United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a car accident on I-695 here in Washington, Plaintiff Joe
Johnson filed a multi-count Complaint against the other
individuals involved, their insurance company, and its claims
adjuster. As relevant here, Defendants Metropolitan Direct
Property & Casualty Insurance Company (MetLife) and its
adjuster, Christian Hayman, first sought a more definite
statement as to one count (defamation) and moved to dismiss
another (civil conspiracy). The Court granted the former
motion because the allegations were too vague. As to the
latter, it gave Plaintiff a chance to cure the count's
lacking detail instead of dismissing it outright. Johnson
having amended his Complaint, Defendants return with the same
two motions. This round now yields a different result.
Finding that Plaintiff has complied with the Court's
instruction to add specificity to his defamation claim but
not his civil-conspiracy count, the Court will deny
Defendants' Motion for More Definite Statement but grant
their partial Motion to Dismiss.
the Court opined on similar motions less than three months
ago, it will save its ink for this case's procedural
history and point readers interested in the factual
underpinnings to its prior Opinion. See Johnson v. Metro.
Direct Property & Casualty Insurance Co., No.
18-1715, 2018 WL 4964504 (D.D.C. Oct. 15, 2018). A cursory
summary of the facts will do for now.
stuck in traffic on the freeway last fall, Johnson contends
that another car struck his. See ECF No. 33 (Second
Amended Complaint) at 3. The offending vehicle was driven by
Defendant Mark Johnson (no relation) and owned by Defendant
Patricia Grimes, who was not present for the accident.
Id at 3, ¶ 7. Defendant Nneka Grimes, rather,
sat in the vehicle's passenger seat. Id at 3,
¶ 8. As Plaintiff recounts it, following the initial
accident, Defendant Johnson physically assaulted him.
Id Defendants, however, told a very different story
- in which Plaintiff was at fault - to their insurance
carrier, who then appears to have passed this version of
events on to Johnson's insurer. Id at 4, ¶
these latter statements that serve as the focal point of the
instant dispute. Plaintiff asserts a defamation claim against
both the insurance carrier that covered Grimes's vehicle,
MetLife, and its adjuster, Hayman. Id, ¶¶
29-35 (Count IV). He similarly brings a civil-conspiracy
claim against all Defendants, asserting that the alleged
defamation was the result of concerted action. Id,
¶¶ 42-47 (Count VI). The remaining counts are pled
solely against Defendants other than MetLife and Hayman.
two Defendants first responded with a Motion for More
Definite Statement as to the defamation claim, per Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). See ECF No. 11. The
Court agreed that the Complaint lacked requisite detail and
ordered Plaintiff to, at a minimum, “specifically
allege the form of the statement - e.g., email,
letter, conversation” - at issue, should he choose to
amend. Johnson, 2018 WL 4964504, at *3. It similarly
directed Johnson to “state at least generally to whom
the statement was published.” Id.
same time, Defendants also moved to dismiss the
civil-conspiracy count. See ECF No. 12. Although the
Court agreed that this count, too, could not proceed as
written, it gave “Plaintiff another opportunity to
state this claim with more specificity to see if he can
sufficiently allege an actual conspiracy.”
Johnson, 2018 WL 4964504, at *5.
took the Court up on its invitation and amended both counts.
Undaunted by the first go-round, Defendants MetLife and
Hayman (who, for purposes of this Opinion, the Court will
refer to collectively as “MetLife”) again file
the same two Motions.
evaluating Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court
“must treat the complaint's factual allegations as
true . . . and must grant plaintiff ‘the benefit of all
inferences that can be derived from the facts
alleged.'” Sparrow v. United Air Lines,
Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting
Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608
(D.C. Cir. 1979)); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc.
v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The
Court need not accept as true, however, “a legal
conclusion couched as a factual allegation, ” nor an
inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the
Complaint. See Trudeau v. FTC, 456 F.3d
178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of an action where a complaint fails “to state a claim
upon which relief can be granted.” Although
“detailed factual allegations” are not necessary
to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, “a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). For a
plaintiff to survive a 12(b)(6) motion, the facts alleged in
the complaint “must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).
12(e) permits a defendant to move for a more definite
statement if “a pleading . . . is so vague or ambiguous
that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). “[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.”
Hilska v. Jones,217 F.R.D. 16, 21 (D.D.C. 2003)
(quoting Am. Nurses' Ass'n v. Illinois, 783
F.2d 716, 725 (7th Cir. 1986)). “Normally, of course,
the basis for requiring a more definite statement under Rule
12(e) is unintelligibility, not mere lack of detail.”
Thorp v. District of Columbia, 309 F.R.D. 88, 90
(D.D.C. 2015) (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted). Indeed, “a plaintiff need not allege all the
facts necessary to prove its claim so long as [he] provides