United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
RICHARD E. SCHATZEL, et al., Plaintiffs,
DUVAL COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD/DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.
MORALES HOWARD UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
CAUSE is before the Court sua sponte. On
July 31, 2019, Plaintiff Richard E. Schatzel initiated this
action, pro se, by filing a Complaint in Employment Standards
(Doc. 1; Complaint). However, upon independent review, the
Court finds that the Complaint is improperly drafted for a
number of reasons and due to be stricken. In the analysis
that follows, the Court will discuss the problems with the
Complaint as currently drafted and provide Schatzel with the
opportunity to file an amended complaint. Schatzel should
carefully review this Order and consider utilizing the
resources available for pro se litigants, cited below, before
filing an amended complaint. Failure to comply with the
pleading requirements set forth in this Order may result in
the dismissal of this action without further notice.
initial matter, Schatzel names John Does #2-100, and Jane
Does #100-300 as additional plaintiffs in the Complaint.
See Complaint at 1. It appears Schatzel is
attempting to assert claims on behalf of these Doe Plaintiffs
as “parens Patraie.” Id. It is unclear
what Schatzel means by this, but regardless, as a pro se
litigant, Schatzel does not have the right to represent the
interests of others. See Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d
870, 873-74 (11th Cir. 2008) (explaining that the
“‘established procedure . . . requires that only
one licensed to practice law may conduct proceedings in court
for anyone other than himself'” (internal quotation
omitted)); Johnson v. Brown, 581 Fed.Appx. 777, 781
(11th Cir. 2014) (affirming denial of class certification
because a pro se litigant cannot bring an action on behalf of
others similarly situated); Franklin v. Garden State Life
Ins., 462 Fed.Appx. 928, 930 (11th Cir. 2012)
(“The right to appear pro se, however, is
limited to those parties conducting ‘their own
cases' and does not apply to persons representing the
interests of others.”). Accordingly, in the amended
complaint, Schatzel must assert only his own legal claims. To
the extent other individuals seek to join in this action with
him, those individuals must sign the pleadings on their own
behalf. And, if such individuals wish to proceed anonymously,
they must seek permission from the Court to do so. See
Doe v. Frank, 951 F.2d 320, 322-23 (11th Cir. 1992).
the Court turns to the body of the Complaint. While pro se
complaints are held to a less stringent standard than those
drafted by an attorney, Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d
964, 967 (11th Cir. 1986), the pro se litigant is still
required to “‘conform to procedural
rules.'” Riley v. Fairbanks Capital Corp.,
222 Fed.Appx. 897, 898 (11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Loren v.
Sasser, 309 F.3d 1296, 1304 (11th Cir.
2002)). The Rules require that a complaint contain
“a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Rule 8(a)(2).
“‘A complaint need not specify in detail the
precise theory giving rise to recovery. All that is required
is that the defendant be on notice as to the claim being
asserted against him and the grounds on which it
rests.'” Evans v. McClain of Ga., Inc.,
131 F.3d 957, 964 n.2 (11th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).
Despite Rule 8(a)'s liberal pleading requirement,
“a complaint must still contain either direct or
inferential allegations respecting all material elements of a
cause of action.” Snow v. DirecTV, Inc., 450
F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006) (emphasis omitted). Rules 8
and 10 work together “‘to require the pleader to
present his claims discretely and succinctly, so that his
adversary can discern what he is claiming and frame a
responsive pleading, the court can determine which facts
support which claims and whether the plaintiff has stated any
claims upon which relief can be granted, and, at trial, the
court can determine that evidence which is relevant and that
which is not.'” Fikes v. City of Daphne,
79 F.3d 1079, 1082 (11th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).
“Where the allegations of a complaint are ‘vague
and ambiguous - leaving the reader to guess at precisely what
the plaintiff [is] claiming,' the court should order a
repleader.” Holbrook v. Castle Key Ins. Co.,
405 Fed.Appx. 459, 460 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Byrne v.
Nezhat, 261 F.3d 1075, 1128 (11th Cir. 2001)). Moreover,
in a case with multiple defendants, the complaint should
contain specific allegations with respect to each defendant;
generalized allegations “lumping” multiple
defendants together are insufficient to permit the
defendants, or the Court, to ascertain exactly what a
plaintiff is claiming. See West Coast Roofing and
Waterproofing, Inc. v. Johns Manville, Inc., 287
Fed.Appx. 81, 86 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Ambrosia Coal
& Const. Co. v. Pages Morales, 482 F.3d 1309, 1317
(11th Cir. 2007) and Brooks v. Blue Cross and Blue Shield
of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d 1364, 1381 (11th Cir. 1997)).
a complaint may not run afoul of the Eleventh Circuit's
prohibition against shotgun pleading. See generally
Weiland v. Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office, 792
F.3d 1313, 1321-23 (11th Cir. 2015) (outlining four broad
categories of impermissible shotgun pleadings). The Eleventh
Circuit has unequivocally instructed that shotgun pleadings
are “altogether unacceptable.” Cramer v.
