Collier et al v. Buckner et al (JOINT ASSIGN)
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: Based on this court's inherent power to manage its docket, it is ORDERED: 1. Plaintiffs' claims are DISMISSED without prejudice. 2. Pursuant to FRCP 15(a)(2), Plaintiffs are given leave to file an amended compl aint on or before 5/17/2016, that complies with the FRCP and the following requirements of this Order as further set out in the order. 3. Defendants' 20 Motion to Dismiss is DENIED without prejudice to reassert any arguments that may be releva nt to the amended complaint. Plaintiffs are ADVISED that, if they do not file an amended complaint on or before 5/17/2016, this action will be dismissed without prejudice. Claims and demands for relief that fail to comply with the FRCP and the requirements of this Order may be subject to dismissal without further opportunities for amendment. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 4/27/2016. (dmn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
TONYA COLLIER, et al.,
) CASE NO. 2:15-CV-256-WKW
in her personal and individual
capacity and in her official capacity as )
Commissioner of the Alabama
Department of Human Resources, et
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs Tonya Collier, Donald Lee Alexander, Ginger Lowery, and R.L.P.
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. Plaintiffs Donald Lee
Alexander,1 Brian Burroughs, and Marlo Saunders allege that they were placed on
the registry as being the subject of child abuse reports that DHR investigators
concluded were not valid (i.e., child abuse was “not indicated”). Before the court
Plaintiff Alexander had two child abuse reports investigated by DHR. After
investigation, as to one of the reports, DHR concluded that child abuse was “indicated”; as to the
other, DHR concluded that child abuse was “not indicated.”
is Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 20). 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 to file an
STANDARD OF REVIEW
When 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).
Federal 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.
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
“Complaints 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.
Plaintiffs have managed to satisfy all four traditional categories of shotgun
pleading. This complaint is brought by six individual Plaintiffs against seven
Defendants in their official and individual capacities. From the 39 pages of factual
allegations in the complaint, such as they are, it appears that not all Defendants
engaged in the same conduct, none of the Plaintiffs has claims against all
Defendants, and none of the Defendants is alleged to have engaged in conduct that
could give rise to all of the claims for relief. 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 39-48), and is asserted by all Plaintiffs against
all Defendants in both their official and individual capacities. Carelessly naming
all Defendants in both capacities as to every claim without an arguable legal basis
for doing so and failing to appropriately specify in which capacity Defendants are
named both create substantial and unnecessary burdens for the parties and the court
in attempting to identify viable claims and define the issues for discovery and
Further, the complaint contains a number of factual allegations and legal
contentions that appear to have no relationship whatsoever to the causes of action
or claims for relief. Moreover, as Defendants point out, Plaintiffs’ causes of action
are stated using legal conclusions with no or minimal factual context so that it is
impossible to know exactly what acts or omissions each Defendant is alleged to
have committed as to which claim.
For example, the state law claims for
defamation, libel, and slander contain no explanation as to which Defendant might
be responsible for tortious statements with regard to which Plaintiffs, what the
statements were, or when or how the statements were allegedly published. The
state law claim for conversion does little more than set out the legal elements of a
claim for conversion, but gives no clue as to what was converted or who allegedly
converted it. Counts I and II both assert claims for violations of due process
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but Defendants (understandably) are unable to
determine exactly what is being alleged in each count, or how the two counts
differ. It appears likely, though, that Counts I and II each attempt to combine
multiple due process violations allegedly committed in different ways by various
Defendants against various Plaintiffs.2
Defendants have undertaken significant effort to draft 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 complaint”). Thus, in considering the motion to
dismiss, the court cannot “determine which facts support which claims and
whether the plaintiff has stated any claims upon which relief can be granted.”
Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1320.
“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
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.
The court will trust Plaintiffs’ counsel to draft a sufficient amended complaint without
the court pointing out every deficiency in the original one. It is Plaintiffs’ responsibility to
“present [their] claims discretely and succinctly.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1320.
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. Thus, it
is particularly crucial for the court to ensure that justice is administered efficiently
from the outset of each case.
Therefore, 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 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 that
district courts confronted by [shotgun] complaints have the inherent authority to
demand repleader sua sponte.”)
Accordingly, based on this court’s inherent power to manage its docket, it is
Plaintiffs’ claims are DISMISSED without prejudice.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(2), Plaintiffs are given
leave to file an amended complaint on or before May 17, 2016, that complies with
the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the following requirements of this Order:
The amended complaint must set forth, with clarity, short and plain
statements showing Plaintiffs are entitled to relief. The body of the
complaint shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds
for the court’s jurisdiction; (2) clear and concise allegations of fact
showing that each Plaintiff is entitled to relief; (3) claims for relief set
forth in separate counts of the complaint; and (4) a demand for relief
sought. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). Plaintiffs shall not
add separate, additional sections that discuss relevant law or explain
their contentions about the facts, the law, and their claims for relief.
To the extent that Plaintiffs’ contentions are relevant and material,
they should be included in the appropriate section of the complaint
(e.g., jurisdictional statement, statement of facts, or claim for relief).
The complaint must set forth, in separately numbered paragraphs,
allegations of fact that are simple, concise, direct, sufficiently
detailed, and material to Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs must allege facts
that make clear the nature of each Defendant’s alleged involvement in
each claim and how each particular Defendant violated the rights of
Plaintiffs “must state [their] claims . . . in numbered paragraphs, each
limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed. R.
Civ. P. 10(b). “If doing so would promote clarity, each claim . . .
founded on a separate transaction or occurrence must be stated in a
separate count.” 3 Id.
Plaintiffs may not simply incorporate all factual allegations by
reference into every count; rather, Plaintiffs must indicate with clarity
which specific factual allegations are material to each specific count.
Counts that pertain to fewer than all Plaintiffs shall not be asserted on
behalf of “Plaintiffs” as an entire group, and counts that pertain to
For example, it is not practicable to state a single § 1983 claim that covers those
Plaintiffs who are seeking expungement of a “not indicated” status and also those Plaintiffs who
are seeking a hearing to challenge an “indicated” status.
fewer than all Defendants in all capacities shall not be asserted against
“Defendants” as an entire group. The complaint should make clear
which Plaintiffs and which Defendants are and are not subject to each
With respect to each count, the complaint must clearly and
specifically identify each relevant Defendant’s alleged acts or
omissions in a manner sufficient for each Defendant to know how he
or she is alleged to be personally involved with the claim and the
factual and legal grounds upon which he or she is alleged to be liable
to which Plaintiff.
The complaint must state which counts and demands for relief
(including demands for injunctive, declaratory, and monetary relief)
are asserted against which Defendant(s) and in what capacity (official
capacity, individual capacity, both, or neither). Plaintiffs shall have a
colorable legal basis for asserting each count or demand for relief
against each particular Defendant in each specified capacity
(individual or official). Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2).
Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 20) is DENIED without prejudice to
reassert any arguments that may be relevant to the amended complaint.
Plaintiffs are ADVISED that, if they do not file an amended complaint on or
before May 17, 2016, this action will be dismissed without prejudice. Claims and
demands for relief that fail to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
and the requirements of this Order may be subject to dismissal without further
opportunities for amendment.
DONE this 27th day of April, 2016.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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