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Maas v. City of Billings

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

November 4, 2019

DARLENE MAAS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF BILLINGS, MONTANA; BILLINGS, MONTANA POLICE DEPARTMENT; CHIEF RICH ST. JOHN, CAPTAIN CONRAD, OFFICER KEIG HTLEY, OFFICER LANGE, OFFICER AGUILAR, OFFICER SCHAFF, and JOHN DOES 1-10 Defendants.

          ORDER

          KATHLEEN L. DESOTO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         The above-named Defendants move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e) for an order requiring pro se Plaintiff Darlene Maas to provide a more definite statement. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

         I. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a complaint to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Rule 12(e) provides that “[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 part cannot reasonably prepare a response.” A Rule 12(e) motion attacks the intelligibility of the complaint rather than the lack of detail, and should be denied “where the complaint notifies the defendant of the substance of the claims asserted.” Alicia Johnson v. City of Portland, 2019 WL 5406551, *1 (D. Or. Oct. 3, 2019).

         The proper “test in evaluating a motion under Rule 12(e) is whether the complaint provides the defendant with a sufficient basis to frame a responsive pleading.” Scripps Health v. Vision Software Technologies Inc., 2010 WL 11508881, *3 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 13, 2010). In light of “the liberal pleading requirements of Rule 8, motions for a more definite statement are ‘viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted.'” Myers v. Howmedical Osteonics Corp., 2015 WL 1467109, *1 (D. Mont. 2015) (quoting Sanchez v. City of Fresno, 914 F.Supp.2d 1079, 1122 (E.D. Cal. 2012).

         Where, as here, the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court has an obligation “to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the [plaintiff] the benefit of any doubt.” Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012). “[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Woods v. Carey, 525 F.3d 886, 889-90 (9thCir. 2008) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         II. Discussion

         Plaintiff filed this action in state court on June 5, 2019, using a complaint form provided by the state court. (Doc. 3). The opening sentence of the Complaint alleges “[t]he Billings Police Dept. engaged in an extended baseless, biased course of conduct.” (Doc. 3 at 1). In the section immediately following, Plaintiff identifies four claims for relief set forth verbatim as follows:

1. Defamation - responsible for accident when had no accident, referred to as hit & run driver, trespasser, well-known signal 27.
2. Repeated failure and refusal to adhere to State of Montana Law Enforcement Code of the Ethics 23.13.203.
3. Violation of my Montana Constitutional Rights, Sec. 2, #3) Inalienable Rights, #4) Individual Dignity, #17) Due Process of Law.
4. Violation of my U.S. Constitutional Rights, the Bill of Rights, and Amendment 14.

(Doc. 3 at 1-2). The rest of the Complaint consists of Plaintiff's request for relief. She seeks “[r]emoval of all false, defaming, biased, baseless, discriminatory statements & actions from any & all Billings Police Dept. records, ” and asks for “[t]raining & education to the Billings Police Dept. focused on” several areas including bias, ethics, and discrimination. (Doc. 3 at 2). Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages, and wants “[t]hose responsible for the harassment and criminal mischief to me and my property be held accountable by the Billings Police Dept. just as any other county resident would be.” (Doc. 3 at 4).

         Within thirty days after service of the Complaint, Defendants removed the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) on the ground that Plaintiff's federal constitutional claim gives this Court federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. 1 at 3). One week later, on July 25, 2019, Defendants filed the pending motion for a more definite statement. Defendants argue ...


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