When a matter is litigated in court, the ultimate resolution of the case is described as its disposition. In broad terms, a disposition is the final order of a court that brings the case to its conclusion. The concept of a disposition can vary to a degree based upon the type of case before the court and the purpose for which the disposition date is to be considered.
The disposition date in a court case is the date upon which the court issues a final ruling in the case. That could be the date a case is dismissed due to a procedural issue, upon which dismissal or summary judgment is granted in response to a motion by a party, the date upon which a court enters a final settlement between the parties, or the date of a court's verdict following a hearing or trial.1
While a reference to the disposition date of a case is usually to its final disposition, some cases may have more than one relevant disposition date. For example, a court's entry of its decision on a pretrial motion is the disposition date for that motion. In some jurisdictions a court may describe the date of an important expected event in a case, such as the date a defendant is expected to enter a guilty plea in a criminal case, as a disposition date. In either a civil or criminal case, even if there is a possibility that the case will not be resolved at the hearing, a hearing at which a negotiated settlement may be entered could be described as a disposition hearing.
In juvenile court, where a minor is being prosecuted for a criminal offense, a reference to the disposition of a case may refer to the date of sentencing.
In civil litigation, once a case concludes a party that has been awarded money damages will want to collect that money, and a party that is not satisfied with the outcome may consider an appeal. Where other relief is ordered, such as an eviction or injunction, the party awarded relief will want to enforce the judgment.
Following the entry of the judgment, the party seeking to enforce the judgment must ordinarily wait for a specified period of time to allow the other party to appeal or seek other relief. Where a case is dismissed, deadlines apply for filing a timely appeal of the dismissal or motion for reinstatement of the case. The deadline for their seeking any relief from the judgment, be it a motion for relief or reconsideration filed with the trial court, a petition for a stay of enforcement of the judgment, or an appeal to a higher court, starts to run on the date of disposition.
For a criminal case in which a defendant is convicted and sentenced, the defendant similarly has a limited time to file a timely appeal or to seek relief from the trial court before being remanded to custody. Even if a defendant is not sentenced to be incarcerated, the defendant may want to seek relief from a conviction.
The deadline for filing a timely appeal or seeking relief from the conviction starts on the date of disposition. In state courts a defendant is usually immediately remanded to custody after being sentenced, and even where incarceration is delayed it's rarely by more than a few days, so the disposition date can be extremely important to a defendant who wants to bring a motion for bond on appeal that might delay the start of a sentence of imprisonment while an appeal is being decided.
Where a charge against a defendant is dismissed, or the defendant is acquitted, the disposition date is the date of dismissal or acquittal.
In a criminal or traffic court case, for some purposes the date of disposition may be regarded as the date that a defendant was convicted of an offense, as opposed to the date of sentencing. For example, the conviction may trigger driver's license sanctions, may be the relevant date for later habitual offender charges against a repeat offender, or be the relevant date of conviction for subsequent use or reporting of the conviction for such purposes as employment background checks, impeaching a witness in court, or as reported on an abstract of the defendant's criminal record.
In either a civil or criminal case, a party may object to a trial court's pretrial ruling and may attempt to obtain relief from a higher court before the case is concluded. The time limit for seeking relief will start to run with the date of entry of the trial court's ruling, and for the purposes of the appeal or petition for a writ of relief that date of entry is the relevant disposition date.
Disposition dates may also be used as a measure of a court's efficiency, or to identify problems with certain courts, cases or judges. A court system can use the amount of time it takes a case to proceed from its initiation through final disposition to help identify courts and judges that are having difficulty completing cases within the expected period of time.
1. Summary judgment, also known as summary disposition, occurs when a court grants a judgment or dismissal of a case prior to trial based upon the court's evaluation of the pleadings, material facts, or legal and procedural issues.