Liberal Construction of Pro Se Complaint vs. Mandatory Specificity — Violation of Rule 8(a) by Prolixity

From Bender v. City of N.Y., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 103947 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 14, 201):

The present case has a long and complicated procedural history spanning numerous docket numbers and complaints. Plaintiff's many lawsuits against various individual and official defendants stem from her years-long feud with the 11th St. Bar, an allegedly illegal tavern operating next door to her apartment. Plaintiff alleges that her efforts to call attention to the bar's illegal status have led to numerous retaliatory incidents of false arrest and malicious prosecution, as well as frequent violations of her state and federal constitutional rights. Plaintiff alleges that the many harms she has experienced are the result of a conspiracy among local zoning officials, members of the New York City Police Department, city prosecutors, other government officials and the bar's owners.

Defendants here seek dismissal of Plaintiff's amended complaint, which spans 159 pages and 545 paragraphs pleading 34 causes of action against at least 58 named and additional unnamed defendants. The amended complaint seeks to "supplement" Plaintiff's 61 page complaint (referred to here as the "original complaint") consisting of 220 paragraphs of allegations. It is worth noting that this Plaintiff has previously filed at least three other complaints, in case numbers 08 civ. 331, 08 civ. 332, and 08 civ. 5816, that were dismissed for failure to comply with the Court's order to file an amended complaint.

As an initial matter, Plaintiff's unwieldy complaint violates the mandates of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that a complaint contain a "short and plain statement" of those facts entitling a plaintiff to relief. This rule was instituted "because unnecessary prolixity in a pleading places an unjustified burden on the court and the party who must respond to it because they are forced to select the relevant material from a mass of verbiage." Shabtai v. Levande, 38 Fed. Appx. 684, 686 (2d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Plaintiff's unwieldy complaint is especially troublesome because she has had numerous opportunities to file new and amended complaints throughout her many lawsuits. Further, her styling of the amended complaint as a "supplement" to her earlier complaint would require this Court to examine hundreds of pages of allegations to construe her claims in the strongest possible light. For this reason, the Court will rely primarily on the allegations as plead in Plaintiff's lengthy amended complaint. Where a cause of action is only pled in her "original" complaint, the Court will accept the allegations as plead there. In all other instances, Plaintiff's 155 pages of allegations in her amended complaint should be more than sufficient to adequately state her claims.

Because Plaintiff is pro se, this Court has interpreted Plaintiff's claims to make the strongest arguments they can plausibly suggest. Morpurgo v. Incorporated Village of Sag Harbor, 697 F. Supp. 2d 309, 322 (E.D.N.Y. 2010). However, this Court is also mindful that claims of a conspiracy to violate the civil rights of an individual are "so easily made and can precipitate such protracted proceedings with such disruption of governmental functions" that detailed fact pleading is required to withstand a motion to dismiss. Angola v. Civiletti, 666 F.2d 1, 4 (2d Cir. 1981). As the Second Circuit has repeatedly held, "complaints relying on the civil rights statutes are insufficient unless they contain some specific allegations of fact indicating a deprivation of rights, instead of a litany of general conclusions that shock but have no meaning." Barr v. Abrams, 810 F.2d 358, 363 (2d Cir. 1987).

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