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Davis v. Infinity Insurance Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

September 22, 2017

STEPHANIE DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
INFINITY INSURANCE CO., et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER [1]

          JOHN H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Stephanie Davis (“Davis”) initiated this action against Infinity Insurance Co., Infinity Property and Casualty Corp., (collectively “Infinity Defendants”) and Robin Adams (collectively “Defendants”) on July 1, 2015.[2] (Doc. 1). On August 29, 2016, the undersigned entered a memorandum opinion and order denying Davis's motion to amend her complaint, (doc. 23), but permitting her to file another motion to amend her complaint that complied with the extensive analysis outlined in the memorandum opinion and order. (Doc. 40). On September 28, 2016, Davis moved for leave to file a second amended complaint, (doc. 41), and the undersigned granted Davis's motion, (doc. 42). (See doc. 43 (second amended complaint)). Defendants move for dismissal of Davis's second amended complaint or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement. (Doc. 44). The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 44, 48, 49). For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss is DENIED; however, the alternative motion for a more definite statement is GRANTED, as limited herein.

         I. Standard of Review

         Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., permits dismissal when a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially plausible claim for relief “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citation omitted). The complaint must establish “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id.; accord Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (“Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”). Ultimately, this inquiry is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         To that end, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief.” “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are insufficient. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'” Id. (citing Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).

         II. Background[3]

         This case arises out of the Infinity Defendants' implementation of a Spanish/English-bilingualism requirement applicable to employees and potential hires (referred to as the “bilingual requirement”). (Doc. 43 at ¶ 12). Davis, an African-American, who was employed as a Policy Services Specialist and does not speak Spanish fluently, was terminated under the policy. (Id. at ¶¶ 12, 16, 30). Twelve of the seventeen people terminated from the same job were African-American. (Id. at ¶ 18). However, Infinity Defendants retained five white employees despite them being less senior or less productive or having received formal discipline (which Davis had not). (Id. at ¶ 15).

         Infinity Defendants also told Davis that, in order to receive benefits under the 2014 Profit Sharing Bonus Plan, she would have to sign a severance agreement giving up her right to file or pursue EEOC charges or Title VII and § 1981 claims, despite already being entitled to the bonus. (Id. at ¶ 33). She was given until December 1, 2014, to sign the agreement. (Id. at ¶ 35). However, on November 12, 2014, she contacted Infinity Defendants to inform them denial of the plan benefits violated ERISA, but the Infinity Defendants' Director of Benefits and Compensation responded that the company was standing by its decision to only pay benefits under the plan to those who signed the severance agreement. (Id. at ¶ 37). Davis did not sign the severance agreement and filed an EEOC charge in October 2014, which was mailed to the Director of Benefits and Compensation on October 31, 2014. (Id. at ¶ 35). She was then denied payment of her benefits under the plan. (Id. at ¶ 36).

         In her second amended complaint, Davis asserts the following claims: (1) Title VII disparate impact termination claim against Infinity Defendants; (2) Title VII disparate treatment termination claim against Infinity Defendants; (3) Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 disparate treatment termination (race) claim against Infinity Defendants; (4) Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981 retaliation in benefits against all Defendants; (5) Title VII disparate impact in benefits against all Defendants; (6) ERISA: breach of contract against all Defendants; (7) ERISA: interference with rights against all Defendants. (Doc. 43).

         III. Analysis

         A. The Second Amended Complaint Does Not Comply with Rule 10(b) and Retains Characteristics of a Shotgun Pleading

         The second amended complaint, Davis's operative pleading, is her fourth attempt to present her claims. Defendants contend, like her previous attempts, this complaint is a “shotgun” pleading, neither discrete nor succinct, fails to properly limit paragraphs, and “masks and muddles claims such that Defendants cannot even frame a responsive pleading.” (Doc. 44 at 2). In rejecting Davis's most recent proposed pleading, the undersigned cautioned Davis against “an extended morass of extensively repeated legal conclusions interspersed with page-long paragraphs of factual allegations, culminating in a confusingly organized series of counts, ” and reminded Davis that her complaint must comply with Rules 8 and 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 40 at 5, 43). While the second amended complaint, (doc. 43), is an improvement, it falls shorts of these requirements.

         After allegations addressing jurisdiction, parties, and administrative exhaustion, the second amended complaint contains a statement of facts, which includes thirty-two paragraphs of allegations (¶¶ 11 - 42). (Doc. 43). The remainder of the second amended complaint is organized into seven counts containing a single legal theory[4] and identifies the defendants to which each applies; finally closing with a prayer for relief. (Id.). Each of the counts incorporates several paragraphs of allegations of the statement of facts. Although Davis's second amended complaint is less confusing and shorter than previous her submission, Davis's extremely liberal interpretation of Rule 10(b), insistence on redundancy and incorporating the same set of allegations into different claims, as well as her inclusion of legal arguments/conclusions muddies her allegations and claims beyond what is permissible.

         As the Eleventh Circuit has explained:

The purpose of [the pleading rules] is self-evident, to require the pleader to present his claims discretely and succinctly, so that, his adversary can discern what he is claiming and frame a responsive pleading, the court can determine which facts support which claims and whether the plaintiff has stated any claims upon which relief can be granted, and, at trial, the court can determine that evidence which is relevant and that which is not. “Shotgun” pleadings, calculated to confuse the “enemy, ” and the court, so that theories for relief not provided by law and which can prejudice an opponent's case, especially before the jury, can be masked, are flatly forbidden by the [spirit], if not the [letter], of these rules.

Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1320 (11th Cir. 2015) (internal citations omitted). Failure of the court to require the parties to submit proper pleadings unnecessarily expands and confuses discovery. See Paylor v. Hartford Fire Ins. Co., 748 F.3d 1117, 1125 (11th Cir. 2014).

         1. Rule 10(b)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b), on the form of pleadings, provides:

Paragraphs; Separate Statements. A party must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances. A later pleading may refer by number to a paragraph in an earlier pleading. If doing so would promote clarity, each claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence-and each defense other than a denial-must be stated in a separate count or defense.

         (emphasis added). Davis's second amended complaint contains paragraphs that are not practicably limited to a single set of circumstances. Instead, the paragraphs contain a litany of unrelated facts. ...


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