Seemingly because of a lesser standard applied to pro se litigants, a plaintiff was able to convince the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit to overturn a district court’s dismissal for failure to state a claim in his complaint, which spanned over 95 pages. McZeal v. Sprint Nextel Corp., Case No. 06-1548 (Fed. Cir., Sept. 14, 2007) (Archer, J.; Dyk, J., concurring-in-part and dissenting-in-part).

McZeal, a prolific pro se litigant, filed suit against Sprint Nextel alleging, inter alia, infringement of his U.S. patent through use of a particular Motorola i930 cellular telephone. Following an initial hearing and a motion by Sprint Nextel to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, the district court concluded that the complaint failed to state a claim and subsequently denied McZeal’s request to amend the complaint. McZeal appealed.

The Federal Circuit noted that, as recognized by the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court, pro se litigants should be granted leeway on procedural matters, such as pleading requirements. The Federal Circuit acknowledged the five elements for stating a patent infringement claim, as identified by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure Form 16 (2006), but simplified the analysis by reciting the Supreme Court’s explanation in Bell Atlantic as to what is necessary for a claimant to state a claim: “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,’ in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’” The Federal Circuit elaborated, “[i]t logically follows that a patentee need only plead facts sufficient to place the alleged infringer on notice as to what he must defend.” The Court after identifying how McZeal’s complaint, factually meager though it was, pled sufficient facts to place Sprint Nextel on notice as to what it must defend, vacated the district court’s dismissal of McZeal’s complaint and remanded the case to “provide an opportunity for the district court to require McZeal to delineate his patent and trademark infringement claims and the evidence supporting these claims.” 

In dissent, Judge Dyk argued that because of McZeal’s extensive litigation experience, he should not be entitled to a lesser standard as a pro se litigant and that McZeal’s conclusory allegations without supporting factual averments should not sustain his claim for patent infringement under the Doctrine of Equivalents.