Chandler v. Volunteers of America, Southeast, Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that the defendants' motion to dismiss is DENEID but their alternative request for a more definite statement is GRANTED and plaintiff is ORDERED to file by 9/6/2013, an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure as more fully set out in order. Signed by Judge C Lynwood Smith, Jr on 8/12/2013. (AHI)
Chandler v. Volunteers of America, Southeast, Inc. et al
2013 Aug-12 AM 11:44
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
VOLUNTEERS OF AMERICA,
SOUTHEAST, INC.; et al.,
Civil Action No. CV-12-S-3701-NW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case is before the court on a motion to dismiss or, alternatively, for a more
definite statement filed jointly by defendants, Volunteers of America, Southeast, Inc.
(“Volunteers Southeast”), and Volunteers of America, North Alabama, Inc.
(“Volunteers of North Alabama”).1 Plaintiff, April Chandler, commenced this action
against defendants, her former employers, alleging claims for “discrimination based
on race, harassment based on race, a racially hostile working environment, different
treatment based on race, retaliation, and termination.”2 Her claims are based upon
under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et
seq. (“Title VII”); the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 42 U.S.C. § 1981; and Title I of the
Civil Rights Act of 1991, 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.
Doc. no. 5.
Doc. no. 1 (Complaint), at 1.
Defendants seek the dismissal of all claims except for plaintiff’s retaliatory
discharge claim against defendant Volunteers Southeast.3
They contend that
plaintiff’s claims are duplicative of the claims she asserted against defendant
Volunteers of North Alabama in Chandler v. Volunteers of America, North Alabama,
Inc., 10-cv-2961 (“Chandler I ”), a case currently awaiting a jury trial on August 26,
2013, after a partial grant of summary judgment by this court.
In Chandler I, plaintiff asserted claims under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. § 1981
for racial discrimination and disparate treatment, a racially hostile work environment,
This court dismissed plaintiff’s retaliation and hostile work
environment claims.5 It permitted some aspects of plaintiff’s disparate treatment
claim under Title VII and § 1981 to proceed to trial, while other aspects of that claim
were dismissed.6 Defendants now argue that plaintiff’s claims in the present action
(i.e., “Chandler II ”) are barred by the doctrine of res judicata, the rule against
duplicative litigation, and the first-filed rule. Defendants also contend that the claims
Doc. no. 5 (Motion to Dismiss), at 1, 10-11.
See doc. no. 80 (Amended Memorandum Opinion), at 1 in Civil Action No. 10-S-2961NW. The court’s opinion in Chandler I is also available at Chandler v. Volunteers of America,
North Alabama, Inc., No. 10-S-2961-NW, 2013 WL 832133 (N.D. Ala. Feb. 28, 2013) (“Chandler
Doc. no. 80 (Amended Memorandum Opinion), at 72-73 in Civil Action No. 10-S-2961NW; see also Chandler I, 2013WL 832133, at *26.
in this case are untimely.7 Upon consideration, the motion to dismiss will be denied,
but plaintiff will be ordered to file an amended complaint that complies with the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
I. LEGAL STANDARDS
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) permits a party to move to dismiss a
complaint for, among other reasons, “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). That rule must be read together with Rule 8(a),
which requires that a pleading contain only a “short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While that
pleading standard does not require “detailed factual allegations,” Bell Atlantic Corp.
v. Twombly, 544 U.S. 544, 550 (2007), it does demand “more than an unadorned, thedefendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citations omitted).
To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that
is plausible on its face.” [Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S.] at 570. A claim
has facial plausibility 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., at 556. The plausibility standard
is not akin to a “probability requirement,” but it asks for more than a
sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Ibid. Where a
See generally doc. no. 5 (Motion to Dismiss).
complaint pleads facts that are “merely consistent with” a defendant’s
liability, it “stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of
‘entitlement to relief.’” Id., at 557 (brackets omitted).
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (alteration supplied). Moreover, a court need not accept a
complaint’s legal conclusions as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).
“Shotgun” Pleadings and Rules 8(a)(2), 8(d)(1), 10(b)
The Eleventh Circuit has frequently condemned so-called “shotgun pleadings.”
See, e.g., Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1027 (11th Cir. 2000) (en banc)
(citing Morro v. City of Birmingham, 117 F.3d 508, 515 (11th Cir. 1997)). Shotgun
pleadings implicate (and typically violate) several of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. For instance, Rule 8(a)(2) requires a pleading to contain a “short and plain
statement of the claim” that shows the pleader is entitled to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(a)(2) (emphasis supplied). The purpose of that requirement is to “give the defendant
fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rule 8(d) also demands that “[e]ach
allegation [in a pleading] must be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1)
(alterations and emphasis supplied). Yet there is nothing “short and plain,” or
“simple, concise, and direct” about a shotgun pleading; if left undisturbed, a shotgun
pleading forces a court to “sift through the facts presented and decide for [itself]
which were material to the particular cause of action asserted.” Pelletier v. Zweifel,
921 F.2d 1465, 1518 (11th Cir. 1991) (alteration supplied).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b) also provides that a party
must state its claims or defenses in numbered paragraphs, each limited
as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances. A later pleading
may refer by number to a paragraph in an earlier pleading. If doing so
would promote clarity, each claim founded on a separate transaction or
occurrence — and each defense other than a denial — must be stated in
a separate count or defense.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b) (emphasis supplied). A shotgun pleading “completely disregards
Rule 10(b)’s requirement that discrete claims should be plead in separate counts.”
Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Anderson v. District
Board of Trustees of Central Florida Community College, 77 F.3d 364, 366-67 (11th
Plaintiff’s eight-page complaint does not satisfy the foregoing pleading
standards. The complaint lacks the details needed to discern what facts, if any,
support each of plaintiff’s claims. Moreover, plaintiff fails to organize her claims into
separate counts. The absence of factual material also prevents any reliable evaluation
of defendants’ motion to dismiss; the motion raises defenses that — although not
indisputably applicable — are clearly at issue given the existence and posture of
The bulk of plaintiff’s effort to state the facts of her case is contained within a
section entitled “Statement of Claims.”8 Despite the title of that section, the text does
not state plaintiff’s claims in separately numbered counts as required by Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 10(b). Plaintiff alleges that defendants “engaged in unlawful
employment practices at its [sic] facilities,” and that defendants’ supervisors and
employees subjected plaintiff to “unlawful harassment, unfair job assignments, unfair
discipline, unpaid administrative leave, and other different terms and conditions,
refused to address the racially hostile working environment . . . , gave [plaintiff] unfair
employment options, and wrongfully terminated her.”9 Those statements are either
unadorned “labels and legal conclusions,” “formulaic recitation[s] of the elements,”
mere repetitions of the types of claims that plaintiff attempts to allege, or lack the
specificity required to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555
(2007). The allegations contained in paragraphs 11 through 18 of the complaint are
not properly pled. See id. Importantly, especially given the potential application of
res judicata, those statements do not indicate which supervisors and employees
harassed or discriminated against plaintiff, what particular actions they took, and when
they took those actions. Plaintiff cannot plead her case in such an opaque and vague
See doc. no. 1 (Complaint) ¶¶ 11-18.
Id. ¶¶ 14-15.
manner, especially when it prevents the court from evaluating whether she is simply
rehashing claims disposed of (or still pending) in Chandler I.
Moreover, the complaint impermissibly fails to distinguish the actions of
defendant Volunteers of North Alabama from those of defendant Volunteers
Southeast. See, e.g., Magluta v. Samples, 256 F.3d 1282, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001)
(disapproving of a shotgun pleading that made no distinction between the actions
taken by different defendants); see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (noting that each
defendant must be given fair notice of the basis for the claims against it, as
distinguished from the claims asserted against some other defendant or defendants).
Instead, the complaint either lumps the defendants together as apparently synonymous
entities,10 or makes allegations in the ambiguous passive voice (e.g., plaintiff “was
terminated,” and black employees “were treated differently” and “were retaliated
against”)11 — pleading deficiencies that beg this question: “By which defendant were
such actions inflicted, Volunteers of North Alabama, or Volunteers Southeast?”
Plaintiff’s complaint does “adopt and incorporate herein by reference her
statements and complaints” in her two EEOC Charges made on August 7, 2011.12
See, e.g., id. ¶ 14 (alleging that Volunteers of North Alabama and Volunteers Southeast
“engaged in unlawful employment practices at its facilities in Florence, Lauderdale County,
Alabama, and in Lauderdale County, Alabama . . . .”) (emphasis supplied).
Id. ¶¶ 12-13.
Id. ¶ 11 (alterations supplied).
Those Charges are attached to the complaint.13 It is not clear why plaintiff filed two
EEOC Charges: each Charge names both defendants as discriminating employers, and
each alleges identical facts. In any event, the EEOC Charges contain the following
allegations, with paragraph breaks supplied for the ease of the reader:
I am an African-American female. I worked for Volunteers of
American, North Alabama, Inc. (“VOANA”) until it became Volunteers
of America, Inc., Southeast, Inc. (“VOASE”). I opposed the racial
discrimination and racial harassment of black employees at both
VOANA and VOASE. I have been retaliated against by being placed on
administrative leave, my work schedule has been adversely affected, and
many other things. I complained about and reported how black VOANA
and VOASE employees were singled out, discriminated against, racially
harassed, and retaliated against for complaining about and reporting how
racially hostile the work place was at VOANA and VOASE and how
black employees were discriminated against because of their race, black,
and harassed because of their race, black.
For example, Nicole Jones, who is white, and Susan Manno, who
is white, in April of this year [i.e., 2011] wrote up the black employees
who worked under my supervision in House 87 for uncleanliness in
retaliation for complaining about racial discrimination, racial harassment,
and VOASE’s being a racially hostile place to work and did not write up
the employees in House 32. I was the resident supervisor of House 87.
