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Potts v. Howard University

August 12, 2010

ROSSI M. POTTS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 31

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE DEFENDANTS'MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the motion for a more definite statement filed by the defendants, Howard University and Howard University Hospital.*fn1 The plaintiff, proceeding pro se at the time,*fn2 brought suit in April 2008, alleging that the defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his gender and military service obligations in violation of the District of Columbia Code, §§ 2-1401.01 et seq., and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act ("USERRA"), 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301 et seq. The court previously dismissed the claims brought under the D.C. Code, but denied the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's USERRA claim.The defendants must now answer the plaintiff's second amended complaint, but assert that an answer is impossible without a more definite statement of the claim from the plaintiff. Because the plaintiff's second amended complaint satisfies the liberal pleading requirements set forth in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, and because the defendants may seek more specific information about the plaintiff's USERRA claim during discovery, the court denies the defendants' motion for a more definite statement.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The court discussed the factual background of this case in a memorandum opinion dated February 20, 2009, and will only briefly summarize it here. See Mem. Op. (Feb. 20, 2009) at 2-3. The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court on April 24, 2008, see generally Compl., and filed a first amended complaint on May 2, 2008, see generally 1st Am. Compl. The defendants answered the plaintiff's first amended complaint on May 29, 2008. See Answer. The plaintiff again amended his complaint on June 26, 2008.*fn3 See generally 2d Am. Compl. Shortly thereafter, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the second amended complaint, which the court granted in part and denied in part, leaving the plaintiff's USERRA claim as the only remaining claim. See generally Mem. Op. (Feb. 20, 2009).

Instead of answering the second amended complaint, the defendants filed a motion for leave to file a motion for a more definite statement. See Defs.' Mot. for Leave to File. The court granted as conceded the motion for leave to file, and the underlying motion for a more definite statement was deemed filed on January 14, 2010. See Minute Order (Jan. 14, 2010). With this motion now fully submitted, the court turns to the applicable legal standard and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion for a More Definite Statement

Under Rule 12(e), "[a] party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading... which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(e); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) (stating that "[i]f a pleading fails to specify the allegations in a manner that provides sufficient notice, a defendant can move for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e)"); see also Hodgson v. Va. Baptist Hosp., Inc., 482 F.2d 821, 823 (4th Cir. 1973) (stating that Rule 12(e) must be read in conjunction with Rule 8(a)). "[W]hen a defendant is unclear about the meaning of a particular allegation in the complaint, the proper course of action is not to move to dismiss but to move for a more definite statement." Am. Nurses' Ass'n v. Illinois, 783 F.2d 716, 725 (7th Cir. 1986) (citing United States v. Employing Plasterers Ass'n, 347 U.S. 186, 189 (1954)).

Given the liberal nature of the federal pleading requirements, courts are reluctant to compel a more definite statement pursuant to Rule 12(e) out of fear that such action will become a substitute for discovery. Fraternal Order of Police Library of Cong. Labor Comm. v. Library of Cong., 692 F. Supp. 2d 9, 19 (D.D.C. 2010) (citing Hilska v. Jones, 217 F.R.D. 16, 25 (D.D.C. 2003)); see also Mitchell v. E-Z Way Towers, Inc., 269 F.2d 126, 132 (5th Cir. 1959) (determining that the information sought was an issue for discovery rather than the pleadings). Moreover, "[w]hen the complaint conforms to Rule 8(a) and it is neither so vague nor so ambiguous that the defendant cannot reasonably be required to answer, the district court should deny a motion for a more definite statement and require the defendant to bring the case to issue by filing a response within the time provided by the rules." Hodgson, 482 F.2d at 824 (citing Mitchell, 269 F.2d at 132).

Mindful that all litigants are entitled to proper notice pleading under Rule 8(a), however, the court will grant relief pursuant to Rule 12(e) where the pleading is "so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a respons[e]." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(e); see also Dorsey v. Am. Express Co., 499 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2007) (granting a Rule 12(e) motion where the pro se plaintiff's complaint was not detailed enough to provide fair notice); Bower v. Weisman, 639 F. Supp. 532, 538 (S.D.N.Y. 1986) (granting a Rule 12(e) motion because the plaintiff's claims lacked clarity and the defendant therefore could not effectively respond to the complaint); Hilska, 217 F.R.D. at 25 (concluding that "Rule 12(e) is the most suitable remedy... when taking into account the pro se status of the plaintiff and the fact that the parties are unable to engage in discovery until they are capable of identifying the claims at issue"); Saad v. Burns Int'l Sec. Servs. Inc., 456 F. Supp. 33, 36 (D.D.C. 1978) (finding that the mere allegations do not suffice to state a claim and ordering the plaintiff to file a more definite statement).

B. The Court Denies the Defendants' Motion for a More Definite Statement

The defendants claim that it "would be nearly impossible" to respond to the plaintiff's second amended complaint because it is prolix, contains only one paragraph and is "very difficult to understand and to a large extent does no more than recite legal jargon and statute citations." Defs.' Mot. at 3. As such, the defendants claim that the plaintiff's second amended complaint does not comply with Rule 8(a)(2), which requires a pleading to contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 4.The defendants assert that after filing the complaint ...


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