Byrd et al v. Buckner et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER: based on this court's inherent power to manage its docket, it is ORDERED: 1) Plfs' claims are DISMISSED without prejudice; 2) Pursuant to FRCP 15(a)(2), Plfs are granted leave to file an amended complaint on or before 9/27/2018, that complies with the pleading requirements of the FRCP and the following requirements of this Order, as further set out in order; 3) Dfts' 14 motion to dismiss is DENIED without prejudice to reassert any arguments that may be relevant to the amended complaint; Plfs are ADVISED that, if they do not file an amended complaint on or before 9/27/2018, this action will be dismissed without prejudice. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 9/10/2018. (alm, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
SANDY BYRD, et al.,
) CASE NO. 2:18-CV-122-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 Sandy Byrd, Jonathan Ponstein, Leeann Ponstein, A.P., Monica
Hardman, and Matthew Lawrence 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. Before the court is Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 14). 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 for Plaintiffs to file an amended complaint.1
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)).
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
A similar order was entered in the related Collier v. Buckner case. Collier v. Buckner,
No. 2:15-CV-256-WKW, 2016 WL 1690421 (M.D. Ala. Apr. 27, 2016). There, Plaintiffs’
counsel, who is the same counsel as in this case, received similar instructions regarding proper
pleadings. Those instructions were not followed in the present case, but in fairness to the new set
of Plaintiffs, the court again provides counsel direction and offers Plaintiffs the opportunity to
appropriately plead their case.
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. 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)).
“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’ complaint embodies all four traditional categories of shotgun
This complaint is brought by six individual Plaintiffs against nine
Defendants in their official and individual capacities.
It appears that not all
Defendants engaged in the same conduct and none of the Plaintiffs have claims
against all Defendants. 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 17-24), and is asserted by all Plaintiffs against all Defendants.
Moreover, many of Plaintiffs’ causes of action are stated using legal
conclusions with no or minimal factual context so that it is difficult to know what
acts or omissions each Defendant is alleged to have committed as to which claim.
For example, state law claims for fraud, deceit, and suppression of material fact
contain no explanation as to which Defendant might be responsible for the
purportedly deceitful statements as to which Plaintiffs. 2
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.
Defendants filed 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 pleading”). Thus,
in considering the motion to dismiss, the court cannot “determine which facts
support which claims.” 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 n.4 (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.
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. Accordingly, 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 with leave granted to Plaintiffs 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 granted
leave to file an amended complaint on or before September 27, 2018, that complies
with the pleading requirements of 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 statement of the grounds for the court’s
jurisdiction; (2) allegations of fact showing that each Plaintiff is entitled
to relief; (3) claims for relief set forth in various counts of the
complaint; and (4) a demand for relief sought. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a);
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b).
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 showing
each Defendant’s involvement in each claim and how each Defendant
violated Plaintiffs’ rights.
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 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
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, or both). Plaintiffs shall have a colorable
legal basis for asserting each count or demand for relief against each
particular Defendant in each specified capacity.
Fed. R. Civ. P.
Defendants’ motion to dismiss (Doc. # 14) 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 September 27, 2018, 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 10th day of September, 2018.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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