What Happens if a Lawsuit is Dismissed for Jurisdictional Reasons
Initiating a lawsuit in Colorado courts is more complicated than simply typing up a complaint and filing it in the Colorado court system. In particular, there are certain jurisdictional requirements that need to be met in order for the lawsuit to validly progress through the court system. The two main jurisdictional components are:
– Subject matter jurisdiction; and
– Personal jurisdiction
Subject matter jurisdiction stems from the nature of the claims being made in the lawsuit and relates to the inherent power of the court to adjudicate those claims. In essence, a court has to have the legal ability to hear the issues in-dispute in the lawsuit and render a judgment. Frequently, subject matter jurisdiction boils down to due process concerns and where the actions at-issue in the lawsuit took place. For example, if two parties that live and reside in Utah and conduct business solely in Utah, they would be unable to file a lawsuit in the Colorado court system based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
More specifically, because the cause of action accrued entirely outside of Colorado and the parties to the action have no connection to Colorado, the substantive nature of the claims is insufficient to meet the due process requirements for bringing an individual into court in Colorado and, thus, Colorado courts would not have subject matter jurisdiction over the claims in the lawsuit. See C.R.S. § 13-1-124..
In contrast to subject matter jurisdiction, which is oriented towards the substantive claims in a lawsuit, personal jurisdiction is the authority of a court over the specific individuals in the lawsuit. In particular, in order for a court to have jurisdiction over a specific individual or entity in a lawsuit, that specific individual or entity must have been personally notified of the lawsuit. This requirement is fulfilled by personal service where notice of the lawsuit is physically given to the individual or entity. See C.R.C.P. 4. Where service is not properly obtained on an individual or entity, there is no personal jurisdiction over that party and any subsequent judgments issued against that party in the lawsuit will be void for lack of personal jurisdiction. See C.R.C.P. 60(b).
Importantly, jurisdictional defects may be challenged with the court at any time, including after a judgment has already been entered in a case. See C.R.C.P. 60; Don J. Best Trust v. Cherry Creek Nat. Bank, 792 P.2d 302, 304 (1990). Typically, the most common types of jurisdictional challenges are those made based on lack of personal jurisdiction where a default judgment has already been entered in a case. Once notified of an outstanding judgment, the party who the judgment was entered against will often assert that they were never served with the lawsuit or otherwise appropriately notified of the lawsuit and, thus, the judgment is void for lack of personal jurisdiction.
After a Case is Dismissed for Jurisdictional Purposes
Where a party successfully challenges a lawsuit or the issuance of a judgment on jurisdictional grounds and the lawsuit is dismissed, Colorado law provides that the party who filed the lawsuit may re-file it within 90 days and that any statute of limitations issues will be tolled. In particular, C.R.S. § 13-80-111 provides:
(1) If an action is commenced within the period allowed by this article and is terminated because of lack of jurisdiction or improper venue, the plaintiff or, if he dies and the cause of action survives, the personal representative may commence a new action upon the same cause of action within ninety days after the termination of the original action or within the period otherwise allowed by this article, whichever is later, and the defendant may interpose any defense, counterclaim, or setoff which might have been interposed in the original action.
(2) This section shall be applicable to all actions which are first commenced in a federal court as well as those first commenced in the courts of Colorado or of any other state.
The purpose of this statute is to prevent the scenario where a lawsuit is filed against a party, the statute of limitations runs out during the course of the lawsuit, and then the lawsuit is either dismissed or a judgment entered in the lawsuit vacated based on jurisdictional grounds. Under those circumstances, if the statute of limitations was strictly enforced, the plaintiff would have no recourse since the statute of limitations ran during the course of the lawsuit meaning that the plaintiff would be barred from re-filing the lawsuit after it is subsequently dismissed. In effect, the plaintiff would have entirely lost his right to pursue his claim based on a procedural technicality.
Accordingly, in order to prevent this scenario, C.R.S. § 13-80-111 allows for the plaintiff to re-file the action within 90 days of its dismissal and the re-filing will relate back to the original filing – that is, the re-filed lawsuit will be treated as though it was filed on the original filing date. Accordingly, as long as the original lawsuit was filed within the statute of limitations period, the plaintiff will not be barred from seeking relief based on the same claims and will be allowed to pursue her claims despite the re-filed lawsuit being outside of the statute of limitations period. See Sharp Bros. Contr. v. Westvaco Corp., 817 P.2d 547 (Colo. App. 1991) (statute should be liberally interpreted; therefore, the term “a new action” should not be interpreted to mean only one new action).
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