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White v. Homer Laughlin China Co.

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

June 18, 2019

CALVIN L. WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
HOMER LAUGHLIN CHINA CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS BUT GRANTING ALTERNATIVE MOTION FOR A MORE DEFINITE STATEMENT

          FREDERICK P. STAMP, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Background

         This civil action arises out of alleged events that took place while the pro se[1] plaintiff Calvin L. White was employed at Homer Laughlin China Co. (“Homer Laughlin”). ECF No. 1.

         Defendant Homer Laughlin then filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) or, in the alternative, a motion for a more definite statement, asserting that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ECF No. 10. Defendant contends that the handwritten complaint does not plausibly allege any claims for relief against Homer Laughlin as plaintiff does not plead any facts from which the Court could infer that his employment termination was unlawful under federal law. Further, defendant argues that plaintiff did not serve Homer Laughlin within 90 days after filing the complaint and, thus, the complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(5), 4(c)(1), and 4(m).[2] In the alternative, defendant asserts that if the Court is not inclined to dismiss the complaint outright, it should still require plaintiff to file a more definite statement and/or a complaint that complies with the requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10, insofar as the complaint is so vague and ambiguous that Homer Laughlin cannot formulate a response and also fails to separate the allegations into numbered paragraphs as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b).

         Plaintiff then filed a response in opposition to defendant's motion. ECF No. 11. In response, plaintiff states that he does not want his case to be dismissed because he was “discriminated by co-work[ers] and bosses” and “was not treated fairly.” ECF No. 11 at 1. Plaintiff asserts he has “a witness who is willing to come to court and tell the trut[h] about everything.” Id.

         II. Applicable Law

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a defendant to raise the defense of “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” as a motion in response to a plaintiff's complaint before filing a responsive pleading.

         In assessing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pled facts contained in the complaint as true. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc, 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). However, “legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement fail to constitute well-pled facts for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes.” Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). This Court also declines to consider “unwarranted inferences, unreasonable conclusions, or arguments.” Wahi v. Charleston Area Med. Ctr., Inc., 562 F.3d 599, 615 n.26 (4th Cir. 2009).

         It has often been said that the purpose of a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the formal sufficiency of the statement of the claim for relief; it is not a procedure for resolving a contest about the facts or the merits of the case. 5B Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356 (3d ed. 1998). The Rule 12(b)(6) motion also must be distinguished from a motion for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which goes to the merits of the claim and is designed to test whether there is a genuine issue of material fact. Id. For purposes of the motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the party making the claim and essentially the court's inquiry is directed to whether the allegations constitute a statement of a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Id. § 1357.

         A complaint should be dismissed “if it does not allege ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 302 (4th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Facial plausibility is established once the factual content of a complaint ‘allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Nemet Chevrolet, 591 F.3d at 256 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the facts alleged must be sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         Rule 12(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for a more definite statement, also must be filed before the defendant files a responsive pleading. Through such a motion, a party may request that the Court direct the plaintiff to re-file his complaint, more clearly pleading and defining his claims. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), such a motion should only be granted when a pleading is “so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a response.” A Rule 12(e) motion has a higher standard than that of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion in that a pleading which satisfies the liberal pleading standards above described may be nonetheless appropriately challenged as overly vague with a Rule 12(e) motion. See 5B Wright & Miller Federal Practice and Procedure § 1356. However, the standard set forth by the wording of Rule 12(e) was not intended to require the plaintiff to state with any high level of specificity the facts upon which his claims rely. Hodgson v. Virginia Baptist Hosp., 482 F.2d 821, 823 (4th Cir. 1973). In fact, the drafters of the rules only intended to ensure that sufficient facts would be pled which allowed the defendant to reasonably form a response. Id. Thus, the rules specifically restrict the motion for a more definite statement to pleadings which are so highly vague and ambiguous that the opposing party simply cannot be expected to form a meaningful response.

         III. Discussion

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 8, a complaint must include “(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction[;]” (2) “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and (3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a).

         Here, the pro se plaintiff's complaint consists of five (5) hand-written pages. The complaint is not separated into paragraphs and is written in the form of a narrative which centers on an alleged altercation between plaintiff and a co-worker which purportedly took place in March 2017. Construing the handwritten complaint liberally, the plaintiff appears to allege that on March 23, 2017, after various incidents with co-workers including not being permitted to take a restroom break, being spit on, and being pushed in the back, he was ...


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