State of Fla., 117 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th Cir. 1997);
see also Cook v. Randolph County, 573 F.3d 1143,
1151 (11th Cir. 2009) (“We have had much to say about
shotgun pleadings, none of which is favorable.”)
(collecting cases). Indeed, the Eleventh Circuit has engaged
in a “thirty-year salvo of criticism aimed at shotgun
pleadings, and there is no ceasefire in sight.” See
Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321 & n.9 (collecting cases).
As the Court in Cramer recognized, “[s]hotgun
pleadings, whether filed by plaintiff or defendant, exact an
intolerable toll on the trial court's docket, lead to
unnecessary and unchanneled discovery, and impose unwarranted
expense on the litigants, the court and the court's
parajudicial personnel and resources.” Cramer,
117 F.3d at 1263. When faced with the burden of deciphering a
shotgun pleading, it is the trial court's obligation to
strike the pleading on its own initiative, and force the
plaintiff to replead to the extent possible under Rule 11,
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See id.
(admonishing district court for not striking shotgun
complaint on its own initiative); see also Weiland,
792 F.3d at 1321 n.10 (“[W]e have also advised that
when a defendant fails to [move for a more definite
statement], the district court ought to take the initiative
to dismiss or strike the shotgun pleading and give the
plaintiff an opportunity to replead.”).
Schatzel's Complaint falls into three of the four
categories of shotgun pleadings prohibited in the Eleventh
Circuit. First, the most common type of shotgun pleading
involves a complaint containing “multiple counts where
each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts,
causing each successive count to carry all that came before
and the last count to be a combination of the entire
complaint.” See Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1321
& n.11 (collecting cases). As a result, “most of
the counts . . . contain irrelevant factual allegations and
legal conclusions.” Strategic Income Fund, L.L.C.
v. Spear, Leeds & Kellogg Corp., 305 F.3d 1293, 1295
(11th Cir. 2002). Consequently, in ruling on the sufficiency
of a claim, the Court is faced with the onerous task of
sifting out irrelevancies in order to decide for itself which
facts are relevant to a particular cause of action asserted.
See id. Here, Schatzel commits this exact error in
that each subsequent count of the seven-count Complaint
begins with the statement: “All of the complaint here
to fore is included in this count as if so stated
here.” See Complaint at 9-11.
addition, the Complaint embodies the second most-common form
of shotgun pleading in that it is “replete with
conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously
connected to any particular cause of action.” See
Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1322. Schatzel utilizes broad
generalities, vague references, and legal conclusions
throughout the Complaint but fails to include specific
factual allegations about the events giving rise to his legal
claims. For example, the Complaint references infringements
on the rights of workers broadly, see Complaint
¶ 25-32, as well as improper disciplinary actions
against drivers generally, id. ¶¶ 33-38,
without connecting these grievances to Schatzel specifically.
Although Schatzel does briefly reference an incident of
retaliation against him, he fails to allege any details about
what occurred, or connect this incident to the causes of
action set forth in the seven counts of the Complaint.
See id. ¶¶ 23-24.
the Complaint falls into the fourth category of shotgun
pleading identified in Weiland as it asserts
“multiple claims against multiple defendants without
specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which
acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is
brought against.” Weiland, 792 F.3d at 1323.
Indeed, there are several Defendants named in the caption of
the Complaint who are never mentioned again. As such, it is
impossible to discern what these Defendants are alleged to
have done and which claims are asserted against them.
for all of the foregoing reasons, the Court will strike
Schatzel's Complaint as an impermissible shotgun pleading
and direct Schatzel to file an amended complaint. See
Holbrook, 405 Fed.Appx. at 460-61 (“The district
court has the inherent authority sua sponte to
require the plaintiff to file a more definite
statement.”). Pursuant to Rules 8(a)(2) and 10(b), the
amended complaint shall set forth separate causes of action
in numbered counts against specific defendants and contain
“a short and plain statement” of Schatzel's
claims demonstrating that Schatzel is entitled to relief.
See Rules 8(a)(2), 10(b). Schatzel must avoid the
shotgun pleading deficiencies set forth above and describe in
sufficient detail the factual basis for each of his claims
and how each Defendant is responsible.
to filing his amended complaint, the Court encourages
Schatzel to consider consulting with a legal aid organization
that offers free legal services, such as Jacksonville Area
Legal Aid (JALA). Alternatively, the Court reminds Schatzel
that the Jacksonville Chapter of the Federal Bar Association
operates a Legal Information Program on Tuesdays from 11:00
a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on the ninth floor of the Bryan Simpson
United States Courthouse, 300 North Hogan Street,
Jacksonville, Florida 32202. Through that program, pro se
litigants may consult with a lawyer for free. Reservations
for specific appointments may be made by calling (904)
549-1900; walk-ins are welcome if space is available. More
information about the program is available on the Court's
www.flmd.uscourts.gov/legal-information-program. In accordance with the
foregoing, it is ORDERED:
Plaintiffs Complaint in Employment Standards (Doc. 1) is
Plaintiff may file an amended complaint consistent with the
directives of this Order on or before August 30,
2019. Failure to do so may result in a dismissal of