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Mueller v. Henrico County School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

August 16, 2019

CHRISTIAN MUELLER and MELANIE MUELLER, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE HENRICO COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD and SUPERINTENDENT AMY CASHWELL, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          M. Hannah Lauck United States District Judge.

         This matter comes before the Court on two motions: (1) the Henrico County School Board (the "School Board") and Superintendent Amy Cashwell's ("Dr. Cashwell') Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rules 8(a)[1] and 10(b)[2] (the "Rules 8 and 10 Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 8); and, (2) Dr. Cashwell's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim (the "Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss"), (ECF No. 6). In the Rules 8 and 10 Motion to Dismiss, the School Board and Dr. Cashwell assert two grounds for relief: (1) that "[t]he [C]omplaint is so vague about time periods and events and so burdened by excessive and irrelevant information that the defendants cannot properly identify the relevant claims and file a proper responsive pleading;" and, (2) that "[t]he [C]omplaint does not state 'each claim founded on a separate transaction or occurrence... in a separate count.'" (Rules 8 and 10 Mot. Dismiss 1, ECF No. 8.) In the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, Dr. Cashwell asserts that the Complaint does not allege any wrongdoing on her part, that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA") does not create individual employee liability, and that the Court should dismiss her because "the action is essentially an action against the School Board." (Mem. Supp. Rule 12(b)(6) Mot. Dismiss 2-3, ECF No. 7.) Plaintiffs Christian Mueller and Melanie Mueller[3] (collectively, the "Muellers") responded and, in a single filing, opposed both the Rules 8 and 10 Motion to Dismiss and the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 10.) The School Board and Dr. Cashwell replied in a single filing. (ECF No. 12.)

         This matter is ripe for disposition. The Court dispenses with oral argument because the materials before it adequately present the facts and legal contentions, and argument would not aid the decisional process. The Court exercises jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.[4] For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Rules 8 and 10 Motion to Dismiss and deny as moot the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss.

         I. Review of the Muellers' Complaint

         The Court has reviewed the Complaint filed by the Muellers, which numbers almost 40 pages and includes over 130 individual paragraphs. The Muellers bring their Complaint against the School Board and the superintendent of Henrico County Public Schools, Dr. Amy Cashwell, requesting that the Court review a school hearing officer's determination under the IDEA, 20 U.S.C. § 1415. The Muellers request that the Court review the administrative record they have provided, reverse and vacate the hearing officer's September 12, 2018 decision to the extent that it adversely affected them, find that the School Board erred in denying Christian Mueller services, and award Melanie Mueller "all costs, expenses, advocates' fees, and [] other relief as appropriate. (Compl. 1, ECF No. 1; id. ¶¶ 131-133.)

         In their Complaint, Christian and Melanie Mueller allege a number of problems with the hearing officer's September 12, 2018 decision.[5] In support of their claims, the Muellers provide a difficult-to-follow narrative describing the School Board's treatment of Christian Mueller's needs and its treatment of Melanie Mueller as Christian's parent. Reading this narrative liberally, [6] the Muellers appear to aver that the impetus for the September 12, 2018 hearing stemmed from Christian Mueller's allegedly premature removal from the school's Individual Student Alternative Education Plan ("ISAEP") program, which prevented him from receiving further services from Glen Allen High School. The motions at bar followed.

         II.

         The Muellers' Complaint Fails to Meet the Pleading Requirements Articulated in Rules 8(a) and 10(b)

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires a short and plain statement of the grounds for this Court's jurisdiction and a statement of the claims showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Rule 8(d) requires "[e]ach allegation [to]... be simple, and direct." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(d). The Rules require such pleading "to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). "Even pro se plaintiffs must recognize Rule 8's vision for 'a system of simplified pleadings that give notice of the general claim asserted, allow for the preparation of a basic defense, narrow the issue to be litigated, and provide a means for quick dispositions of sham claims.'" Id. (quoting Prezzi v. Berzak, 57 F.R.D. 149, 151 (S.D.N.Y. 1972)). Unnecessarily verbose statements "place an unjustified burden on the court and the party who must respond to [them] because they are forced to select the relevant material from a mass of verbiage." Sewraz v. Morchower, No. 3:08cv100, 2009 WL 211578, at *1 (E.D. Va. Jan. 28, 2009) (quoting Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Although the Muellers list the ways in which they believe the "Hearing Officer" erred in making the September 12, 2018 decision and specify the relief they seek, their statement of the facts, the "narrative" of the case, offends Rule 8(a). The Muellers' statement of facts fails to coherently convey the facts, on which the Muellers rely, in a way that enables the School Board and Dr. Cashwell to understand the Muellers' grievances and to frame a responsive pleading. The 38-page, 133-paragraph Complaint contains statements pertaining to events over the course of several years, [7] discusses multiple individuals without describing their positions or their significance in this case, [8] and suffers from a lack of sufficient background information or context to explain how the various allegations fit into the overall narrative. Rather than providing clarity, the legal citations interspersed throughout the Muellers' Complaint muddy their allegations further. See Davis v. Infinity Ins. Co., No. 2:15cv01111, 2017 WL 4224588, at * 3 (N.D. Ala. Sept. 22, 2017) (finding that the plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint violated the federal pleading rules and stating that "her inclusion of legal arguments/conclusions muddies her allegations and claims beyond what is permissible").

         These problems force the Court and the Defendants to guess as to the relevance of many of the statements contained in the Muellers' narrative, and it makes the task of piecing together what has happened in this case impracticable. The Complaint "fails to articulate claims with sufficient clarity to allow [the School Board and Dr. Cashwell] to frame a responsive pleading." SunTrust Mortg., Inc. v. First Residential Mortg. Servs. Corp., No. 3:12cv162, 2012 WL 7062086, at *7 (E.D. Va. Sept. 11, 2012), report and recommendation adopted, 2013 WL 505828 (E.D. Va. Feb. 8, 2013) (citations omitted). Consequently, it fails to meet the pleading standard required by Rule 8(a), [9] and the Court will dismiss the Complaint.

         III.

         The Muellers* Complaint Also Likely Fails to Meet the Pleading Requirements of Rule 12(b)(6) as to Dr. Cashwell

         Because the Court has dismissed the Muellers' Complaint against both the School Board and Dr. Cashwell pursuant to Rule 8, the Court will deny as moot the Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss. However, even if the Court considered the Rule ...


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