Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hearns v. San Bernadino Police Dep't (9th Cir. - July 1, 2008)

I can't think of a better case to read regarding the requirement of Rule 8(a) that pleadings contain a "short and plain" statement of the claim than this one. It concerns a clear, but verbose, 81-page complaint. It involves a district court who warned the plaintiff (and her counsel) that the complaint was too long, and ordered a new complaint to be filed, to which the plaintiffs essentially responded by merely changing the size of the margins so the same complaint only took up 68 pages. There are strong arguments on both sides: the best argument in favor of the dismissal is the steadfast reluctance to remedy the clear verbosity, but the best argument against the dismissal is that the complaint was clear and more than adequate to provide notice. Finally, both of these positions are exemplified in the case: Judge Hart (sitting by designation from the Northern District of Illinois) writes the majority opinion and reverses the trial court's dismissal of the complaint, and Judge Kleinfeld pens a dissent on this point. Perfect. For a civil procedure professor, you couldn't ask for any better teaching tool.

The case also sheds a little bit of personal insight into the trials and tribulations (as well as the lives) of two of the plaintiff's attorneys: Danuta Tuszynska (a Riverside sole practitioner and Western State graduate) and Letitia Pepper (a Hastings graduate who also practices in Riverside). You can read the opinion for the details, but I can summarize them by saying (1) that I'm sure that this was not their favorite case, and (2) from the looks of it, most of us would probably not trade our legal career for theirs.