earlier but unpublished Eleventh Circuit case, determined that stipulations of dismissal require all parties’ signatures. And that, the court confirmed, is the rule: “Looking to the text of Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), there is simply no language that qualifies the clause “‘all parties who appeared.’” “And all means all,” the Court added, citing the Sixth Circuit’s decision in Anderson-Tully Co. v. Fed. Ins. Co., 347 F. App’x 171 (6th Cir. 2009)—“a Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) stipulation also requires the signature of a party that appeared but has already been removed from an action.” The Court acknowledged that this could cause some practical difficulties, but added that Rule 41(a)(2) allows a party to seek dismissal by court order as an alternative to a stipulation.
Because the various stipulations in the case before it had not been signed by all parties who had appeared, there had been no final judgment. Accordingly, the court lacked jurisdiction to consider the appeal on its merits.