U.S. Court of Appeals for Tenth Circuit Modifies Dismissal of Legal Malpractice Case

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has modified the dismissal of a legal malpractice action to be “without prejudice” rather than “with prejudice”. In Bryner v. Lindberg a client brought a case in a Utah state court, alleging federal claims against several defendants as well as a legal malpractice claim against his former attorney under Utah state law. Defendants removed the case to U.S. District Court, which dismissed the federal claims under the Younger abstention doctrine, which is a challenged to subject matter jurisdiction.

In the absence of any federal issues, the state court malpractice claim was also subject to dismissal. The attorney asked the magistrate to dismiss with prejudice and the client sought dismissal without prejudice, to permit re-filing of the claims in state court. The magistrate ordered the case dismissed with prejudice, articulating that the client had failed to state a claim for malpractice under Utah law. However, the magistrate’s final order dismissed the case with prejudice, simply declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state malpractice claim. The client appealed.

The Tenth Circuit reversed and remanded the case with instructions that the case be dismissed without prejudice. It reasoned that a dismissal under the Younger doctrine is jurisdictional. If a district court dismisses all federal claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, then it must dismiss the remaining state claims as well. In the absence of any jurisdiction to hear a claim, a court may not dismiss a claim with prejudice, which goes to the merits. The magistrate erred when he dismissed the case with prejudice.

Decision: Bryner v. Lindberg


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