Ramey v. Geoffrey
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT. For the reasons stated in the attached ruling, the motion for more definite statement (Doc. # 13 ) is GRANTED. Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint by November 21, 2017, that describes the general content or substance of the statements that plaintiff believes were protected speech and the basis for retaliation by defendant. It is so ordered. Signed by Judge Jeffrey A. Meyer on 11/7/2017. (Black, R.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:17-cv-01086 (JAM)
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT
Public employees have the right to free speech under the First Amendment. If a public
employee speaks out in his capacity as a private citizen on a matter of public concern, his
government employer may not retaliate against him on grounds of his exercise of the right to free
speech. See, e.g., Lane v. Franks, 134 S. Ct. 2369, 2378 (2014).
The question before me is whether an employee who alleges that he was subject to freespeech retaliation must allege in his complaint the substance of what he said that allegedly
provoked a retaliatory response. The complaint in this case does not do that. I conclude that a
complaint for free-speech retaliation should allege the general content or substance of the speech
that was allegedly subject to retaliation. Accordingly, I will grant defendant’s motion for a more
definite statement pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e).
Plaintiff and defendant are both employed as officers of the police department in
Branford, Connecticut. In essence, the complaint alleges that defendant falsely accused plaintiff
of police misconduct in retaliation for plaintiff’s having previously spoken out about defendant’s
effort to scuttle a third person’s job application with the neighboring town of East Haven,
In particular, plaintiff alleges that in late 2016 someone named Joseph Peterson filed a
complaint with the internal affairs division of the Branford police department claiming that “the
defendant had attempted to interfere with the proper and independent function of the government
of the Town of East Haven by making false allegations designed to prevent Mr. Peterson from
obtaining employment” with East Haven. This complaint by Peterson was based “in part” on “a
statement which the plaintiff had made to him, in which the plaintiff revealed that the defendant
had admitted to engaging in such activity.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 6). Plaintiff in turn was interviewed
by Branford officers investigating Peterson’s complaint, and he “truthfully answered their
questions and disclosed his knowledge concerning the activities and statement of the defendant
designed to interfere with the government of the Town of East Haven.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 7).
According to plaintiff, these “aforesaid statements were protected by the First Amendment to the
United States Constitution,” because “they were not made in the course of any of the plaintiff’s
duties as a police officer and the subject of said statements was a matter of legitimate public
concern.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 8).
The investigation did not substantiate the claim of misconduct against defendant.
Nevertheless, according to plaintiff, defendant decided to retaliate against plaintiff in April 2017
by falsely and maliciously accusing plaintiff of misconduct involving excessive force against a
prisoner. Defendant’s retaliation against plaintiff led to an investigation that eventually
exonerated plaintiff of defendant’s false charges.
Plaintiff alleges that defendant’s false charges against him were in retaliation for
plaintiff’s exercise of his First Amendment rights. Defendant in turn has moved pursuant to Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(e) for a more definite statement on the ground that the complaint does not give fair
notice of the protected speech engaged in by plaintiff that was subject to retaliation.
Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in part that “[a] party may
move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allows but
which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Although
such motions are generally not favored and should not be granted as a substitute for discovery,
the granting of a motion for more definite statement is within the discretion of the Court. See,
e.g., Clayton v. City of Middletown, 237 F.R.D. 538, 539 (D. Conn. 2006). Moreover, as a
leading treatise notes, “[i]f the pleading is impermissibly vague, the court may act under Rule
12(b)(6) or Rule 12(e), whichever is appropriate, without regard to how the motion is
denominated.” 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1376
(3d ed. 2004).
I agree with defendant that the complaint does not give fair notice of the protected speech
that was subject to retaliation. As to the first statement or statements made by defendant, the
complaint alleges only that plaintiff “revealed” to Joseph Peterson that defendant had “admitted”
that he had made “false allegations designed to prevent Mr. Peterson from obtaining employment
with the Town of East Haven.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 6). As to the second statement or statements made
by defendant, the complaint alleges only that plaintiff made truthful statements to investigating
officers about “the activities and statements of the defendant designed to interfere with the
government of the Town of East Haven.” Doc. #1 at 2 (¶ 7).
Conspicuously absent is any description of the general content or substance of plaintiff’s
allegedly protected speech. I cannot fathom why plaintiff would be unable to describe at least in
general terms what he himself allegedly said. Without an allegation that describes the general
content or substance of the statements purportedly made by plaintiff, defendant is unable to raise
any defense that the content or substance of these statements do not warrant protection from
retaliation under the First Amendment (i.e., that they were not made as a citizen and on a matter
of public concern). Indeed, the complaint seems framed to forestall this type of challenge at the
pleadings stage, notwithstanding that such a challenge is plainly permissible even at the pleading
stage. See, e.g., Jeune v. Crew, 2017 WL 4357382, at *10 (E.D.N.Y. 2017) (dismissing First
Amendment retaliation claim involving “allegations [that] are too conclusory to allege protected
speech”) (citing similar cases). Although plaintiff need not quote or recite verbatim the
statements that he made, it is not too much to ask that plaintiff describe the general substance of
his statements that he believes were protected speech so that defendant may prepare a response
to the complaint.
The motion for more definite statement (Doc. #13) is GRANTED. Plaintiff shall file an
amended complaint by November 21, 2017, that describes the general content or substance of the
statements that plaintiff believes were protected speech and the basis for retaliation by defendant.
It is so ordered.
Dated at New Haven this 7th day of November 2017.
/s/ Jeffrey Alker Meyer
Jeffrey Alker Meyer
United States District Judge
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