Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Shotgun Complaint Fails to Satisfy Rule 8(a)(2) (Good Quote) — Repeated Failure to Cure Complaint = Dismissal with Prejudice — Limits on Liberal Construction of Pro Se Pleading — Carvel Fortune Melted Away

From Carvel v. Godley, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 24763 (11th Cir. Dec. 2, 2010):

Pamela Carvel, proceeding pro se, appeals the district court's dismissal of her second amended complaint with prejudice and its order taxing costs. Carvel advances numerous claims against Betty Godley for depriving Carvel and her deceased aunt, Agnes Carvel, of the fortune acquired by Thomas Carvel. The gravamen of the complaint is that Godley took countless illegal actions to consume the ice cream fortune amassed by Thomas. Because Carvel failed to give a plain statement of the basis for relief, the district court dismissed her complaint. We affirm.***

While leave to amend should ordinarily be freely given, clear or explicit justifications, such as "repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of amendment, [and] futility of amendment," can justify dismissal with prejudice. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S. Ct. 227, 230 (1962).

While pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally, ***such filings must still comply with the rules of civil procedure. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113, 113 S. Ct. 1980, 1984 (1993); see GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cnty. of Escambia, 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (1998) ("Yet even in the case of pro se litigants this leniency does not give a court license to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.") (internal citations omitted).

Here, Carvel's complaint contains neither a "short and plain" statement justifying relief nor allegations that are "simple, concise, and direct." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). Rather, it continues to suffer from the same deficiencies that the magistrate judge and the district court repeatedly advised Carvel to correct. Ultimately, her second amended complaint is an insufficient "shotgun" complaint. Strategic Income Fund, LLC. v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002) ("The typical shotgun complaint contains several counts, each one incorporating by reference the allegations of its predecessors, leading to a situation where most of the counts (i.e., all but the first) contain irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions."). Carvel asks us to force the district court and the defendant to rummage through page after page of facts and conclusions to make independent determinations regarding what allegations, if any, fit with each claim, if any. After a thorough review, we agree with the district court that such a pleading cannot adequately put Godley on notice of her allegedly wrongful conduct. The district court's dismissal of the complaint with prejudice was appropriate.

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