MAXBERRY v. ITT TECHNICAL INSTITUTE et al
ORDER denying as moot 36 Motion for Judgment, 27 Motion for Injunctive Relief, 32 Motion for Summary Judgment and 34 Motion for Counter Claim and granting 28 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Mr. Maxberry is entitled to have an opportunity to try to forumulate his grievances in a way that enables the Court to understand his intentions and gives fair notice to the Defendant. Signed by Judge Sarah Evans Barker on 1/30/2015 (dist made) (CBU)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
DENNIS LEE MAXBERRY,
ITT TECHNICAL INSTITUTE,
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS
This cause is before the Court on Defendant ITT Technical Institute’s Motion to Dismiss
for Failure to State a Claim [Docket No. 28], filed on April 2, 2014 pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Dennis Maxberry filed a complaint in this Court on April 9, 2014 against
Defendant ITT Technical Institute, LLC (“ITT”), an Indiana-based for-profit higher education
company. Maxberry is a former enrollee at ITT; according to an Enrollment Agreement attached
by ITT, he enrolled in an M.B.A. graduate course for the quarter starting June 2008. Docket No.
15-8, Def.’s Ex. A. 1
Maxberry’s initial complaint, which we noted was “confusing, disjointed, and difficult to
decipher,” alleged that IT—and sundry others—had harmed him in a variety of ways over the
course of many years. Docket No. 25 at 2. The court summarized the accusations as follows:
The Enrollment Agreement was verified by the affidavit of John Leonard, ITT’s Director of
Administration and Career Services.
It appears that Plaintiff accuses Defendant of stealing his federal student loan
money, failing to award him grades for the classes that he completed, and
applying money from his educational loans towards tuition payments even after
he withdrew from school. Plaintiff also accuses Defendant of “being unconscious
to the plaintiff by arbitrating the contract,” searching his person or property
“without a warrant and without probable cause,” using excessive force upon him,
failing to provide him with “needed medical care,” “false credit testimony,
mayhem on property, defamation, false imcriminalization [sic], malicious
prosecution, conspiracy, and/or any other claim that may be supported by the
allegations of this complaint.” Plaintiff's Complaint makes reference to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1983, 1985, and 1986, “Title IX, and Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation
Act,” the “False claim act,” and avers that “[t]he criminal proceeding by the
defendants ... [is] still pending,” but that Plaintiff “was innocent.”
Docket No. 25 at 2 (internal citations omitted).
We dismissed Plaintiff’s initial complaint on two grounds. First, a portion of it appeared
to constitute, in effect, an “appeal” from a prior judgment entered by the state courts of
Wisconsin. In his Wisconsin suit, Maxberry had alleged—in a similarly rambling fashion—that
ITT and another entity had harassed him, stalked him, denied him employment, and
discriminated against him on grounds of race and sexual orientation. Docket No. 15-3, Def.’s Ex.
B. The Milwaukee County Circuit Court granted ITT’s motion to compel arbitration of these
claims on the basis of the binding arbitration provision. Docket No. 15-4, Def’s Ex. C. The
state’s Court of Appeals and Supreme Court both denied his appeals, rendering the state court
judgment final as of December 10, 2012. We accordingly invoked the Rooker-Feldman 2
doctrine, observing that we were barred from consideration of any elements of Maxberry’s
complaint that urged us to engage in review of the Wisconsin court’s rulings. Docket No. 25 at
3–5. (citing Taylor v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg. Ass’n, 374 F.3d 529, 533 (7th Cir. 2004)).
The doctrine takes its name from two United States Supreme Court decisions handed down,
interestingly, six decades apart: Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District
of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).
Second, we dismissed all remaining portions of Maxberry’s initial complaint on the
grounds that they failed to meet the pleading requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
8(a). As we said then:
Assuming that Plaintiff is asserting legal claims in this action that are different
and independent from those asserted in Wisconsin, they are nevertheless cast in
such an incoherent and confusing manner that they must be dismissed under
[Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)] based on Plaintiff's failure to give
Defendant (as well as the Court) fair notice of what they actually are.
Docket No. 25 at 7.
Maxberry filed an Amended Complaint on March 14, 2014. Docket No. 26.
