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David Lee Laskiewicz v. Russell Swartz

May 31, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, proceeding in this action in propria persona, brings this civil action. Pending before the court is defendants' motion*fn1 to dismiss/strike or in the alternative for a more definite statement (Doc. 26). Also pending before the court is plaintiff's motion to quash the defendants' motion (Doc. 34) and his opposition thereto (Doc. 35)

I. Background

This action proceeds on plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 6) filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) on November 21, 2011. Defendant Kinney was served on February 1, 2012, and a clerk's entry of default was entered against him on March 9, 2012. The two other defendants, Swartz and Berg, were served on March 20, 2012. Plaintiff's request for entry of default against these two defendants, which was received by the court on April 16, 2012, was denied as the instant motion had been received on April 12, 2012.

II. Motion to Dismiss

Defendants filed the motion to dismiss on the basis that plaintiff fails to allege a sufficient basis of jurisdiction. Defendants argue that the plaintiff's reliance on Article VII of the United States Constitution and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Title 28 § 1322 are insufficient grounds to establish jurisdiction.

Pro se litigants are expected to follow the Federal rules of Civil Procedure. See Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995). However, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). It is clear to the court that plaintiff simply erred in his citations. This type of error is not terminal in a pro se case. Rather, the court interprets the plaintiff's citations as 28 U.S.C. § 1332, which is the diversity jurisdiction statute. In so far as defendants argue this case does not qualify for diversity jurisdiction, such a position is unsustainable. Plaintiff pleads, and defendants do not challenge, that diversity exists as he is a resident of Arizona while the defendants are residents of California. Defendants do argue the amount in controversy is insufficient to qualify this case for diversity jurisdiction, but plaintiff does allege the amount of damages is over $75,000.

The basis for defendants' motion to dismiss or strike is insufficient. As such the motion is denied. However, as discussed below, the motion for a more definitive statement will be granted.

III. Motion for More Definite Statement

In the alternative, defendants move for a more definite statement of plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) "is designed to strike at unintelligibility, rather than want of detail." Woods v. Reno Commodities, Inc., 600 F. Supp. 574, 580 (D. Nev. 1984); Nelson v. Quimby Island Reclamation Dist. Facilities Corp., 491 F. Supp. 1364, 1385 (N.D. Cal. 1980). The rule permits a party to move for a more definite statement when a pleading "is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). Such a motion "must be considered in light of the liberal pleading standards set forth in Rule 8(a)(2)." Comm. for Immigrant Rights of Sonoma County v. County of Sonoma, 644 F. Supp. 2d 1177, 1191 (N.D. Cal. 2009). It is not the function of a Rule 12(e) motion to enable the defendants to ascertain details of the plaintiff's case or to require the plaintiff to provide evidentiary material that may properly be obtained by discovery. See id.; Woods, 600 F. Supp. at 580; Famolare, Inc. v. Edison Bros. Stores, Inc., 525 F. Supp. 940, 949 (E.D. Cal. 1981); Boxall v. Sequoia Union High Sch. Dist., 464 F. Supp. 1104, 1114 (N.D. Cal. 1979).

Motions for more definite statement "should be granted only where the complaint is so indefinite that the defendants cannot ascertain the nature of the claims being asserted and 'literally cannot frame a responsive pleading.'" Hubbs v. County of San Bernardino, 538 F. Supp. 2d 1254, 1262 (C.D. Cal. 2008) (quoting Bureerong v. Uvawas, 922 F. Supp. 1450, 1461 (C.D. Cal. 1996)). See also Comm. for Immigrant Rights of Sonoma County, 644 F. Supp. 2d at 1191 (holding that a motion for more definite statement is proper only where the complaint is so vague or ambiguous that the opposing party cannot respond even with a simple denial). In addition, any motion for more definite statement "must point out the defects complained of and the details desired." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). The issue before the court, on a Rule 12(e) motion is whether the complaint is sufficiently understandable, not whether the facts alleged are sufficient to state a claim.

Plaintiff's complaint is unclear. He alleges the three defendants, who are all attorneys, were involved in his marital dissolution proceedings in state court: defendants Kinney and Berg were retained by plaintiff, Swartz was retained by his wife. Plaintiff alleges the defendants failed to disclose that the marital termination was not properly entered. He also claims the defendants persecuted him for his religious beliefs and caused him undue financial hardships, in violation of his Constitutional rights. The complaint is difficult to read and comprehend, but it appears that plaintiff alleges some error occurred in the entry of final judgment in his divorce proceedings. It also appears that due to this error, plaintiff's ex-wife remarried, thus committing bigamy, because their divorce was not finalized. Plaintiff apparently believes this was all done on purpose by the defendants to harass him due to his religious beliefs. Plaintiff also blames the defendants for his loss of a union job, and alleges defendant Swartz accepted payment of money from his ex-wife even knowing she was on welfare. In addition, plaintiff is apparently not allowed to visit his daughter, and he alleges the defendants conspired with his ex-wife to keep him from doing so, to the extent they were helping his ex-wife with her plans to shoot the plaintiff if he attempted to visit even though the defendants knew of her violent past ( with allegations that his ex-wife had a history of shooting people).

The allegations in plaintiff's complaint are so vague and conclusory that the court is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice to the defendants and must allege facts that support the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some ...

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