Monday, July 07, 2008

Ninth Circuit Vacates Dismissal of Civil Rights Complaint that Had Been Dismissed for Prolixity

Per Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dept., --- F.3d ----, 2008 WL 2579243 (9th Cir. July 01, 2008):

We turn now to the merits of the February 17, 2005 Order dismissing the First Case. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) authorizes a district court to dismiss a complaint with prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 8(a). Nevijel v. North Coast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 673 (9th Cir.1981). We review a Rule 41(b) dismissal for abuse of discretion. . . .

On appeal, Defendants do not attempt to identify particular allegations as immaterial or unnecessary. They do not assert that the complaint fails to set forth cognizable causes of action, that the legal theories are incoherent, or that they cannot tell which causes of action are alleged against which Defendants. They simply object that the complaint provides too much factual detail. . . .

the complaint at issue here was not “replete with redundancy and largely irrelevant.” Cf. McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1177. It set out more factual detail than necessary, but the overview was relevant to Plaintiff's causes of action for employment discrimination. Nor was it “confusing and conclusory.” Cf. Nevijel, 651 F.2d at 674. The complaint is logically organized, divided into a description of the parties, a chronological factual background, and a presentation of enumerated legal claims, each of which lists the liable Defendants and legal basis therefor. The FAC and the original complaint contain excessive detail, but are intelligible and clearly delineate the claims and the Defendants against whom the claims are made. These facts distinguish this complaint from the ones that concern the dissent. Here, the Defendants should have no difficulty in responding to the claims with an answer and/or with a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss. . . .

The district court abused its discretion by imposing the sanction of dismissal with prejudice instead of imposing a less drastic alternative. Plaintiff's complaints were long but intelligible and allege viable, coherent claims.


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