Although TCPA practice is inherently national, it’s important not to lose sight of quirky local rules. A pro se TCPA plaintiff learned that lesson the hard way when the Middle District of Florida dismissed her complaint with prejudice after granting leave to amend three times. Dressler v. United States Dep’t of Educ., No. 2:18-cv-311 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55451 (M.D. Fla. April 1, 2019).
The rule that tripped the plaintiff the first three attempts was the prohibition on incorporating all prior paragraphs into each count. Doing so is a common practice throughout much of the country and a standard aspect of many complaints. But it does not fly in the Eleventh Circuit – particularly in the Middle District of Florida – which considers it a shotgun pleading subject to dismissal. The Middle District of Florida has even dismissed complaints as improper shotgun pleadings sua sponte, sometimes even years into a case or in response to summary judgment motions raising actual substantive issues. It seems silly, but the rule can really derail a case. And we have seen it applied to complaints filed by otherwise sophisticated attorneys, not just pro se plaintiffs.
The plaintiff’s fourth attempt at a proper complaint did not incorporate all allegations into each count, but the Court held that it was still an improper shotgun pleading. The plaintiff lumped multiple defendants together into numerous counts and relied on broad and generic allegations of wrongdoing. By this point the court had seen enough and dismissed the case with prejudice, after giving the plaintiff four chances.
Although the case involves a pro se plaintiff, there is a lesson in it. Always make sure you understand quirky local rules and practices. Otherwise, you could end up in the same boat as the plaintiff in Dressler.