Joiner et al v. Panola County Courthouse Batesville et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 5 Motion to Dismiss; dismissing 17 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; dismissing 20 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. Signed by District Judge Michael P. Mills on 11/29/2017. (lpm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
ANNIE J. JOINER
and WILLIE E. JOINER
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:17CV61-MPM-RP
PANOLA COUNTY COURTHOUSE et al
This cause comes before the court on the motion of defendants Panola County,
Mississippi, Mississippi Farm Bureau and Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association
[“TVEPA”] to dismiss, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Panola County has filed an
alternative motion for a more definite statement, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). This court,
having considered the memoranda and submissions of the parties, concludes that the motion for
more definite statement should be granted.
This is a pro se action in which plaintiffs seek recovery in connection with their
recording of a deed at the Panola County courthouse. The complaint in this case is exceedingly
vague and difficult to follow, and defendants have filed motions to dismiss which, in this court’s
view, raise valid concerns about whether claims are properly asserted against them. The
Complaint in this case begins as follows:
I Willie Edward Joiner do hereby have a complaint against the Panola County
Courthouse in Batesville, MS. The Complaint is that the Panola County
Courthouse staff interrupt/interrupted my quitclaim deed improperly because of
this misunderstanding has caused pain and suffering upon my family and me. As
well they have caused some major corporations to follow suit. Panola County
Courthouse caused my electric to be turned off, caused imitate reaction of oneself
not to have home insurance to protect my home and myself.
(Complaint, D.E. 2).
Defendants note that the Complaint proceeds to describe “real property interest in which
[Joiner] fairly gain through a tax sale,” and further appears to identify the property at issue,
language contained in land records not attached to the Complaint and Mr. Joiner’s understanding
of some of the terms of the land records. (Id). The Complaint then continues:
Therefore because Panola County Courthouse gave wrong information to several
companies/organizations for this purpose I am suing Panola County Courthouse
for the amount in being $100,000,000.00 [one hundred million dollars] for
violating my family and my Civil Rights in not allowing us access to our
property, instead allowing the previous owners access.
(Id.). Plaintiffs also submitted what defendants characterize as an “amended complaint” but
which appears to be closer to an addendum to the original complaint, since it merely adds a
demand for specific monetary relief against additional defendants.
Defendants argue, and this court agrees, that the language of these pleadings fails to
assert a coherent cause of action against any of them. This court also notes its concerns
regarding whether it even has jurisdiction over this case, since the complaint fails to assert any
specific federal cause of action. Defendants removed this case on the basis of federal question
jurisdiction, asserting that "[t]here is a federal question in this matter apparent from the face of
plaintiff's complaint which asserts causes of action created by federal law and pleads federally
created right." [Removal petition at 3]. In light of the complaint’s language quoted above,
however, this court has entertained some doubts about whether this is actually the case.
Nevertheless, this court does acknowledge that the complaint’s reference to “civil rights”
violations and its allegations that the wrongful actions of county employees interfered with
plaintiffs’ property rights seems closer to a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint asserting Fourteenth
Amendment violations than any other cause of action it can think of. This court also notes that
plaintiffs did not file a motion to remand or otherwise contest federal jurisdiction. To the
contrary, in a letter to the Magistrate Judge found at docket entry 15, they assert that their
“Constitutional Rights have been step on” and they make it clear that they wish for this case to
proceed in this court. This is sufficient to satisfy this court’s jurisdictional concerns.
While this court thus concludes that it has jurisdiction over this case, it reiterates that the
complaint which plaintiffs drafted fails to assert a valid cause of action against any defendant. If
this court were dealing with parties represented by counsel then that would almost certainly end
the matter, and it would simply grant defendants’ motion to dismiss. This court is dealing with
pro se litigants, however, and it is certainly understandable that they do not grasp the legal
distinctions discussed above. It is well settled that pro se pleadings are to be liberally construed,
see Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and this court is accordingly willing to give
plaintiffs second chances which it would not give parties who were represented by counsel.
That brings this court to the fact that Panola County has alternatively filed a motion for
more definite statement under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Rule 12(e) allows a party to request a more
definite statement with respect to a "pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but
which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." This court
concludes that the complaint in this case is, in fact, so vague or ambiguous that defendants
cannot reasonably prepare a response, and that Panola County’s motion for a more definite
statement should be granted. This court accordingly directs that plaintiffs file a new complaint,
hopefully prepared with the assistance of counsel, which coherently states exactly what claims
they assert against each defendant. Given plaintiffs’ evident lack of familiarity with the law, it
recognizes that drafting such a complaint will prove a significant challenge for them, and it will
accordingly give them until January 15, 2018 to do so.1
It is therefore ordered that Panola County’s motion [5-1] to dismiss, or, alternatively for a
more definite statement is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiffs shall file an amended
complaint setting forth their claims against each defendant on or before January 15, 2018. The
motions to dismiss [17-1, 20-1] filed by other defendants in this case will be dismissed without
prejudice to their ability to once again seek dismissal after the new complaint is filed.2
So ordered, this, the 29th day of November, 2017.
/s/ MICHAEL P. MILLS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
Panola County urges this court to require that such a pleading be filed within two weeks,
but this court regards this suggested deadline as being unduly strict, considering plaintiffs’
limited knowledge of the law.
In the court’s view, defendants would be well advised to consider waiting until after at
least some discovery has been taken before filing a motion for summary judgment, as opposed to
another Rule 12 motion to dismiss. For example, the taking of plaintiffs’ depositions would
likely assist this court in determining whether it is dealing with plaintiffs with potentially
legitimate claims who simply lack the legal expertise to properly draft a complaint. Litigation is
a search for truth, and, generally speaking, this court is considerably more willing to grant Rule
56 summary judgment after discovery than to grant Rule 12 dismissal based solely on the
pleadings. This is particularly true when dealing with plaintiffs, such as the ones here, who
appear to lack the legal expertise to properly draft a complaint.
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