Chess not Checkers: Why Litigants Should Use Rule 12(c) Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings Instead of a Rule 12(b)(6) Motions to Dismiss

Chess not Checkers: Why Litigants Should Use
Rule 12(c) Motions for Judgment on the Pleadings Instead of a Rule 12(b)(6)
Motions to Dismiss


In the high-stakes chess match of litigation , one of the most powerful moves in a litigant’s arsenal is a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (“MJP”).[1] Think of it like a superior cousin to a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss (“MTD”), but with the advantage that the disposition is final and the count(s) cannot be re-brought with a remedied pleading. Understanding how to bring an MJP effectively can result in a judgment in your client’s favor before opposing counsel even has time to assess their board.

An MJP is a motion that seeks not a dismissal but a judgment that, based on the complaint/counterclaim and responsive pleading(s), the plaintiff or counterclaimant’s counts fail as a matter of law. Winning an MJP means the court is entering a final judgment on the count(s), resulting in a final disposition. This is a more favorable outcome compared to a motion to dismiss in which the judge simply dismisses the count, often without prejudice. A dismissal without prejudice allows the opposing party to amend their complaint or counterclaim and come back better and stronger in a new lawsuit, having just received feedback from you and the judge as to where the weaknesses in their strategy of the case are. A successful MJP removes this strategic amendment possibility.

In order to bring a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, you must wait until
after “the pleadings are closed
but early enough not to delay trial.”[2] This means the plaintiff/counterclaimant will have filed and served their complaint/counterclaim, the defendant/counterclaim-defendant has filed and served its answer, and the “pleadings have closed,” i.e., the time to amend the complaint/counterclaim has expired.[3] This generally means twenty-one (21) days after the answer has been filed, but timing varies based on the responsive documents filed. While this is a relatively short time in the life of a case, it is obviously later than a motion to dismiss, which can be brought immediately after the complaint/counterclaim is served. And, choosing to file an MJP requires the litigant to give up their right to file a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which is of course a tactical risk. But, it also means the opposing party will be long past their opportunity to amend their pleading. Ultimately, the relief granted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) is worth the wait.

While different motions with different substantive outcomes, the standard for an MJP compared to an MTD are effectively the same: “whether, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the complaint states a valid claim for relief.”[4] As with an MTD, the non-moving party will receive all reasonable inferences for well-pled facts, but, unlike an MTD, there can be no dispute of material facts.  Finally, the court generally may only review the pleadings and their attachments, documents referred to in the complaint and that are central to the claim, or documents that are “matters of public record.”[5]

With two very similar options, why use a motion for judgment on the pleadings? Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c), the opposing party cannot bring the count(s) against you again. The claim has effectively died (excluding appeal) because the court issued a final judgment as to those counts. 

Knowing how deadly a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) motion can be, what should a litigant do to ensure its complaint will survive such a challenge? The best thing a litigant can do is treat every claim as though it is subject to the Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)’s heightened pleading standard and plead with particularity.[6] This is because “speculation that certain facts might be established through discovery – when those facts are not alleged or reasonably inferable from the pleadings” is not sufficient to survive an MJP.[7] Alternatively, a plaintiff/counterclaimant can deploy a motion for judgment on the pleadings aggressively should a defendant file a threadbare answer or affirmative defense without the facts to support them.[8]

 In conclusion, Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings presents a clear strategic advantage over a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. While both motions adhere to the same standard of evaluating whether the complaint states a valid claim for relief, the outcome of a successful Rule 12(c) motion results in the court entering a final judgment. This finality is extremely beneficial, particularly when aiming to conclude legal proceedings efficiently, decisively, and favorably for your clients or to gain a settlement advantage. During the legal chess match of litigation, while opposing counsel is busy moving their pawns, a Rule 12(c) MJP allows you to put them in a checkmate.

If you are seeking to initiate a lawsuit or are facing a motion for judgment on the pleadings, please don’t hesitate to contact the experienced business and government litigators at Eckland & Blando LLP. 

[1] Research and drafting assistance provided by Lindsey Broda, law clerk at Eckland & Blando LLP.

[2] Fed. R. Civ. P.  12(c).

[3] Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B).

[4] Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d 540, 543–44 (5th Cir 2010); Ashley Cnty. v. Pfizer, Inc., 552 F.3d 659, 665 (8th Cir. 2009) (quoting Wishnatsky v. Rovner, 433 F.3d 608, 610 (8th Cir. 2006)); Potthoff v. Morin,
245 F.3d 710, 715 (8th Cir. 2001).  

[5] Id. at 1002 (6th Cir. 2024) (citing Greenberg v. Life Ins. Co. of Virginia, 177 F.3d 507, 514 (6th Cir. 1999); Com. Money Ctr., Inc. v. Illinois Union Ins. Co., 508 F.3d 327, 335-36 (6th Cir. 2007)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c). 

[6] Auto-Owners Mut. Ins. Co. v. Coffin, No. 422CV00129SHLHCA, 2023 WL 3479170 at *6 (S.D. Iowa May 1, 2023) (citing Nat’l Union Fire Ins. Co. of Pittsburg v. Cargill, Inc., 61 F.4th 615, 620 (8th Cir. 2023)). 

[7] Cargill, Inc., 61 F.4th at 619-20.

[8] Id.