Standard of Review
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize dismissal of claims for “failure to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In determining the
sufficiency of a claim, the court considers all allegations in the complaint to be true and draws
such reasonable inferences as required in the plaintiff's favor. Jacobs v. City of Chi., 215 F.3d
758, 765 (7th Cir. 2000). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) applies, with several enumerated
exceptions, to all civil claims, and it establishes a liberal pleading regime in which a plaintiff
must provide only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that [he] is entitled to
relief,” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a)(2); this reflects the modern policy judgment that claims should be
“determined on their merits rather than through missteps in pleading.” E.E.O.C. v. Concentra
Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 779 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing 2 James W. Moore, et al., Moore’s
Federal Practice § 8.04 (3d ed. 2006)). A pleading satisfies the core requirement of fairness to
the defendant so long as it provides “enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the
claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1083 (7th
In its decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Supreme Court introduced a more stringent
formulation of the pleading requirements under Rule 8. In addition to providing fair notice to a
defendant, the Court clarified that a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plausibility requires more than labels and conclusions, and a
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Killingsworth v. HSBC
Bank Nevada, N.A., 507 F.3d 614, 618 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). Instead, the factual allegations in the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Id. The plausibility of a complaint depends upon the context in
which the allegations are situated, and turns on more than the pleadings’ level of factual
specificity; the same factually sparse pleading could be fantastic and unrealistic in one setting
and entirely plausible in another. See In re Pressure Sensitive Labelstock Antitrust Litig., 566 F.
Supp. 2d 363, 370 (M.D. Pa. 2008).
Although Twombly and Iqbal represent a new gloss on the standards governing the
sufficiency of pleadings, they do not overturn the fundamental principle of liberality embodied in
Rule 8. As this Court has noted, “notice pleading is still all that is required, and ‘a plaintiff still
must provide only enough detail to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests, and, through his allegations, show that it is plausible, rather than
merely speculative, that he is entitled to relief.’” United States v. City of Evansville, 2011 WL
52467, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Jan. 8, 2011) (quoting Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1083). On a motion to
dismiss, “the plaintiff receives the benefit of imagination, so long as the hypotheses are
consistent with the complaint.” Sanjuan v. Am. Bd. of Psychiatry & Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d
247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994).
In addressing Defendant’s motion to dismiss, we struggle again with the fact that the
Amended Complaint, like the document that preceded it, is virtually incomprehensible. It
contains a large number of accusations that are unmoored from each other in both time and topic,
and even our attempts to summarize it are a challenge. Some of the allegations expressly invoke
causes of action without providing any factual explanation, while others present a factual
grievance that never culminates in any sort of discernible legal claim. As best we can determine,
the Amended Complaint mentions the following claims or grievances: copyright infringement,
deprivation of disabled veterans’ benefits, sabotage of Maxberry’s bachelor’s degree, stalking,
sabotage of Maxberry’s employment opportunities, RICO liability against ITT and the State of
Wisconsin, malicious prosecution of intellectual property actions against Maxberry, violations of
various executive orders relating to Maxberry’s service in the military, violations of the Higher
Education Act, and violations of a number of Maxberry’s constitutional rights. Docket No. 26 at
2–8. The Amended Complaint also contains, in slightly more concrete form, five counts alleging
patent infringement against ITT. All relate to Maxberry’s purported ownership of “U.S. Patent
No. 08/632,592,” which Maxberry also calls the “8 in 1 Patent.” See Docket No. 26 at 8–14. He
describes this single patent, variously and implausibly, as encompassing a cure for cancer, a
device concerning the loading status of a computer “hypermedia browser,” and a system of
child-control window locks in automobiles. Id.
ITT seeks the dismissal of the Amended Complaint on the grounds that it is replete with
the same errors present in the initial complaint—namely, that the portions of it seeking review of
a state court judgment run afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and all other portions violate
Rule 8(a). We agree.
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, when applicable, imposes a bar on the district court’s
exercise of subject matter jurisdiction. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005). As a formal matter, we should therefore determine its applicability to the
Amended Complaint—or portions thereof—before proceeding to consider whether Maxberry has
adequately stated a claim under Rule 8. Here, however, separating out portions of the Amended
Complaint according to their subject matter is impossible. As ITT notes, there are instances in
the Amended Complaint where Maxberry does appear to be taking issue with the Wisconsin
courts’ rulings—such as Maxberry’s assertion that ITT “can cause the state of Wisconsin to aid
and abet equity redistribution” in his favor. Docket No. 26 at 3. However, there is no “claim” or
specific allegation that we can pinpoint as seeking to review the Wisconsin judgment; the only
enumerated claims, those for patent infringement, do not appear to relate to the subject matter
dealt with the Wisconsin courts. Accordingly, while we note that Rooker-Feldman might strip us
of jurisdiction over a more coherently-crafted complaint, we turn now to the crux of the
problem—the utter lack of a cognizable claim anywhere in the document.
