The Volokh Conspiracy

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"The Pleading Needs More Hemingway, Less Faulkner"

"Clocking in at 443 words and almost one-and-one-half pages in length, Paragraph 14 is a series of run-on sentences and sentence fragments ...."


From today's opinion in Doe v. Univ. of Iowa, by Judge Stephen Locher (S.D. Iowa.), discussing the Complaint (written by lawyers, not by a pro-se litigant):

Plaintiff alleges Defendants discriminated against him during their investigation into his purported sexual assault of a female student. His pleading, however, contains confusing and overly verbose paragraphs that are unreasonably difficult for Defendants to admit or deny. The Court therefore GRANTS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss without prejudice and directs Plaintiff to amend his Complaint to conform to the requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, which require a pleading to provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief." …

The Court agrees the Complaint does not satisfy Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. It further agrees that Paragraph 14 is illustrative of the problem. Clocking in at 443 words and almost one-and-one-half pages in length, Paragraph 14 is a series of run-on sentences and sentence fragments that alternates between the investigation into Plaintiff's actions and speculation about investigations into the conduct of other, unnamed "male students," all while using vague terms like "investigators" that may or may not include Defendants. Paragraph 14 also includes unnecessary asides—e.g., "really, one simply can't make this up"—and fails to provide the "simple, concise, and direct" allegations required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d). And all to allege something that could have been captured in one sentence: Investigations into sexual misconduct are tainted by sex and/or gender bias in which female witnesses are found credible for the same reasons male witnesses are found non-credible.

Similar flaws are found in other paragraphs. Paragraph 13, for example, contains perhaps the longest single sentence (178 words) the Court has ever seen in a pleading:

And that secondly segues into how these investigators routinely approach these cases—whether the male is a complaining party or, as in this case, an accused party—the UI investigators do not work multiple times, let alone even cursory on the single time, that they "interview" the male party's witnesses—those witnesses are summarily dismissed as it pertains to credibility and on either on or the other of two contradictory grounds: first, if there are substantive deviations in the statements of the witnesses in support of the male student (either accused or complaining), then those witnesses by the investigators, and particularly including the investigators named in this complaint, are dismissed as contradictory (and hence not believable); in contrast, if those witnesses' statements are in the main consistent—that is, supportive of the male student's version of the events in question—then these investigators routinely dismiss the validity of these statement on the basis, of all things, bias; and that purportedly is because any consistency among witnesses on behalf of a male student must be the result of such.

(Complaint, ¶ 13.) Paragraph 16 is a long-winded diatribe (more than 330 words in length) asserting, in essence, that hearings are tainted by bias against males. (Id., ¶ 16.) Paragraph 17 is an even longer-winded diatribe (more than 380 words in length) asserting the same thing. (Id., ¶ 17.)