Wood v. State of Florida et al
ORDER denying 36 Motion to Remand to State Court; granting in part 44 Motion to Dismiss; granting in part 45 Motion to Dismiss; granting in part 48 Motion to Dismiss; granting in part 49 Motion to Dismiss. See order for details. Signed by Judge John L. Badalamenti on 5/10/2022. (JHA)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No: 8:22-cv-66-JLB-JSS
STATE OF FLORIDA,
THE CITY OF LARGO, FLORIDA,
ALEXA MOIA, Assistant State Attorney,
DOUGLAS ELLIS, Assistant State
Attorney, MEDICAL EXAMINER
DISTRICT SIX, CHRISTOPHER WILSON,
M.D., SEGUI MICHOR, Investigator,
LARGO POLICE DEPARTMENT,
ROBERT CHARLES COOK, Detective,
JILL M. FREIRE, Detective, BOBBY
LANCE MOORE, Detective, and
LIFELINK FOUNDATION, INC.,
Plaintiff Belinda Wood filed this action in Florida state court, raising various
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants. (Doc. 1-1.) The claims relate to
the investigation into the tragic death of Ms. Wood’s pregnant daughter and the
decision not to file criminal charges against her daughter’s ex-boyfriend. Defendant
LifeLink Foundation, Inc. (“LifeLink”) removed the action to this Court (Doc. 1), and
Ms. Wood has moved for remand of the case to Florida state court (Doc. 36.)
Additionally, several defendants have moved to dismiss Ms. Wood’s amended
complaint for various reasons, including that it is an impermissible shotgun
pleading and that she lacks standing to pursue her claims. (Docs. 44, 45, 48, 49.)
Upon careful review, this action is not remanded, and Ms. Wood’s amended
complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.
Ms. Wood alleges that her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, Justin Brandes, “ran over
and killed” her pregnant daughter. (Doc. 34 at 3, ¶ 3.) She challenges the
subsequent investigation into the circumstances of her daughter’s tragic death and
the decision of the State Attorney’s Office not to file criminal charges against Mr.
Brandes. (See, e.g., id. at ¶¶ 3, 5–12, 25–56, 62–71.) As to the medical defendants
and LifeLink, Ms. Woods alleges that, among other things, they unlawfully took her
deceased daughter’s eyes, organs, and tissue. (Id. at ¶¶ 14, 16–20, 57–60, 73–74.)
Ms. Wood previously raised claims based on these allegations in a separate
case in this District, Case No. 8:21-cv-2292-KKM-JSS. After the complaint in that
case was struck as an impermissible shotgun pleading, Ms. Wood filed an amended
pleading. See Wood v. Office of the State Attorney, No. 8:21-cv-2292-KKM-JSS,
ECF No. 3, 19, 22 (M.D. Fla.). Following the defendants’ subsequent motion to
dismiss, Ms. Wood filed a “motion to withdraw,” which was construed as a motion
for leave to dismiss the case. Id. ECF No. 33, 34, 35. The case was then dismissed
without prejudice and judgment was entered. Id. ECF No. 36, 37.
Ms. Wood also filed a complaint in Florida state court, which is substantially
similar to the complaint in 8:21-cv-2292-KKM-JSS and raises several section 1983
claims. LifeLink removed the action to this Court on the basis of original
jurisdiction (Doc. 1), and Ms. Wood has moved to remand the case to state court
(Doc. 36.) Additionally, several defendants have moved to dismiss Ms. Wood’s
amended complaint for various reasons, including that it is a shotgun pleading and
because she lacks standing to pursue her claims. (Docs. 44, 45, 48, 49.)
Remand of this action to state court is unwarranted at this stage of the
ligation, but the Court will entertain subsequent motions to remand. Further, Ms.
Wood’s amended complaint is due to be dismissed with leave to amend as an
impermissible shotgun pleading. If she decides to file a second amended complaint,
the allegations in her amended pleading must establish her standing to pursue her
Remand is unwarranted.
The removing party has the burden of proving that federal jurisdiction exists.
Williams v. Best Buy Co., 269 F.3d 1316, 1319 (11th Cir. 2001). Unless Congress
has expressly provided otherwise, federal courts may exercise jurisdiction over
actions “brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States
have original jurisdiction.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). District courts have original
jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of
the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. And where district courts have original
jurisdiction, “district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other
claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction
that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United
States Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
LifeLink has sufficiently shown that federal jurisdiction exists. Indeed,
LifeLink removed this action based on the Court’s original jurisdiction over Ms.
Wood’s section 1983 claims premised on violations of her Fourth, Fifth, and
Fourteenth Amendment rights. 28 U.S.C. § 1331; (Docs. 1, 1-1, 34.) And contrary
to Ms. Wood’s unsupported assertion that she “believes it is her right to select which
Court to file her case,” (Doc. 36 at 2), this Court cannot in its discretion remand a
properly removed action where jurisdiction exists. In re City of Mobile, 75 F.3d 605,
608 (11th Cir. 1996) (finding that a district court “must retain jurisdiction over [a]
properly removed federal claim”). She does not dispute that the removal was timely
or LifeLink’s representations that all defendants who have been served consented to
removal. (Doc. 1 at 5.) 1
In short, Ms. Wood’s section 1983 claims provide this Court federal question
jurisdiction, and remand is unwarranted. See Liebman v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Tr.
