I was just sued and have conclusive evidence that the allegations are false, can I show the court my evidence and have the case dismissed right away?
3 October 2020
No. Motions to dismiss are, with very limited and minor exceptions, limited to the “four corners” of the plaintiff’s complaint and evidence from the defendant is not considered at this early stage of the case.
This concept is very well known in civil law practice and even followed in criminal cases as well. In Commonwealth v. Murphy, a recent example of this concept in the criminal context, the defendant was charged with violation of a chapter 209A abuse prevention order (restraining order). 98 Mass. App. Ct. 1103 (2020). The defendant argued in a motion to dismiss that the messages to the victim were sent before the order was in place. The judge considered the screen shots the defendant presented of his phone, and in addition, even evaluated the phone that was produced in the court room, ignoring the Commonwealth’s objections. On this evidence, the judge allowed the motion to dismiss.
On appeal, the Commonwealth successfully argued that it was improper for the judge to consider the defendant’s evidence, over the Commonwealth’s objection and without its consent, at the motion to dismiss stage. The Massachusetts Appeals Court ruled “the court is limited to the evidence underlying the complaint application and may not take additional evidence unless the Commonwealth consents.”
The idea is that parties should be allowed to learn, inspect, and rebut certain evidence the other side has. And that there is an opportunity for an actual trial, where witnesses can testify, that no summary hearing can replace. In the criminal context, just as we do not want people convicted of crimes without flushing all the facts out, we do not want cases dismissed without both sides getting to present their evidence either.
Many times people desire their civil case (or maybe their criminal cases) to be dismissed or otherwise resolved right away and upon a one-way presentation. They want to just march down to the court and show the judge the evidence they have and have the case dismissed, (which appears to be exactly what happened here). They do not understand why that cannot happen. The point of this blog is to show there are stages to a civil action and as long as the plaintiff’s complaint has enough heft (yes, that is the word used) to support a claim, evidence is not entertained until latter stages in the case. The good news is there will come a time for justice to prevail, it just takes patience.