8/17/10

It Seems That Judges Want More In Your Complaints Than Just Your Complaining

Sometimes reading the morning legal headlines can be funnier than reading the comics. This morning I came across two articles where Judges dismissed the cases and also blasted the plaintiffs for submitting petitions to the court that either didn't list a single legal reference to back up the claim, or attempted the "everything and the kitchen sink" approach. Apparently, Judges still want you to state a legal claim (and actually cite the statute, regulation, ordinance, etc.) and at the same time be "a short and plain statement of the claim".

NotMyBathRoom.com v. City of Missoula (no legal basis cited for claim)

The folks behind "notmybathroom.com" filed a complaint against the City of Missoula, MT to strike down an anti-discrimination ordinance that seems to allow transvestites to use the public bathroom of their gender choice (as well as protecting them from housing and employment discrimination... but, I'm assuming with the name like "notmybathroom.com" it was the public bathroom issue that drove their case.) According to District Judge Douglas G. Harkin, it was impossible for him to make the City follow the law when the Petitioners' failed to cite what law the City was supposed to follow in the first place. [PDF]

Judge Harkin went on to bench-slap the Petitioners and to tell them that the Montana Supreme Court takes "a dim view of a request for a writ of mandate that does not identify the law which it is alleged has been ignored or the facts which support the request." I guess implying that "there ought to be a law" just isn't good enough for Montana courts.


Woodward v. Raymond James (When a 112-page, 243-paragraph complaint just pisses off the judge.)

Perhaps the problem with this case is that it had six different plaintiffs' attorneys from four different law firms and they couldn't decide who would write the complaint... so they just combined all six drafts??[PDF] I guess this footnote [PDF] from Judge Robert P. Patterson really says it all:
The Court notes that the extreme length of the Amended Complaint is an independent ground for dismissal, pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See Local No. 38 Intern. Bhd. of Elec. Workers Pension Fund v. American Express Co., No. 09-cv-3016, 2010 WL 2834226, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jul. 19, 2010) (“While securities fraud claims must be pled with particularity, a plaintiff need not lard a pleading with streams of consciousness from confidential witnesses and block quotes from analyst calls. Plaintiff's hydra-like complaint sprawls over 243 paragraphs, some silted with more than 500 words.”). The Court notes that this appears to be a trend in complaints filed in securities actions, and emphasizes that the federal rules do not require this sort of kitchen-sink complaint in order to survive a motion to dismiss.
The lessons to learn from these two cases?  
  1. Petitions should only be as long as absolutely necessary.
  2. Don't forget to mention specifically what law you think has not been followed.
Follow those simple rules and you'll be less likely to find yourself on the wrong end of a bench-slapping.

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