We are obliged to construe the complaints of pro se plaintiffs liberally, to take care that
the Rules of Federal Procedure do not serve merely as traps for the unwary. Marshall v. Knight,
445 F.3d 965, 969 (7th Cir. 2006). As we noted in our previous Order, however, we still grant a
motion to dismiss where a plaintiff has failed to comply even with a most lenient reading of Rule
8. In other words, we are not required to vainly sift through a complaint that is “sprawling,
confusing, redundant—in short a mess.” See Fidelity Nat’l Title Ins. Co. v. Intercounty Nat’l
Title Ins. Co., 412 F.3d 745, 749 (7th Cir. 2005). See also Lindell v. McCallum, 352 F.3d 1107,
1110 (7th Cir. 2003) (noting that if a complaint's lack of clarity makes it unintelligible, dismissal
under Rule 8 is permitted). The five patent counts—the only ones presented in any remotely
cognizable form—fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Apart from the wild
implausibility of asserting that a single patent encompasses a cure for cancer, an automotive
window-locking device, and a type of computer display equipment, Maxberry has also alleged
the infringement of a patent he does not own. 3 The records of the U.S. Patent and Trademark
Office, which are the proper subject of judicial notice, see Henson v. CSC Credit Servs., 29 F.3d
280, 284 (7th Cir. 1994) (noting that the “district court may also take judicial notice of matters of
public record”), reflect that U.S. Patent No. 8,632,592, for an “[e]xpandable vertebral body
replacement device and method,” is registered to a Ben Barrall of Pennsylvania. See USPTO
Full-Text and Image Database 4 (January 21, 2014). 5 There is no set of facts that could be
consistent with Maxberry’s allegations that this fancifully-described patent either exists, is
owned by Maxberry, or has been infringed by ITT. See Killingsworth, 507 F.3d at 618.
In the Amended Complaint, Maxberry incorrectly states that the relevant patent is an attached
document. Elsewhere, however, he asserts that “Defendant’s infringing are so dire that the
Plaintiff can’t reproduce the picture of the drawing of the patent and or the copyright here due to
the lobby and lobbyist that the defendants inflict or are inflicting against the non attorney
protected plaintiff and bribed attorney defenses against the plaintiff.” Docket No. 26 at 9. We do
not understand Mr. Maxberry’s argument here, which only adds to the fundamental incoherence
of his patent infringement claims.
Accessed at (January 28, 2015).
Maxberry consistently writes the patent number as “08/632592,” a format more consistent with
the way the USPTO numbers patent applications. Even in that format, however, there is no
USPTO record of such an application—or of a registered patent with a number expressed in that
Before setting forth the patent claims, the Amended Complaint offers a meandering
narrative of other alleged wrongs, but never does it come close to concentrating these grievances
into a decipherable claim for relief. We have already determined that accusations of this nature
are subject to dismissal, and we re-affirm now that any claims contained in this lengthy prefatory
narrative fail to comply with Rule 8(a). See Docket No. 25 at 7 (citing Fidelity Nat’l, 412 F.3d at
ITT urges that we dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety or, in the alternative,
stay the matter and order Plaintiff to proceed to arbitration. But the Amended Complaint, like its
predecessor, frustrates any attempt to discern which of Maxberry’s grievances constitute disputes
“arising out of or in any way related to” his Enrollment Agreement with ITT—the contractual
basis for his obligation to arbitrate. Cf. Docket No. 15-8.
We accordingly GRANT ITT’s motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety.
Because Maxberry is a pro se litigant, however, we dismiss only the facially implausible patent
infringement claims with prejudice; any other claims that he may have attempted to assert in the
document are dismissed without prejudice. We will not at this time enter judgment against
Maxberry in the event that he might seek to take one last opportunity to formulate his grievances
in a way that enables the Court to understand his intentions and gives fair notice to the
Defendant. Given his filings to date, this may be a tall order, but Mr. Maxberry is entitled to have
an opportunity to try. A mere repetition of his initial efforts, however, will result in dismissal
Maxberry has also filed the following four motions, all of which relate to the nowdismissed Amended Complaint: (1) Plaintiff’s Motion for Injunctive Relief and Damages
[Docket No. 27], (2) Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment [Docket No. 32], (3) Plaintiff’s
Motion for Counter Claim and Review [Docket No. 34], and (4) Plaintiff’s “Motion for
Judgment” [Docket No. 36]. 6 All four motions are DENIED as moot.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE
United States District Court
Southern District of Indiana
This last motion also alleges that ITT has “failed to prosecute.” We note briefly for Plaintiff’s
benefit that the Court, as of May 2014, had granted Defendant’s motion to stay proceedings
pending our resolution of the present motion to dismiss. See Docket No. 35.
DENNIS LEE MAXBERRY
P. O. Box 14081
West Allis, WI 53214
T. Joseph Wendt
BARNES & THORNBURG LLP
Todd A. Dixon
BARNES & THORNBURG LLP
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