United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
ANDREA R., as parent and next friend of H.R., a minor, Plaintiff,
DIOCESE OF BIRMINGHAM IN ALABAMA, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
G. CORNELIUS, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
plaintiff, Andrea R., commenced this action as parent and
next friend of H.R., her minor child, by filing a complaint
naming as defendants the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama
(the “Diocese”) and Sacred Heart of Jesus
Catholic School (“Sacred Heart”). Before the
court is a motion for a more definite statement filed by the
defendants pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. (Doc. 6). For the reasons discussed
below, the motion is due to be denied.
plaintiff alleges as follows: H.R. suffers from several
mental disorders, including major depression, anxiety, and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Doc. 1 at ¶
3). When the plaintiff enrolled H.R. at Sacred Heart in
August 2018, she delivered a copy of the “504
Plan” implemented for H.R. when he was a student at
Oxford City Schools. (Id. at ¶ 8). When the
plaintiff met with Sacred Heart's guidance counselor on
September 17, 2018,  she discussed H.R.'s disabilities and
need for support services and voiced concern students were
verbally and physically harassing H.R. (Id. at
plaintiff admitted H.R. to Mountain View Hospital on or about
September 25, 2018, after H.R. attempted suicide as a result
of the harassment. (Id. at ¶ 10). H.R. received
inpatient psychiatric care for approximately two weeks.
(Id.). After returning to Sacred Heart, H.R.
continued to be a target of harassment by his peers.
(Id. at ¶ 11). Students continuously harassed
H.R. during class, both verbally and through social media.
(Id.). Students also physically assaulted H.R.,
causing physical injury, on numerous occasions.
(Id.). The harassment occurred on Sacred Heart
property in front of Sacred Heart staff. (Id.).
plaintiff met with the Principal of Sacred Heart, Dr.
Jeremiah Russell, on January 16, 2019. (Id. at
¶ 12). She expressed concern Sacred Heart was not
providing H.R. with support services for his disabilities and
that H.R. continued to suffer severe harassment by other
students. (Id.). The harassment continued, including
incidents of harassment that caused physical injury.
(Id. at ¶ 13). H.R. reported the harassment to
Sacred Heart staff on several occasions. (Id.).
mental condition continued to deteriorate to the point he was
experiencing suicidal thoughts. (Id. at ¶ 14).
Moreover, because Sacred Heart failed to provide support
services for his disabilities, H.R.'s academic
performance suffered, and he could not fully participate in
extracurricular activities with his non-disabled peers.
(Id.). On multiple occasions, Sacred Heart
disciplined H.R. instead of providing support services for
his disabilities. (Id. at ¶ 15).
plaintiff contacted the Diocese on or about February 25,
2019, regarding Sacred Heart's failure to provide support
services for H.R.'s disabilities and the harassment
suffered by H.R. at the school. (Id. at ¶ 16).
When the plaintiff met with Dr. Russell on March 11, 2019, to
discuss the harassment, Dr. Russell told the plaintiff that
“parents make too much out of this bullying
situation.” (Id. at ¶ 17). The plaintiff
withdrew H.R. from Sacred Heart on or about April 2, 2019,
due to the school's repeated failure to provide support
services for H.R.'s disabilities. (Id. at ¶
on the foregoing allegations, the plaintiff claims the
defendants discriminated against H.R. on the basis of his
disabilities, in violation of Section 504 of the
Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794.
plaintiff also asserts a breach-of-contract claim against the
defendants for failing to abide by certain provisions of the
Sacred Heart 2018-2019 Student Handbook (the
“Handbook”). The plaintiff, H.R., and Sacred
Heart were required to execute an acknowledgment of the
Handbook, affirming they would observe the policies and
contractual information contained in the Handbook. (Doc. 1 at
¶ 25). The Handbook indicates its contents are based on
policies established by the Diocese, amongst other entities.
(Id. at ¶ 26). According to the Handbook,
Sacred Heart seeks “to provide a secure environment in
which to challenge the mind, nurture the soul, and enlighten
the spirit.” (Id.). The Handbook states
students are expected to “treat adults and peers with
courtesy and respect, ” “promote the safety and
well-being of all students, ” and “uphold the
ideals” of Sacred Heart when using any electronic
device, including for the purpose of posting on social media
and sending text messages. (Id. at ¶ 27). The
Handbook sets forth required disciplinary consequences for a
student's violation of the foregoing expectations.
(Id. at ¶ 28). According to the plaintiff, the
defendants did not uphold the foregoing terms. (Id.
at ¶ 29).
12(e) provides that “[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.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Proving a complaint is “so vague or
ambiguous” as to reasonably preclude the preparation of
a responsive pleading is a “very high standard”
to meet. Tolbert v. High Noon Prods., LLC, 2019 WL
127363, at *3 (N.D. Ala. Jan 8, 2019). In applying Rule
12(e), Alabama federal district courts have held that
“when a plaintiff fails to identify key facts, unduly
increasing the burden of understanding the factual
allegations, district courts may grant a [Rule] 12(e) motion
for a more definite statement, ” id., but that
“a motion for a more definite statement must be denied
if the complaint attacked thereby, considered as a whole,
fairly gives notice of the claim or claims asserted therein
so as to permit the filing of a responsive answer, ”
Herman v. Continental Grain Co., 80 F.Supp.2d 1290,
1297 (M.D. Ala. 2000) (citing Anderson v. Dist. Bd. of
Trs. of Cent. Florida Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364 (11th
Cir. 1996)). Moreover, “a party may not use a Rule
12(e) motion to circumvent the short and plain statement
requirement or to obtain information that can otherwise be
obtained in discovery.” Tolbert, 2019 WL
127363, at *3 (citing Herman, 80 F.Supp.2d at 1297).
defendants claim they need the following information to
respond to the complaint: (1) the form in which the 504 Plan
was delivered, (2) a basic description of the support
services Sacred Heart failed to provide, (3) a basic
description of the key incidents of harassment, (4) a basic
description of the causal link between the failure to provide
support services and the harassment, (5) the dates on which
the harassment occurred and on which the harassment was
reported to Sacred Heart employees, (6) the names, or at
least generic identities (e.g., homeroom teacher), of Sacred
Heart employees who received documentation of H.R.'s
disabilities or had notice of the harassment,  (7) the identity
of the person(s) with whom the plaintiff spoke at the
Diocese, and (8) the manner in which Sacred Heart is alleged
to have breached contractual duties. (Doc. 6).
the information sought by the defendants may be critical to
disposition of the plaintiff's claims, it is not critical
to the formulation of a responsive pleading. In other words,
the undersigned concludes the complaint is not so vague or
ambiguous that the defendants cannot prepare a response. The
complaint gives the defendants sufficient notice of the
claims asserted against them (a Section 504 discrimination
claim and a breach-of-contract claim) and the bases for those
claims (with respect to the discrimination claim, that H.R.
did not receive the full benefit of a Sacred Heart education
because Sacred Heart did not provide him with support
services for his disabilities and his peers harassed him, and
with respect to the breach-of-contract claim, that Sacred
Heart failed to abide by certain provisions of the
Handbook). The undersigned notes that under the
Federal Rules of CivilProcedure, it is
acceptable for a defendant to respond to an allegation of a