Patrick Development, Inc. v. VIP Restoration, Inc.
ORDER denying 2 Motion for More Definite Statement and referring case back to Magistrate Judge Foschio. Signed by Hon. Richard J. Arcara on 2/2/2010. (JMB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT W E S T E R N DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
P A T R IC K DEVELOPMENT, INC., P la in tiff, D E C IS IO N AND ORDER 0 9 -C V -6 7 0 A v.
VIP RESTORATION, INC., D e fe n d a n t.
IN T R O D U C T IO N O n July 30, 2009, defendant filed a motion for a more definite statement u n d e r Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP"). Defendant s e e k s a more definite statement on the grounds that the allegations in plaintiff's c o m p la in t are too vague to allow it to formulate appropriate responsive pleadings o r other papers. Plaintiff opposes the motion on the grounds that it attached to th e complaint a complete copy of a subcontract between the parties, and that the c o m p la in t adequately put defendant on notice about alleged breaches of that s u b c o n tra c t. Pursuant to FRCP 78(b), the Court has deemed oral argument u n n e c e s s a ry. For the reasons below, the Court will deny defendant's motion. B AC K G R O U N D T h is case concerns allegations of breach of contract related to restoration w o rk at the Darwin Martin House in Buffalo, New York, a house designed by
architect Frank Lloyd W rig h t. Plaintiff is a New York contractor that acquired the rig h t to perform restoration work at the Darwin Martin House. Defendant is a c o m p a n y incorporated in Ohio. On or about March 16, 2007, plaintiff and d e fe n d a n t entered into a subcontract whereby defendant would work as a s u b c o n tra c to r on the restoration project. According to Section 2.3 of the s u b c o n tra c t, defendant's work would include "Masonry restoration work, re p o in tin g work, new masonry installation, cleaning as specified including all fla s h in g s , materials (brick by Owner), mortars, anchors and accessories as s p e c ifie d ." (Dkt. No. 1 at 1516.) Section 2 of the subcontract contained a p ro vis io n that defendant would furnish and perform all labor, services, and m a te ria ls necessary to complete its role in the restoration project within the time s p e c ifie d by the parties. Section 3 of the subcontract contained a provision that tim e was of the essence regarding defendant's performance of its work. On March 3, 2009, plaintiff filed a complaint in New York State Supreme C o u rt, Erie County, alleging that defendant breached the subcontract. Paragraph 4 of the complaint contained an allegation that defendant breached the s u b c o n tra c t by failing to supply adequate labor and materials and by delaying the re s to ra tio n project in several different ways. Paragraph 5 of the complaint c o n ta in e d an allegation that defendant breached the subcontract despite re p e a te d notices from plaintiff that it was doing so. Paragraph 6 of the complaint c o n ta in e d an allegation that plaintiff suffered damages of approximately $270,000 2
because defendant did not remedy its breaches in a timely manner. On July 23, 2 0 0 9 , defendant removed this case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1 4 4 1 , and 1446. O n July 30, 2009, defendant filed the pending motion for a more definite s ta te m e n t under FRCP 12(e). In support of its motion, defendant asserts that it n e e d s a more definite statement because the complaint lacks details that it must h a ve to formulate a meaningful response. Specifically, defendant insists that it n e e d s to know, inter alia, the following details: "W h a t `men and materials' did VIP a lle g e d ly fail to supply? W h a t work did VIP allegedly fail to protect? W h a t c o n tra c to rs did VIP allegedly fail to coordinate with? W h a t parts of the project did V IP allegedly delay? W h e n did VIP allegedly fail to show up to work and what a lle g e d promise is Patrick referring to? W h e n were workers allegedly not on the p ro je c t due to weather concerns? W h a t punch list work was allegedly delayed? W h a t work was allegedly unacceptable?" (Dkt. No. 13 at 2.) In opposition to the p e n d in g motion, plaintiff asserts that it has given defendant adequate notice of its c la im s under FRCP 8(a)(2), and that defendant's specific demands are e vid e n tia ry in nature and will be addressed during discovery. D IS C U S S IO N "A party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a re s p o n s ive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party c a n n o t reasonably prepare a response." FRCP 12(e). Courts must keep in mind, 3
however, that the FRCP abolished bills of particulars and that the phrase "cannot re a s o n a b ly prepare a response" means more than "we prefer to have this in fo rm a tio n sooner than later." "Motions pursuant to Rule 12(e) are disfavored a n d should not be granted unless the complaint is so excessively vague and a m b ig u o u s as to be unintelligible and as to prejudice the defendant seriously in a tte m p tin g to answer it." Greater N.Y. Auto. Dealers Ass'n v. Envtl. Sys. Testing, In c ., 211 F.R.D. 71, 76 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (internal quotation marks and citations o m itte d ). Here, plaintiff attached to its complaint what appears to be a complete c o p y of the subcontract between the parties. The subcontract contains specific p ro vis io n s regarding the nature of the work to be done, as well as the re s p o n s ib ilitie s that defendant assumed regarding labor, materials, and d e a d lin e s . Paragraphs 46 of the complaint have given defendant general notice th a t plaintiff believes that one or more of these contractual provisions have been b re a c h e d . "W h ile the complaint does not provide specific details of . . . the c o n tra c t . . . provisions allegedly breached, the . . . complaint adequately informs [d e fe n d a n t] of the nature of [plaintiff's] claims and is sufficient for [defendant] to fra m e a responsive pleading." Id. at 77 (citations omitted). So early in the case, b e fo re discovery has even begun, plaintiff does not need to address the in te rro g a to ry-lik e questions that defendant set forth in its motion papers. Cf. N ic h o ls o n v. Tweedy, No. 06 CV 471, 2007 W L 2262912, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 3, 2 0 0 7 ) (finding acceptable plaintiffs' claim that defendants breached a contract by 4
overcharging them and holding that "[d]efendants' questions about the precise c o n to u rs of plaintiffs' contract claim will be addressed adequately during the d is c o ve ry process"); Polargrid LLC v. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd., No. 04 CV 9 5 7 8 , 2006 W L 903184, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 7, 2006) (denying a Rule 12(e) m o tio n and rejecting defendant's claim that "it must be able to `confirm the exact a n d total language of the contract Polargrid purports to have been breached'"); In re Eur. Rail Pass Antitrust Litig., 166 F. Supp. 2d 836, 845 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) ("It is c le a r that plaintiffs could have been referring to either the identical set of products o r to functionally similar competing products. This is sufficient to satisfy the le n ie n t standard of notice pleadings. If defendants assumed the wrong meaning w h e n serving their motion to dismiss, their error will cause no ultimate prejudice to defendants and should not now prejudice plaintiffs."). Consequently, d e fe n d a n t has not shown how the complaint is unintelligible or what p re ju d ic e -- i.e ., what loss of rights in later proceedings or at trial--it will suffer if it a n s w e rs or otherwise challenges the complaint in its current form. In holding that plaintiff has given defendant sufficient general notice of its c la im s at the start of this litigation, the Court emphasizes that it is offering no c o m m e n t on whether these claims will need to change during the course of d is c o ve ry or whether these claims will survive at the end of discovery. For now, th e Court is deciding only that defendant is on sufficient initial notice of alleged vio la tio n s of one or more provisions of the subcontract. 5
CONCLUSION F o r all of the foregoing reasons, the Court hereby denies defendant's m o tio n . This case is referred back to Magistrate Judge Foschio for further p r o c e e d in g s . SO ORDERED.
s/ Richard J. Arcara
HONORABLE RICHARD J. ARCARA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE DATED: February 2, 2010
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