Watkins v. Alabama Department of Public Health et al (JOINT ASSIGN) (MAG+)
ORDERED that ADPHs motion (Doc. 13 ) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. It is further ORDERED that Watkins shall file an amended complaint on or before June 28, 2018, that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the following requirements of this Order, as further set out in order. Signed by Honorable Judge Gray M. Borden on 6/7/2018. (kh, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
DOREN T. WAKINS,
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF
PUBLIC HEALTH, et al.,
CASE NO.: 2:18-cv-477-MHT-GMB
Pending before the court is the Motion to Dismiss Or, in the Alternative, Motion for
More Definite Statement and Brief in Support Thereof filed by Defendant Alabama
Department of Public Health (“ADPH”). Doc. 13. On May 9, 2018, Doren T. Watkins,
proceeding pro se, filed a complaint against ADPH and various individual defendants
asserting several federal claims. Docs. 1, 3 & 4. Watkins’ complaint is a form complaint
designed for pro se plaintiffs bringing employment discrimination lawsuits. For the
reasons stated below, it is ORDERED that the motion (Doc. 13) is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part. It is further ORDERED that Watkins shall file an amended complaint in
accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the contents of this Order on or
before June 28, 2018.
Watkins brings a number of claims pursuant to Title VII arising out of her
employment with the Alabama Department of Health, including claims for race
discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment. Doc. 1 at 1–5. However, as
currently constituted, Watkins’ complaint constitutes a “shotgun pleading” that does not
comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a complaint to contain “a
short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” and
that each factual allegation be “simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) &
(d)(1). Further, Rule 10 requires a party to “state its claims or defenses in numbered
paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed. R. Civ.
P. 10(b). The primary purpose of these two rules is to enable the opposing party to respond
adequately and appropriately to the claims against him or her, and to allow the court to
“‘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 (quoting T.D.S. Inc.
v. Shelby Mut. Ins. Co., 760 F.2d 1520, 1544 n.14 (11th Cir. 1985) (Tjoflat, J., dissenting)).
While Watkins’ complaint itself is a relatively short form complaint, there is nothing
simple or concise about her factual allegations, which include a narrative spanning the
inception of her employment at ADPH in 1998 and a charge of discrimination she filed
with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in 2004. See Doc. 1 at
The factual allegations are vague and imprecise and include a host of legal
conclusions. Thus, Watkins’ complaint exhibits the characteristics of a shotgun pleading,
which have been “roundly condemned” in the Eleventh Circuit “both for the confusion they
cause litigants and the havoc they wreak on the docket.” McCall v. Bank of America, N.A.,
2016 WL 5402748, at *1 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 26, 2016).
In McCall, the court explained that there are four varieties of shotgun pleadings:
(1) complaints “containing multiple counts where each count adopts the
allegations of all preceding counts,” (2) complaints that are “replete with
conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any
particular cause of action,” (3) complaints that fail to “separat[e] into a
different count each cause of action or claim for relief,” and (4) complaints
that “assert 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.”
Id. (quoting Weiland, 792 F. 3d at 1322–23). Here, while it is possible that some of
Watkins’ allegations may serve as the basis for viable employment discrimination claims,
the complaint reads like an indecipherable “narrative suggesting, but not clearly and simply
stating, a myriad of potential claims.” Giles v. Wal-Mart Distrib. Ctr., 359 F. App’x 91, 93
(11th Cir. 2009). As such, the complaint contains the first three pleading flaws outlined in
McCall, and it is virtually impossible for the court to determine whether Watkins has any
viable Title VII claims.
First, Watkins has not separated her claims into separate causes of action with
supporting factual allegations, making it impossible to know which factual allegations
serve as the basis for each cause of action—let alone which specific Title VII claims she
intends to assert in the first place. “It is not enough to clearly incorporate all facts pleaded
in the amended complaint, as Plaintiff has done; rather, the supporting facts must be
pleaded in the count asserting the cause of action.” McCall, 2016 WL 5402748, at *2
(internal quotation marks omitted). Thus, Watkins’ claims should be divided into separate
counts, and each count must contain the relevant factual allegations supporting the claim
for that count only.