Co., 462 F. App’x 876, 878 (11th Cir. 2012).
Ms. Wood filed a “Response to Defendant’s Objections,” which is construed as
a reply filed without leave of Court. See M.D. Fla. Local Rule 3.01(d). In all events,
the points raised in the reply do not affect the disposition of her motion to remand
this action. First, although she asserts that her claims relate to “state statutes not
being followed,” a review of her complaint reveals that nearly every count raises
claims under section 1983. (Doc. 57 at 1–2; Docs. 1-1, 34.) And Ms. Wood
misconstrues the effect of the judgment entered in her prior case when she asserts
that she was “allowed . . . to return her case to State Court.” (Doc. 57 at 2.) Rather,
the complaint in the prior federal action was simply dismissed without prejudice, and
Defendants were not required to “appeal the Judge’s decision allowing Plaintiff to
resubmit her corrected complaint in the State Court” (which was filed prior to the
dismissal) in order to timely remove the subsequent action. (Id. at 3.) Nor were they
required to state an objection to the district court in the first action construing Ms.
Wood’s “motion to withdraw” as a request for the court to dismiss the case under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(2). (Doc. 50 at 3.)
The complaint is an impermissible shotgun pleading.
Upon review of Ms. Wood’s amended complaint, and as several defendants
correctly observe, the operative pleading fails to notify Defendants of the claims
against them or the grounds on which those claims rest.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 10 establish the minimum pleading
requirements. Rule 8 requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement
of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” with allegations that are
“simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), (d). And 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). Taken together,
as explained by the Eleventh Circuit, Rules 8 and 10
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.
Fikes v. City of Daphne, 79 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996) (quotation omitted). 2
Shotgun pleadings violate the pleading rules by failing to “give the
defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon which
each claim rests.” Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff’s Off., 792 F.3d 1313, 1323
Courts hold the pleadings of pro se litigants to a less stringent standard
than pleadings drafted by attorneys. Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262,
1263 (11th Cir. 1998) (per curiam). But courts do not have a duty to “rewrite” a pro
se litigant’s complaint to find a claim. See Washington v. Dep’t of Children &
Families, 256 F. App’x 326, 327 (11th Cir. 2007) (per curiam).
(11th Cir. 2015). The Eleventh Circuit has identified four varieties of shotgun
pleadings: (1) a pleading in which multiple counts each adopt the allegations of all
preceding counts; (2) a pleading that uses conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts
unconnected to a particular cause of action; (3) a pleading that fails to separate each
cause of action or claim for relief into distinct counts; and (4) a pleading that
combines multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which
defendant is responsible for which act, or which defendant a claim is brought
against. See id. at 1321–23.
Upon review, there are numerous deficiencies with the amended complaint,
which ultimately fails “to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against
them and the grounds upon which each claim rests.” Id. at 1323. First, Ms. Wood
purports to raise twenty counts against twelve different defendants, and within the
counts she makes passing references to violations of various constitutional rights
and statutes. (Doc. 34.) For example, in some counts, Ms. Wood alleges a purported
violation of an unidentified state statute without specifying whether she raises a
claim based on that violation. (See, e.g., id. at 6, ¶¶ 14, 16.) In other counts, she
reincorporates “above-cited state statutes” without identifying which statute she
alleges a defendant has violated. (Id. at 17, ¶ 76.)
The pleading further combines multiple claims against multiple defendants
without specifying which defendant is responsible for which act. See Weiland, 792
F.3d at 1323. For example, Count I is raised against the “Office of the State
Attorney,” which is not included in the case caption. (Doc. 34 at 2.) The sole
supporting allegation in Count I alleges that “Defendants showed a total disregard
for executing the duties of the State in a non-biased professional manner. Violating
Plaintiff’s due process rights by ignoring and deviating from their investigative
duties owed to Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s family overall.” (Id. at 2, ¶ 1 (emphasis
added.) It is thus unclear whether “Defendants” refers to the Office of the State
Attorney, defendants who are employees of the office, or all defendants. The same
problem afflicts Count II, also purportedly raised against the Office of the State
Attorney. (Id. at 3, ¶ 3.)
Likewise, in Count XVII raised against LifeLink, Ms. Wood alleges that
“Defendants conceal procedural details the Plaintiff had a constitutional right to
know,” that LifeLink conspired with another individual who is not named in this
lawsuit, and that “Defendants conspired to perform procedures under an Alias
name Delta 049,” “Defendants used alias ‘names’ to lead Plaintiff to believe she was
being treated fairly,” and “Defendants illegally permitted physicians to remove
Plaintiff’s daughter’s eyes and tissue.” (Doc. 34 at 15–16, ¶¶ 62–71 (emphasis
added).) In short, the amended complaint is a shotgun pleading because it does not
clearly specify which of the defendants are responsible for which of the alleged acts
or omissions. See Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321–23.
