4th Try’s a Charm: 11th Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Pro Se’s Third Amended Complaint

In Dressler v. Equifax, Inc. 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 8194, the Eleventh Circuit Court reviewed a district court’s decision to dismiss a Pro Se Plaintiff’s third amended complaint.  For the record, at issue here is the Plaintiff’s fourth iteration of her lawsuit!  In May 2018, the Plaintiff’s complaint took aim at the U.S. Department of Education; Betsy DeVos personally; the Florida Department of Education; Navient Corporation; Equifax (as an aside, consistently, Equifax, as with the other credit reporting agencies are improperly named in these types of suits as they are not involved in collection activity) and some debt collecting companies among other defendants.  The Plaintiff had attempted to sue them on a heaping ten counts, all arising from allegedly-unlawful attempts to collect debts. 

The district court dismissed her first complaint, saying it was a shotgun pleading.  As a quick background, a shotgun pleading is a complaint that is jumbled, vague and conclusory, and does not sufficiently differentiate between different defendants’ conduct.  Such complaints fail to meet a most basic pleading standard in Federal Rule 8.  They waste judicial resources, and are subject to dismissal.  Here, each time Plaintiff had filed her amended complaint, a defendant would attack it with a motion to dismiss, arguing it was a shotgun pleading. The court agreed with the Defendants each time and kept warning her to correct the complaint, or it would be subject to dismissal with prejudice.  On her fourth try the court finally said enough is enough, and dismissed her entire action with prejudice.  However, the Eleventh Circuit held the district court partially erred in ruling this Pro Se’s Complaint was a shotgun pleading.

The Eleventh Circuit acknowledged that the district court was right for dismissing the first three iterations of the complaint as shotgun pleadings.  However, the court held the Plaintiff adequately addressed the district court’s concerns on her fourth try.  The unanimous court wrote: “While [the complaint is] not at all times a model of clarity, it is reasonably concise, [and] alleges concrete actions and omissions undertaken by specific defendants…”  Finally, the court evoked a universal litigation theme, “we are especially unconvinced that dismissal is appropriate given that the complaint was drafted by a pro se litigant.” 

The Court did sustain the lower court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s FDCPA claim relating to her tax debts that a defendant was contacting her to collect on.  The Court held that tax obligations are not consumer debts and are thus not governed by the FDCPA.  Keep on raining those Motions to Dismiss TCPAWorld Defense! 

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