Second, the complaint contains factual allegations that are vague, conclusory, and
immaterial to any viable claim. For example, Watkins references events that occurred well
before the two-year statute of limitations for Title VII claims,1 and events that do not appear
to have any connection to a cognizable claim under federal law, including references to her
conversations with an EEOC investigator and a discussion of events related to her
employment that occurred as early as 1998. Doc. 1 at 3–4. Other allegations are simply
unclear or supported purely by conclusory legal terms like “discrimination” and
“retaliation,” leaving the court to guess what exactly Watkins is claiming, why each factual
allegation is legally significant, and how the facts represent a violation of federal
Although it instructs Watkins to amend her complaint, the court has identified a
number of potentially fatal legal flaws that could subject Watkins’ suit to dismissal. As
discussed, Watkins references events that occurred as early as 1998––long before the
temporal cutoff for her January 11, 2018 charge of discrimination. Additionally, Watkins
has asserted her Title VII claims against several individual defendants. However, “relief
under Title VII is available against only the employer and not against individual employees
whose actions would constitute a violation.” Dearth v. Collins, 441 F.3d 931, 933 (11th
Cir. 2006). By amending her complaint, Watkins will have the opportunity to address these
concerns and demonstrate her entitlement to relief in federal court.
A charge of discrimination must be filed with the EEOC within 180 days of the date of the last alleged
unlawful employment practice. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(e)(1). Thus, unless Watkins can demonstrate some
entitlement to equitable tolling, conduct that occurred before July 14, 2017, cannot serve as the basis for an
actionable claim under Title VII. See Nat’l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536 U.S. 101, 113 (2002).
The court is of course mindful of Watkins’ pro se status. While pro se pleadings
are held to a lesser standard than those prepared by attorneys and “are thus construed
liberally,” see Alba v. Montford, 517 F.3d 1249, 1252 (11th Cir. 2008), pro se litigants still
must comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Giles v. Wal-Mart Distrib. Ctr.,
359 F. App’x 91, 93 (11th Cir. 2009). Moreover, courts in the Eleventh Circuit routinely
instruct pro se litigants to correct their shotgun pleadings by filing an amended complaint
that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Johnson v. Georgia,
2016 WL 4709078 (11th Cir. Sept. 9, 2016); Giles, 359 F. App’x at 92–93; Maglutas v.
Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 n.3 (11th Cir. 2001) (“We have held that district courts
confronted by [shotgun] complaints have the inherent authority to demand repleader sua
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that ADPH’s motion (Doc. 13) is GRANTED in part
and DENIED in part. It is further ORDERED that Watkins shall file an amended complaint
on or before June 28, 2018, that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and
the following requirements of this Order, including:
The body of the amended complaint shall contain (1) clear and
concise allegations of fact showing that Watkins is entitled to
relief, and (2) causes of action set forth in separate counts of
The amended complaint must set forth allegations of fact that
are simple, concise, sufficiently detailed, and material to each
of Watkins’ claims.
Watkins must clearly indicate which specific factual
allegations provide support for each count, and may not
incorporate by reference all of her factual allegations into every
Watkins shall either omit her Title VII claims against the
individual defendants, or demonstrate that she has other viable
claims under either state or federal law against the named
Further, Watkins is warned that her failure to submit an amended complaint in
compliance with this Order may result in a recommendation for the dismissal of this case. 2
DONE this 7th day of June, 2018.
See, e.g., Giles, 359 F. App’x at 93 (holding that, after “guidance from the district court on how to cure
the deficiencies in his complaint and a clear warning that noncompliance would be cause for dismissal,”
the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing an amended complaint that did not comply with
the requirements of Rules 8 and 10).
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