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Byrd v. Buckner

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

September 10, 2018

SANDY BYRD, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NANCY BUCKNER, in her personal and individual capacity and in her official capacity as Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Human Resources, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Sandy Byrd, Jonathan Ponstein, Leeann Ponstein, A.P., Monica Hardman, and Matthew Lawrence allege that Alabama Department of Human Resources (“DHR”) officials deprived them of procedural due process in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and committed several state law torts when DHR placed them on a registry of “indicated” child abusers without affording them a due process hearing. Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. # 14). Upon consideration of the motion and the complaint, the court will deny the motion to dismiss and exercise its inherent power to dismiss Plaintiffs' shotgun complaint with leave for Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint.[1]

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When evaluating a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must take the facts alleged in the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Resnick v. AvMed, Inc., 693 F.3d 1317, 1321-22 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive Rule 12(b)(6) scrutiny, “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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “[F]acial plausibility” exists “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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint “must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Each allegation in the complaint “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10 provides that the complaint must “state [the plaintiff's] claims . . . in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b).

The purpose of [Rule 8(a)(2) and Rule 10(b)] 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.

Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1320 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting T.D.S. Inc. v. Shelby Mut. Ins. Co., 760 F.2d 1520, 1544 n.14 (11th Cir. 1985) (Tjoflat, J., dissenting)); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (holding that the purpose of Rule 8(a)(2) is to “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” (citation, quotation marks, and ellipsis omitted)).

         “Complaints that violate either Rule 8(a)(2) or Rule 10(b), or both, are often disparagingly referred to as ‘shotgun pleadings, '” and have been uniformly rejected by the Eleventh Circuit. Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1320. There are four types of shotgun pleadings: (1) pleadings that “contain[ ] multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts, causing each successive count to carry all that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint;” (2) pleadings that are “guilty of the venial sin of being replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action;” (3) pleadings that “commit[] the sin of not separating into a different count each cause of action or claim for relief;” and (4) pleadings that commit “the relatively rare sin of asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321.

         Plaintiffs' complaint embodies all four traditional categories of shotgun pleading. This complaint is brought by six individual Plaintiffs against nine Defendants in their official and individual capacities. It appears that not all Defendants engaged in the same conduct and none of the Plaintiffs have claims against all Defendants. Nevertheless, each count “reallege[s] and adopt[s] all of the foregoing paragraphs and averments of the[] Complaint as set forth fully herein, ” (Doc. # 1, at 17-24), and is asserted by all Plaintiffs against all Defendants.

         Moreover, many of Plaintiffs' causes of action are stated using legal conclusions with no or minimal factual context so that it is difficult to know what acts or omissions each Defendant is alleged to have committed as to which claim. For example, state law claims for fraud, deceit, and suppression of material fact contain no explanation as to which Defendant might be responsible for the purportedly deceitful statements as to which Plaintiffs.[2]

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint and whatever claims might be alleged in it. However, it is “virtually impossible to know” from Plaintiffs' shotgun complaint “which allegations of fact are intended to support which claim(s) for relief” by which Plaintiffs against which Defendants, and in what capacity or capacities. Anderson v. Dist. Bd. of Trustees of Cent. Fla. Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996) (describing “the perfect example of a shotgun pleading”). Thus, in considering the motion to dismiss, the court cannot “determine which facts support which claims.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1320.

         “Shotgun pleadings impede the administration of the district courts' civil dockets in countless ways.” PVC Windoors, Inc. v. Babbitbay Beach Const., N.V., 598 F.3d 802, 806 n.4 (11th Cir. 2010). “Experience teaches that, unless cases are pled clearly and precisely, issues are not joined, discovery is not controlled, the trial court's docket becomes unmanageable, the litigants suffer, and society loses confidence in the court's ability to administer justice.” Anderson, 77 F.3d at 367. Thus, “it is particularly important for district courts to undertake the difficult, but essential, task of attempting to narrow and define the issues from the earliest stages of the litigation. Absent such efforts, shotgun notice pleadings . . . would impede the orderly, efficient, and economic disposition of disputes.” Ebrahimi v. City of Huntsville Bd. of Educ., 114 F.3d 162, 165 (11th Cir. 1997). “If the trial judge does not quickly demand repleader [of a shotgun complaint], all is lost - extended and largely aimless discovery will commence, and the trial court will soon be drowned in an uncharted sea of depositions, interrogatories, and affidavits.” Johnson Enters. of Jacksonville, Inc. v. FPL Grp., Inc., 162 F.3d 1290, 1333 (11th Cir. 1998). As a case proceeds on a shotgun complaint, “[g]iven the massive record and loose pleadings before it, the trial court, whose time is constrained by the press of other business, is unable to squeeze the case down to its essentials; the case therefore proceeds to trial without proper delineation of issues.” Id. Accordingly, it is particularly crucial for the court to ensure that justice is administered efficiently from the outset of each case.

         Therefore, in accordance with the court's “power and []duty to define the issues at the earliest stages of litigation, ” all of Plaintiffs' claims will be dismissed without prejudice with leave granted to Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this Order. Johnson Enters., 162 F.3d at 1333; Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001) (“We have held ...


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