The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently relied on an Eleventh Circuit prohibition against “shotgun pleadings” to dismiss with prejudice a pro se plaintiff’s claims. In Dressler v. United States Department of Education, plaintiff Sandra Dressler brought a ten-count complaint against nine defendants. She alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Telephone Consumer Protection Act, and breach of contract stemming from the servicing of her student loans and a tax debt.

In the Eleventh Circuit, courts are wary of pleadings that fail to provide specific factual allegations for each defendant because they fail to provide sufficient notice under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Termed “shotgun pleadings,” the Eleventh Circuit has warned against at least four specific types of insufficient pleadings:

  1. The most common type of shotgun pleading is a “complaint containing multiple counts where each count adopts the allegations of all preceding counts.” This causes each successive count to include all facts that came before and the last count to be a combination of the entire complaint, something disfavored in the Eleventh Circuit.
  2. The next most common type is a complaint that is “replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action.”
  3. The third type of shotgun pleading fails to separate into different counts each cause of action or claim for relief.
  4. The final and most rare type of shotgun pleading “assert[s] multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.”

See Dressler v. United States Department of Education, No. 2:18-cv-311, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 55451 (M.D. Fla. April 1, 2019) (quoting Weiland v. Palm Beach Cnty. Sheriff’s Ofc., 792 F.3d 1313, 1322-23 (11th Cir. 2015)).

Senior District Judge John Steele repeatedly warned Dressler of the Eleventh Circuit rules against shotgun pleadings. In light of these rules, he dismissed her complaint twice as a shotgun pleading because in both her original complaint and first amended complaint, “each count adopted the allegations of all preceding paragraphs and each count failed to identify the specific facts and the particular nature of the violations that each defendant allegedly committed, generally lumping defendants together under each count.” Both times he gave Dressler leave to amend.

In Dressler’s second amended complaint she removed the statement in each count incorporating previous paragraphs but continued to lump the defendants together and “provide generic and general factual allegations as if they apply to all defendants.” This is prohibited by the Eleventh Circuit’s admonishments against shotgun pleadings. Accordingly, Judge Steele dismissed these claims for the third time. This dismissal was with prejudice.

This case highlights the seriousness of the Eleventh Circuit’s requirement, consistent with Supreme Court precedent and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that plaintiffs must allege a plausible factual basis for their claims sufficient to give defendants notice of the alleged wrongful conduct. In short, no shotgun pleadings are allowed.