STANARD v. NYGREN (September 19, 2011)
H. Michael Stanard and his wife built an outdoor amphitheater on property they owned in rural McHenry County, Illinois. For years, they hosted public events there, including a 40th anniversery tribute to Woodstock in 2009. They brought suit against the Sheriff of McHenry County and 22 of his deputies, as well as the County itself, alleging that Sheriff Nygren forced them to use County deputies for security at these events at inflated rates. The original complaint contained 28 counts, asserting, among others, §§ 1983 and 1985 claims, RICO claims, and state law claims. The complaint made no effort to identify which defendants were guilty of what conduct. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). After missing numerous deadlines to respond, the plaintiffs finally responded almost six months late. Judge Kapala (N.D. Ill.) granted the motion. He dismissed several frivolous counts with prejudice and dismissed others without prejudice, giving plaintiffs' attorney an opportunity to be plead more concisely. Again, plaintiffs missed deadlines before filing a motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Very few of the original complaint's deficiencies were corrected. Even some specific concerns addressed by the district court in its original ruling were ignored. The court denied the motion but gave plaintiffs yet another chance. Again, plaintiffs filed an amended complaint without correcting the complaint’s fundamental deficiencies. The district court dismissed the federal claims with prejudice. Plaintiffs appeal.
In their opinion, Seventh Circuit Judges Manion, Rovner, and Sykes affirmed. The Court first noted that plaintiffs' counsel's inability to meet deadlines spilled over into the Seventh Circuit. Notwithstanding three extensions, the brief was filed late and without a proper jurisdictional statement. The Court turned to the merits. It noted that the Rules 8 and 10 pleading requirements are meant to ensure that a complaint puts the defendant on notice of the claims against him. When a complaint is unintelligible and lacks the coherence and organization to put a defendant on notice, dismissal is an appropriate remedy. The Court concluded that the Stanard’s complaint was just that. It cited the numerous sentences in excess of 100 words, the lack of any cohesive core allegation against the defendants, the numerous conclusory allegations, and the grammatical errors, just to name a few. Plaintiffs were given two opportunities, with specific instructions, to correct these deficiencies and failed to do so. Although leave to amend a complaint is normally allowed, the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the complaint under these circumstances. In addition to affirming the dismissal, the Court ordered plaintiffs' counsel to show cause why he should not be disciplined and ordered the clerk to forward a copy of its opinion to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Illinois.