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Talley v. Harper

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 31, 2017

MR. ORLANDO H. HARPER, et al, Defendants.


          Cynthia Reed Eddy United States Magistrate Judge

         Presently pending before the Court for disposition is the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 87) filed by Defendants Harper, Emerick, Wainwright, Beason, Koss, Andreasick, Rubble, Raible, Arlotta, Mazzocca, Brojovich, Zoller, Bosak and Butler, all of whom are employees of the County of Allegheny (collectively referred to as the “County Defendants”). Plaintiff has filed a Response in opposition. (ECF No. 96). For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted in so far as it seeks dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). Plaintiff will be given the opportunity to file an amended complaint that complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


         Plaintiff, Antron Talley (“Plaintiff” or “Talley”) is a pro se inmate currently housed at the Allegheny County Jail (“ACJ”).[3] The alleged incidents giving rise to this lawsuit, however, occurred when Talley was previously housed at ACJ on a different set of charges.[4]

         In his Complaint, Talley names approximately 23 individuals, all of whom worked at ACJ, either as County employees or as employees of Corizon, a contractor employed by Allegheny County to provide health care services to inmates at the ACJ.[5] The claims in the Complaint relate to an approximate eight-month period from December 19, 2013, through August 2014. The handwritten complaint is 32 pages in length. Although the narrative text is chronologically organized, it does not set out separate claims but rather offers sweeping allegations about a litany of wrongdoings. The complaint is best described as a “kitchen-sink” or “shotgun” complaint, It appears that the Complaint raises six claims: “access to courts, excessive force, practice religion, tampering with legal mail, cruel and unusual punishment, due process.” See Complaint at Paragraph III (ECF No. 9); and Pl's Resp. at 2 (“There are 6 [six] claims stated by the Plaintiff.”) (ECF No. 96).

         Although difficult to summarize, his Complaint contains many distinct legal claims arising out of allegations that Defendants denied him medical treatment, legal mail, legal material, and grievances. He alleges that he was subjected to excessive force, verbal harassment, conditions of confinement detrimental to his health and safety, and that Defendants failed to submit his grievances for processing. With respect to the numerous supervisory Defendants, he alleges that he informed them of the ongoing misconduct of their subordinates, but they failed to remedy any of the alleged wrongdoing. Because Plaintiff's Complaint violates the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, he will be required to file an amended complaint which complies with the Federal Rules.


         The County Defendants have filed the instant Motion to Dismiss in which they argue, in the alternative, that the Complaint should be dismissed due to its defective format and Talley be required to file an amended complaint in which he presents his claims concisely as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. After careful consideration, the Court agrees with Defendants and finds that the current format of the Complaint is not in compliance with Rule 8.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Additionally, each allegation must be “simple, concise and direct.” Id. at 8(d)(1). “Taken together, ” Rules 8(a) and (d)(1), “underscore the emphasis placed on clarity and brevity by the federal pleadings rules.” In re Westinghouse Sec. Litig., 90 F.3d 696, 702 (3d Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

         Courts have repeatedly criticized the filing of “kitchen-sink” or “shotgun” complaints - complaints in which a plaintiff brings every conceivable claim against every conceivable defendant. Such complaints are troublesome for many reasons. For one thing, complaints like the instant one unfairly burden defendants and courts. The plaintiff who files such a shotgun complaint shifts onto the defendant and the court the burden of identifying the plaintiff's genuine claims and determining which of those claims might have legal support. This is not the job of either a defendant or the Court. It is the plaintiff's burden under Rule 8 to reasonably investigate his claims, to research the relevant law, to plead only viable claims, and to plead those claims concisely and clearly, so that a defendant can readily respond to them and a court can readily resolve them.

         It is important to note that a “kitchen-sink” or “shotgun” complaint also harms the plaintiff who brings it. In most cases, a genuine dispute that supports a viable legal claim underlies a plaintiff's complaint. But this genuine dispute becomes almost impossible to discern when it is buried in pages of various allegations, some of which may not rise to the level of a constitutional claim.

         In the instant case, Talley's complaint is before the Court on a motion to dismiss. The Court will therefore dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to comply with Rule 8, but the Court will stay the dismissal until March 6, 2017. If Plaintiff wishes to pursue his lawsuit, it must file an amended complaint that complies with Rule 8 by March 6, 2017.

         The Court provides Talley some additional guidance that he must follow if he chooses to file an amended complaint.

         First, the amended complaint must state as briefly as possible the facts of your case and describe how each defendant was personally involved in the alleged wrongful action, along with the dates and locations of all relevant event. Each claim shall be stated in a separate numbered paragraph, i.e., - Claim One - Claim of Excessive Force Against Defendant (Name); Claim Two - Denial of ...

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