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Buckner v. Whitley

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

March 11, 2019




         This is a civil rights case involving alleged police misconduct under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff Aldric L. Buckner, an individual, claims that Alexander City police officer Benjamin Whitley violated his Fourth Amendment rights when he performed an unjustified strip search on him. In addition to this Fourth Amendment claim, Buckner asserts state-law causes of action for the torts of assault, battery, and outrage.

         Before the court is Defendant Benjamin Whitley's motion to dismiss. (Doc. # 6.) Defendant seeks dismissal on two alternative grounds: (1) that Plaintiff's complaint constitutes an impermissible shotgun pleading; and (2) that Plaintiff has not stated an official-capacity claim against Defendant under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff has not alleged any policy, custom, or practice that would give rise to such a claim. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion to dismiss is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Plaintiff's complaint is an impermissible shotgun pleading and must be repleaded.

         A complaint “must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Each allegation in the complaint “must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d)(1). The complaint must also “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)).

         Plaintiff's complaint is a shotgun complaint. Each of the three counts adopts and re-alleges every preceding allegation, filling each count with allegations that are not relevant to that particular count. This court has warned against such a practice:

Rote and repeated incorporations by reference fill each count “with factual allegations that could not possibly be material to that specific count, ” flouting the Rule 10(b) requirement to plead separate claims in separate counts. Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001). It is not enough to “clearly incorporate[ ] all ‘facts' ple[aded] in the amended complaint]” . . . as Plaintiff has done; rather the supporting facts must be pleaded in the count asserting the cause of action. See Wagner v. First Horizon Pharm. Corp., 464 F.3d 1273, 1280 (11th Cir. 2006).

McCall v. Bank of America, N.A., No. 2:16-CV-184-WKW, 2016 WL 5402748, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Sep. 26, 2016). The legal elements of each claim are re-alleged in successive, unrelated counts. For example, in paragraph 58 of the complaint, Plaintiff recites the elements of battery, only to re-allege those elements in paragraph 60 under the separate count of outrage. Plaintiff argues that this fact does not render the complaint defective because the claims “build upon one another.” (Doc. # 9). But the effect of re-alleging each element of the previous claim in successive counts is that the final count - outrage - incorporates the elements of both unlawful search and seizure and battery.

         The incorporation by reference also creates incurable confusion as to whether Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his individual or official capacity, or both, in Counts II and III. The headings of Counts II and III indicate that Plaintiff is suing Defendant in his individual capacity only, but the incorporation-by-reference paragraphs (¶¶ 53 and 60) drag in allegations of both individual- and official-capacity claims. Plaintiff must replead his complaint, clearly stating which allegations support which claims.

         Plaintiff attempts to save his shotgun complaint by arguing that since it gives enough notice for Defendant to be able to answer, Plaintiff should be able to proceed on the complaint as it stands. But it does not provide notice when Defendant has no way of knowing if he is defending claims in his official or individual capacity. In any event, notice to the Defendant is not the only concern raised by shotgun pleadings. “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 (11th Cir. 2010). “Experience teaches that, unless cases are [pleaded] 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 v. Dist. Bd. of Trs. of Cent. Fla. Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 367 (11th Cir. 1996).

         “When a litigant files a shotgun pleading, is represented by counsel, and fails to request leave to amend, a district court must sua sponte give him one chance to replead before dismissing his case with prejudice on non-merits shotgun pleading grounds.” Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1296 (11th Cir. 2018). “In the repleading order, the district court should explain how the offending pleading violates the shotgun pleading rule so that the party may properly avoid future shotgun pleadings.” Id. ...

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