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Hunter v. Indiana School District

March 31, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is Defendant Indiana School District's Motion for a More Definitive Pleading, wherein it requests that the Complaint filed against it by pro se Plaintiff Deborah Hunter be re-pled in order to more fully describe her claims pursuant to Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket Nos. 6, 7). Upon consideration of Defendant's Motion (Docket No. [6]), Brief in Support (Docket No. [7]), Plaintiff's response to Defendant's motion (Docket No. [11]), and the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint (Docket No. [3]), Defendant's Motion [6] is granted, in part, and denied, in part. Accordingly, as set forth below, Plaintiff shall file an Amended Complaint by April 16, 2010.

1. The Court's Show Cause Order

The Court is mindful that Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and, therefore, the factual allegations in her pleadings are liberally construed as she is held to a less stringent standard than attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). However, pro se litigants are required to abide by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this Court's Practices and Procedures,*fn1 the Local Rules of Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania,*fn2 and all Orders issued by this Court.

Plaintiff initiated this action pro se by submitting a motion to proceed in forma pauperis and her Complaint on December 17, 2009. (Docket No. 1). Her motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted by this Court on December 18, 2009 and her Complaint was filed on that date. (Docket Nos. 2, 3). After waiving service, Defendant responded to the Complaint by filing a motion for a more definitive statement on February 15, 2010. (Docket Nos. 6, 7). The Court then issued its standard Order on Motions Practice on February 16, 2010, which provided, in part that: "Responses to non-dispositive motions shall be filed within ten (10) days, not to exceed five (5) pages. No reply briefs to non-dispositive motions are permitted without leave of court. Responses to dispositive motions shall be filed within twenty (20) days. Responsive briefs are limited to twenty (20) pages in length." (Docket No. 8). Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant's motion for a more definitive pleading, and the Court issued a Show Cause Order on March 15, 2010 directing her to show good cause why she failed to respond to Defendant's motion. (Docket No. 9). As directed, Plaintiff filed two pleadings on March 25, 2010, which are properly construed as a response to the Court's Show Cause Order and a brief in opposition to the Defendant's motion for a more definitive pleading. (Docket Nos. 10, 11).

In response to the Court's Show Cause Order, Plaintiff apologizes for not responding to the Order, explaining that she is not an attorney, is without the financial means to hire an attorney and that she did not understand that she was required to submit a response to the Defendant's motion. (Docket No. 10). She requests that the Court consider her response to the Defendant's motion, which she filed contemporaneously with her response to the Show Cause Order. (Id.). Given Plaintiff's representations, the Court finds that she has demonstrated good cause for her failure to respond to the Defendant's motion. In addition, Defendant has not been prejudiced by the delay nor opposed the late filing. Accordingly, the Court will consider her response to Defendant's motion for a more definitive statement as if it was timely filed.

2. Defendant's Motion for a More Definitive Statement

a. Applicable Legal Standards

Defendant has moved for an order of court requiring Plaintiff to set forth a more definitive statement of her claims in her Complaint. (Docket No. 6). Defendant bases its motion on Rule 12(e), which provides that "[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, the party may move for a more definitive statement before interposing a responsive pleading." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(e). Motions brought under Rule 12(e) are "disfavored," Carpenters Combined Funds v. Klingman, Civ. A. No. 10-63, 2010 WL 1007830, at *2 (W.D. Pa. March 15, 2010), and are "directed to the rare case where because of the vagueness or ambiguity of the pleading the answering party will not be able to frame a responsive pleading." Schadler v. Eagle Publications, Inc., 370 F.2d 795, 798 (3d Cir.1967).

The general requirements for the contents of complaints are set forth in Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint must contain a "short, plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," and that "[e]ach allegation must be simple, concise, and direct." FED.R.CIV.P. 8(a), 8(d). In addition, a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to make any claim for relief requested "plausible" on the face of the Complaint. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). "No technical form" for a complaint is required except as set forth in Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 10(b) requires that "[a] party must state its claims ... in numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances." FED.R.CIV.P. 10(b). Moreover, "[i]f doing so would promote clarity, each claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence ... must be stated in a separate count or defense." FED.R.CIV.P. 10(b).

b. Plaintiff's Allegations

The Court now turns to the allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint, which consists of six pages of factual statements organized in unnumbered bullet points. (Docket No. 3). Plaintiff's daughter, Haley, is 18 years old and a senior at Indiana Area School District, Indiana, PA. (Docket No. 3 at 1). Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant failed to provide a free and appropriate public education ("FAPE") to her daughter and that she "wishes to appeal" the decision of Hearing Officer Daniel J. Meyers dated September 19, 2009. (Id.). She also states that the Defendant "discriminated" against Haley. (Id.).

Haley is diagnosed with "High Functioning Autism, Depression NOS 3011, Anxiety Disorder, NOS 300.00, Mathematics Disorder 315, Allergies, [and] frequent nosebleeds." (Id.). Haley's "psychosocial stressors include peer related issues and conflicts; learning problems including auditory and visual processing issues." (Id. at 1-2). Lawrence R. Sutton, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist, has diagnosed Haley with a moderate-severe GAF of 48 and a current GAF of 45. (Id. at 2). Plaintiff details the learning difficulties that affect her daughter, particularly Mathematics, Algebra and Geometry, and explains her further difficulties with practical applications of these disciplines. (Id.). Plaintiff contends that despite being a senior at Indiana High School, Haley is still at a 3rd or 4th grade level in math. (Id.). Haley also has difficulty in other courses including Reading, English, History, Economics, Art and Health class. (Id. at 2-3).

Plaintiff maintains that Haley has received high grades, A's and B's, from Indiana School District but that her report cards are not a true measure of her performance. (Id. at 4). Plaintiff believes that Haley receives high marks because she is permitted to take tests in a resource room with assistance from an aide or teacher, who help her answer the questions on the tests. (Id.). In Plaintiff's view, a better measure of Haley's performance are her poor results received in ...

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