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Jutras v. Lopez

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 25, 2018

MICHAEL R. JUTRAS, Plaintiff
v.
MARK LOPEZ, In His Official and Individual Capacities, TOWN OF CARRABASSETT VALLEY, DAVID COTA, In His Official and Individual Capacities, KARL STRAND, In His Official and Individual Capacities, STEPHEN KIRCHER, In His Official and Individual Capacities, SUGARLOAF MOUNTAIN CORPORATION, and BOYNE USA, INC., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT

          JOHN H. RICH III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The defendants in this civil-rights suit arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 move for a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). See Motion for a More Definite Statement of the Complaint (“Sugarloaf Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 26);[1] Defendants Mark Lopez, David Cota and Town of Carrabassett Valley's Motion for a More Definite Statement of the Complaint (“Town Defendants' Motion”) (ECF No. 39).[2] For the reasons that follow, the motions are denied.[3]

         I. Applicable Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) provides, in relevant part: “A party may move for a more definite statement of a pleading to which a responsive pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e).

         This court has observed:

A motion for more definite statement is granted only “[i]f a pleading to which a responsive pleading is permitted is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Rule 12(e) motions are not favored “in light of the availability of pretrial discovery procedures.” Cox v. Maine Mar. Acad., 122 F.R.D. 115, 116 (D. Me. 1988). The “Federal Rules employ the concept of notice pleading, and, for this reason, motions for a more definite statement are not favored.” Delta Educ., Inc. v. Langlois, 719 F.Supp. 42, 50 (D.N.H. 1989) (citation omitted). The “motion is granted sparingly since it is not to be used as a substitute for discovery in trial preparation . . . but is to be used only when a pleading is too general.” Town of Hooksett Sch. Dist. v. W. R. Grace & Co., 617 F.Supp. 126, 135 (D.N.H. 1984). Rule 12(e) motions are designed to “strike at unintelligibility, rather than at lack of detail in the complaint.” Cox, 122 F.R.D. at 116. Accordingly, a Rule 12(e) motion properly is granted “only when a party is unable to determine the issues he must meet.” Id.

Haghkerdar v. Husson College, 226 F.R.D. 12, 13-14 (D. Me. 2005).

         II. Factual Background

         The plaintiff's complaint is 122 pages long, exclusive of attachments, and contains 81 paragraphs, many of which are broken into multiple subparts. See Complaint for Violation of Civil Rights (“Complaint”) (ECF No. 1). At its core, however, the complaint alleges that defendant Mark Lopez, acting concurrently in his capacities as both the Chief of Police of the Town of Carrabassett Valley, Maine, and the Head of Security of Sugarloaf Mountain Corporation, conspired with other town officials and Sugarloaf corporate employees to engage in a targeted and systematic four-year campaign of harassment of the plaintiff beginning on about December 15, 2012, including unwarranted arrests, ticketing, and car towing, that eventually forced him to move to South Carolina and sell his Carrabassett Valley home. See Id. ¶¶ 21, 36, 38(Q), (V)-(W).

         III. Discussion

         The defendants argue that the complaint (i) violates the mandate of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief[, ]” (ii) fails to state “each claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence . . . in a separate count” as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10, and (iii) is “vague and ambiguous[, ]” as a result of which “[i]t is difficult to assess which claims . . . are asserted against which Defendants” and “excessively difficult for Defendants to assess appropriate defenses and frame a responsive pleading[, ]” warranting relief pursuant to Rule 12(e). Sugarloaf Defendants' Motion at 2-3 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) & 10(b)).

         The prolix complaint neither qualifies as a short and plain statement of the claim nor sets forth claims in separate counts. See generally Complaint. Indeed, it contains so much argument and extraneous detail that it is difficult to discern the relevant claim(s) and factual allegations. However, the plaintiff represents that he endeavored to follow instructions provided by the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina for pro se litigants in crafting his complaint, see Plaintiff's Response at 3, and, with some effort, one can sift the wheat from the chaff to determine his key factual allegations and the nature of his claim.[4] Because it is possible to do so and because, in my view, obliging the pro se plaintiff to revamp his complaint would serve no useful purpose, I deny the defendants' motions.

         As noted above, the plaintiff makes reasonably clear that his complaint arises from an alleged four-year-long campaign of harassment by Lopez, acting both personally and as the concurrent agent/employee of the Town of Carrabassett Valley and the Sugarloaf Defendants, over a four-year period commencing in December 2012. See Complaint ¶ 36. He details numerous instances of that alleged harassment, including that he was served with an unwarranted summons for trespassing in a common area of his own condominium complex in April 2013, see Id. ¶¶ 38(B)-(C), he was given unwarranted parking and traffic tickets, see Id. ¶ 38(D), his valid parking pass for his condominium complex was wrongfully revoked while in his girlfriend's possession, see Id. ¶ 38(E), he was tailgated on several occasions in 2013 and 2014 in a harassing manner by members of the town's police force, see Id. ¶ 38(F), and, in December 2013, he was wrongfully summonsed for “Reckless Conduct” after tossing a mattress off of his deck, following which the District Attorney declined to prosecute the case, see Id. ¶ 38(G).

         The plaintiff further alleges that the conduct of which he complains caused harms including mental anguish, see id. ¶ 22, damage to his reputation, see id., difficulties gaining entry into Canada in an expeditious manner and obtaining automobile insurance, see Id. ΒΆΒΆ 38(M)-(N), and ...


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