Additionally, Ms. Wood generally alleges that her rights were violated by
“agents of the State of Florida in their [individual] and professional capacities,”
without specifying whether the claims against certain defendants are brought
against that defendant in an individual or official capacity. (Doc. 34 at 2.) And
although the State of Florida and City of Largo are named as defendants, Ms. Wood
does not appear to raise any claims against them. (Id. at 1.)
Other counts lack clear factual allegations. To illustrate, the only factual
allegation supporting Count XV, a purported Fourth Amendment and statutory
violation against Defendant Medical Examiner District Six, is that “Defendant
failed to include examination facts in the investigation. This absence of fact
changed the outcome, which should have included prosecution and justice for the
death of Plaintiff’s daughter and unborn grandchild.” (Doc. 34 at 14, ¶ 56.) The
complaint does not specify the nature of the “examination facts” allegedly not
included in the investigation, and the defendant whose conduct is implicated by the
count, Medical Examiner District Six, is left to speculate. Likewise, in Ms. Wood’s
“fraudulent misrepresentation & violation of the World Health Organization 17.2
Transplant Act of 1983” claim alleged against LifeLink in Count XVIII, there is no
factual detail as to how “Defendants acted in concert in falsely misrepresenting the
care Plaintiff’s daughter” received. (Doc. 34 at 16 (emphasis added).)
These are but a few examples. In short, the confusing allegations fail “to give
the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them and the grounds upon
which each claim rests.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1323. Without clarification,
Defendants cannot be expected to discern what Ms. Wood is claiming against which
defendant or to frame a responsive pleading. The amended complaint is deficient
and must be dismissed.
Some defendants request dismissal with prejudice. (Doc. 44 at 7.) Although
the Court acknowledges the unique procedural history of this case, which has
provided multiple opportunities for Ms. Wood to cure the deficiencies in her
pleadings, the Court nevertheless finds that dismissing the amended complaint
without prejudice is warranted to allow Ms. Wood one final opportunity to amend.
See Arrington v. Green, 757 F. App’x 796, 797 (11th Cir. 2018).
Any amended pleading must establish Ms. Wood’s standing.
In light of the dismissal without prejudice, the Court takes this opportunity
to address some of its concerns as to Ms. Wood’s standing to raise her claims. See
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992). To have Article III standing,
a plaintiff must have “(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the
challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a
favorable judicial decision.” Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016).
“To establish injury in fact, a plaintiff must show that he or she suffered an
invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized and
actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical.” Id. at 1548 (quotation
omitted). “For an injury to be particularized, it must affect the plaintiff in a
personal and individual way.” Id. (quotation omitted). For the injury to be
“concrete,” it must be “real,” and not “abstract”; however, it need not be “tangible.”
Id. at 1548–49.
Here, most, if not all, of Ms. Wood’s claims appear to be based on injuries
and purported constitutional violations suffered by her daughter, not her. And
Ms. Wood did not style her case or present allegations such that she is raising
claims as the representative of her daughter’s estate. In all events, without
counsel she is unable to do so. See Franklin v. Garden State Life Insur., 462 F.
App’x 928, 930 (11th Cir. 2012); Bolin v. Coquina Ctr., LLC, No. 6:21-cv-357WWB-DCI, 2021 WL 2474312, at *1 (M.D. Fla. May 24, 2021).
In short, if Ms. Wood seeks to file an amended pleading, she should ensure
that her allegations establish her standing to pursue her claims. 3 Lastly, the Court
is mindful of Ms. Wood’s deep personal loss. It notes that it makes its decision here
based on the law it must apply. The law requires compliance with various statutes
and procedural rules for any lawsuit to advance in federal court. The Court
evenhandedly applies those statutes and rules to all parties and in all cases it is
called upon to decide.
As to a plaintiff’s ability to bring claims on behalf of a third party, the
Supreme Court has explained as follows:
We have recognized the right of litigants to bring actions
on behalf of third parties, provided three important criteria
are satisfied: The litigant must have suffered an “injury in
fact,” thus giving him or her a “sufficiently concrete
interest” in the outcome of the issue in dispute; the litigant
must have a close relation to the third party; and there
must exist some hindrance to the third party’s ability to
protect his or her own interests.
Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 410–11 (1991) (internal citations omitted).
For the reasons stated above, it is ORDERED:
1. Plaintiff’s Motion to Return Case to Civil Court (Doc. 36) is DENIED.
2. Defendants’ motions to dismiss (Docs. 44, 45, 48, 49) are GRANTED to
the extent that Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is DISMISSED without
prejudice as an impermissible shotgun pleading. The motions are
3. Ms. Wood may file a second amended complaint consistent with this Order
on or before May 31, 2022. If she fails to timely file a second amended
complaint, the Court will dismiss this action without further notice.
Furthermore, should any second amended complaint be filed, the Court
advises Ms. Wood that it may result in dismissal should that second
amended complaint not ameliorate the deficiencies set forth in this Order
and comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules
of this Court.
ORDERED in Tampa, Florida this 10th day of May, 2022.
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