Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Rules 8(a) and 12(b)(6) — Court Not Obliged to Ferret Through Complaint in Search of Viable Claims, Even in Pro Se Action

From Sloan v. Smith, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14346 (W.D. Va. Feb. 24, 2009):

To the extent the complaint possibly could be combed to find a claim that is non-frivolous — and also not barred by res judicata, the applicable statues of limitations, or judicial or other immunity doctrines — a court is not obliged to ferret through a complaint, searching for viable claims. See Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122 (D. Md. 1981) (although pro se complaint contained potentially viable claims, the court properly dismissed without prejudice under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 since voluminous, repetitive, and conclusory complaint is not a "short and plain statement" of facts and legal claims; the court specifically observed that dismissal under Rule 8 was proper because such a complaint "places an unjustifiable burden on defendants to determine the nature of the claim against them and to speculate on what their defenses might be," and "imposes a similar burden on the court to sort out the facts now hidden in a mass of charges, arguments, generalizations and rumors"); see also Spencer v. Hedges, 838 F.2d 1210 (Table) (4th Cir. 1988). In the context of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, it is clear that a plaintiff must provide enough detail to illuminate the nature of the claim and allow defendants to respond. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, slip op. at 5 (2007). And, although district courts have a duty to construe pro se pleadings liberally, a pro se plaintiff must nevertheless allege facts that state a cause of action, and district courts are not required "to conjure up questions never squarely presented to them." Beaudett, 775 F.2d at 1278 (adding that "[d]istrict judges are not mind readers").

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