See doc. no. 1-1 (Attachments to Complaint), at ECF 2 (Ex. A, EEOC Charge No. 4202011-02596), 4 (Ex. C, EEOC Charge No. 420-2012-00521). “ECF is the acronym for Electronic
Case Filing, a filing system that allows parties to file and serve documents electronically.”
Atterbury v. Foulk, No. C-07-6256 MHP, 2009 WL 4723547, at *6 n.6 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 8, 2009).
Bluebook Rule 7.1.4 allows citation “to page numbers generated by the ECF header.” Wilson v.
Fullwood, 772 F. Supp. 2d 246, 257 n.5 (D. D.C. 2011) (citing The Bluebook: A Uniform System
of Citation R. B. 7.1.4, at 21 (Columbia Law Review Ass’n et al. eds., 19th ed. 2010)). Even so, the
Bluebook recommends “against citation to ECF pagination in lieu of original pagination.” Wilson,
772 F. Supp. 2d at 257 n.5. Thus, unless stated otherwise, this court will cite to the original
pagination in the parties’ pleadings. When the court cites to pagination generated by the ECF
header, it will, as here, precede the page number with the letters “ECF.”
The resident supervisor of House 32 is white. VOASE promoted Nicole
Jones in spite of her racial animosity against black VOANA and VOASE
Teresa Stephenson coerced me into writing false statements about
my former immediate supervisor who is black and then forged my
signature or had my signature forged on the statement. VOASE
retaliated against me and fired me on May 4, 2011 because I am black
and because I opposed, complained about, and reported the racially
hostile environment at VOASE, the daily racial discrimination that
occurred at VOASE, and the daily racial harassment at VOASE. It
would not do me any good and it would be futile for me to try to have
used VOASE’s grievance procedure regarding these matters and my
termination. I previously filed a Charge against VOANA on May 5,
2009 with the EEOC [i.e., the Charge in Chandler I]. My previous
charge should be construed along with this Charge.14
While plaintiff’s EEOC Charges do, unlike the complaint itself, provide some factual
detail, deficiencies remain.
First, some of the above allegations do not pertain to actions taken against
plaintiff. For instance, the second paragraph addresses the plight of other employees
under plaintiff’s supervision who were allegedly discriminated against and harassed.
Plaintiff, of course, does not have standing to raise the claims of other employees.
More importantly, plaintiff’s indiscriminate, wholesale incorporation of the
facts in her EEOC Charge, combined with her failure to organize her claims into
separate counts as required by Rule 10(b), creates a textbook example of a “shotgun
pleading.” See, e.g., Anderson v. District Board of Trustees of Central Florida
Id. at ECF 2, 4 (alterations and paragraph breaks supplied).
Community College, 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996) (Plaintiff’s “complaint is a
perfect example of ‘shotgun’ pleading in that it is virtually impossible to know which
allegations of fact are intended to support which claim(s) for relief.”) (internal citation
omitted). The “aggregate negative effects of shotgun pleadings on trial courts have
been noted with great concern by” the Eleventh Circuit. Strategic Income Fund,
L.L.C. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295-96 n.10 (11th Cir.
2002); see also id. at 1295 n.9 (reviewing Eleventh Circuit cases that exhibit “great
dismay” regarding shotgun pleadings); Byrne v. Nezhat, 261 F.3d 1075, 1129-32 (11th
Cir. 2001) (thoroughly explaining the evils of shotgun pleadings).
Given the valid concerns expressed by the Eleventh Circuit, plaintiff will not
be allowed to use a poorly drafted and deficient complaint to force defendants (as well
as the court) to divine the nature of and facts supporting each of her claims. See, e.g.,
Pelletier v. Zweifel, 921 F.2d 1465, 1517 (11th Cir. 1991) (disapproving of a shotgun
pleading that required defendant and the court to “sift through the facts presented and
decide for themselves which were material to the particular cause of action asserted”).
Instead, the proper course is to require plaintiff to replead her claims in conformity
with the Rules.
III. CONCLUSION AND ORDER
Defendants’ motion to dismiss is DENIED, but their alternative request for a
more definite statement is GRANTED. Plaintiff is ORDERED to file, by September
6, 2013, an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, especially Rules 8 and 10. The amended complaint must organize
plaintiff’s claims into separate counts. Each count must state the facts that support it.
Each count must also specifically identify the defendant against which the claim is
asserted. Plaintiff should distinguish actions taken by Volunteers of North Alabama
from actions taken by Volunteers Southeast, and indicate when each defendant’s
respective actions were taken, and, by which employee(s) of that defendant the actions
were taken. Plaintiff’s further failure to comply with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
or this order may result in the dismissal of her claims with prejudice.
DONE and ORDERED this 12th day of August, 2013.
United States District Judge
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