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Roney v. City of Huntsville

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

December 4, 2018

STEPHANIE M. RONEY, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         This action is before the court on the motion to dismiss filed by defendant, City of Huntsville, Alabama.[1] Plaintiff, Stephanie M. Roney, asserts claims of sex discrimination and retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.; disability discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; and interference with her rights and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq.[2] Defendant contends that the complaint filed by plaintiff is due to be dismissed because it fails to meet the standards of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 10, and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6).[3] In particular, defendant asserts that plaintiff has filed an impermissible “shotgun” pleading, in violation of Rules 8(a)(2)[4] and 10(b).[5]

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a complaint for, among other reasons, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule must be read together with Rule 8(a), which requires that a pleading contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). While that pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations, ” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). As the Supreme Court stated in Iqbal:

A pleading that offers “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” [Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555]. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders “naked assertion[s]” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Id. at 557.
To survive a motion to dismiss founded upon Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), [for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id., at 570. A claim has facial plausibility 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., at 556. The plausibility standard is not akin to a “probability requirement, ” but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Two working principles underlie our decision in Twombly. First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Id., at 555 (Although for the purposes of a motion to dismiss we must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true, we “are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation” (internal quotation marks omitted)). Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id., at 556. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will, as the Court of Appeals observed, be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. 490 F.3d, at 157-158. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not “show[n]” - “that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 8(a)(2).
In keeping with these principles a court considering a motion to dismiss can choose to begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (emphasis supplied, first and third bracketed alterations supplied, second and fourth bracketed alterations in original).

         So-called “shotgun” pleadings violate either Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) - which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” by “fail[ing] to one degree or another . . . to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests, ” Weiland v. Palm Beach Sheriff's Department, 792 F.3d 1313, 1323 (11th Cir. 2015) (alterations supplied) - or the requirement of Rule 10(b) that discrete claims should be pled in separate counts. See Anderson v. District Broad of Trustees, 77 F.3d 364, 366-67 (11th Cir. 1996). The toleration of such complaints is said to work a “great disservice to the administration of civil justice.” Johnson Enterprises of Jacksonville, Inc. v. FPL Group, Inc., 162 F.3d 1290, 1332 (11th Cir. 1998).

         The Eleventh Circuit has repeatedly condemned such pleadings. See, e.g., Davis v. Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated, 516 F.3d 955, 979-80 & n.54 (11th Cir. 2008) (collecting numerous cases), abrogated on other grounds by Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007); BMC Industries, Inc. v. Barth Industries, Inc., 160 F.3d 1322, 1326-27 n.6 (11th Cir. 1998); GJR Investments, Inc. v. County of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1368 (11th Cir. 1998); Pelletier v. Zweifel, 921 F.2d 1465, 1518-19 (11th Cir. 1991).

         It is said that such pleadings waste scarce judicial resources, “inexorably broaden[ ] the scope of discovery, ” “wreak havoc on appellate court dockets, ” and “undermine[ ] the public's respect for the courts.” Davis, 516 F.3d at 981-83 (detailing the “unacceptable consequences of shotgun pleading”) (alterations in original). See also Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1294-95 (11th Cir. 2018).

         The Eleventh Circuit's opinion in Weiland, supra, identified four categories of “shotgun” pleadings.

Though the groupings cannot be too finely drawn, we have identified four rough types or categories of shotgun pleadings. [i] The most common type - by a long shot - is a complaint containing 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. [ii] The next most common type, at least as far as our published opinions on the subject reflect, is a complaint that does not commit the mortal sin of re-alleging all preceding counts but is guilty of the venial sin of being replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action. [iii] The third type of shotgun pleading is one that commits the sin of not separating into a different count each cause of action or claim for relief. [iv] Fourth, and finally, there is 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 1321-23 (bracketed alterations supplied, footnotes omitted).

         The Eleventh Circuit directs district courts to independently police ...


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