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Almond v. Randolph County

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

August 16, 2019

GREGORY JACK ALMOND and TERESA ROBERTS ALMOND, Plaintiffs,
v.
RANDOLPH COUNTY, ALABAMA; THE RANDOLPH COUNTY COMMISSION; DAVID COFIELD; WILLIAM LANE; LARRY CLARK, Jr.; BERNARD SHEPPARD; RANDY MOORE; DONNIE STRAIN; KEVIN WALKER; GREG JOHNSON; JIMMY JOHNSON; JEAN DOT; JODY McDANIEL; and NATHANIEL MORROW, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          W. KEITH WATKINS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the court is a fourteen-count Amended Complaint filed by Plaintiffs Greg and Teresa Almond against fourteen Defendants. Unfortunately, the Amended Complaint is an impermissible shotgun pleading. Repleading is therefore required.

         I. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

         The court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367. The parties do not contest personal jurisdiction or venue.

         II. BACKGROUND [1]

         In January 2018, members of the Randolph County Narcotics Unit executed a search warrant on Greg and Teresa Almond's home. One or more agents kicked in the front door and tossed a “‘shock' explosive device” into the home. (Doc. # 20, at 7.) That device blew up at Greg's feet, injuring him. Agents then arrested Greg and Teresa and searched their home. They allegedly found a small amount of marijuana (worth no more than fifty bucks) and a Lunesta sleeping pill “outside of the bottle in which it had been prescribed.” (Doc. # 20, at 8.) Agents seized cash and other items from the home. (Doc. # 20, at 9-10.)[2]

         Before this raid, neither Greg nor Teresa had ever been arrested. And none of the seized marijuana belonged to them. It belonged to their son, who confessed his guilt to the authorities. Even so, Greg and Teresa were indicted for misdemeanor drug offenses in early 2019. (Doc. # 20, at 8-10.) After their indictments, Greg and Teresa filed this suit against Randolph County, the Randolph County Commission, Sheriff David Cofield, and members of the Randolph County Narcotics Unit. In early April 2019, Greg and Teresa filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. # 20) “as a matter of course.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1)(A).

         Defendants soon moved to stay this case pending the outcome of Greg's and Teresa's criminal cases. (Docs. # 21, 37.) But in late April 2019, the state dismissed those criminal cases. (Docs. # 40-1, 40-2.) After that, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim.[3] (Docs. # 47, 49, 50.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, 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). So-called “shotgun pleadings” violate Rule 8 “by failing to one degree or another to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which each claim rests.” Vibe Micro, Inc. v. Shabanets, 878 F.3d 1291, 1295 (11th Cir. 2018) (cleaned up). “Courts in the Eleventh Circuit have little tolerance for shotgun pleadings.” Id. When faced with a shotgun pleading, a defendant should move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e). Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff's Office, 792 F.3d 1313, 1321 n.10 (11th Cir. 2015); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e) (“A party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.”). A court may also order repleading on its own motion. See Wagner v. First Horizon Pharm. Corp., 464 F.3d 1273, 1280 (11th Cir. 2006) (“Given the district court's proper conclusions that the complaint was a shotgun pleading and that plaintiffs[] failed to connect their causes of action to the facts alleged, the proper remedy was to order repleading sua sponte.”).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         Greg and Teresa's Amended Complaint is a shotgun pleading in three ways. First, each count adopts and realleges all preceding counts. Second, the allegations often are conclusory, vague, and potentially immaterial. And third, the Amended Complaint raises fourteen claims against fourteen Defendants, but it rarely specifies who is liable for what. As a result, repleading is required.

         The most common type of shotgun pleading contains “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.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321. The Amended Complaint does just that: The first paragraph of each count recites that “Plaintiffs incorporate by reference all prior paragraphs of this complaint as if set out here in full.” (Doc. # 20, at 12-19.) The result is “a situation where most of the counts (i.e., all but the first) contain irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions.” Strategic Income Fund, L.L.C. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002). Trying to sift out the relevant allegations and conclusions would waste judicial resources. See Jackson v. Bank of Am., N.A., 898 F.3d 1348, 1357 & n.10 (11th Cir. 2018) (outlining the harms caused by shotgun pleadings).

         The Amended Complaint is also a shotgun pleading because it is “replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1322. It frequently alleges legal conclusions and leaves it up to the court to connect those statements to Greg and Teresa's claims. See, e.g., Celestine v. Capital One, 741 Fed.Appx. 712, 715 (11th Cir. 2018) (per curiam) (finding similar deficiencies made a complaint a shotgun pleading); McCall v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 16-cv-184, 2016 WL 5402748, at *2 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2016) (same). The Amended Complaint also includes what seem to be irrelevancies. For example, the Amended Complaint goes into detail about what was in Greg and Teresa's two safes, but it does not allege that Defendants seized those items. (Doc. # 20, at 8-10.) And though Greg and Teresa ÔÇťallege that after making complaints to the ...


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