United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KEITH WATKINS CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
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).
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)).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...