153 F.3d 516 (7th Cir. 1998), 97-4198, Bennett v. Schmidt

Docket Nº:97-4198.
Citation:153 F.3d 516
Party Name:, 41 Fed.R.Serv.3d 522, Valerie BENNETT, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Marie SCHMIDT, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:August 31, 1998
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Page 516

153 F.3d 516 (7th Cir. 1998)

, 41 Fed.R.Serv.3d 522,

Valerie BENNETT, Plaintiff-Appellant,


Marie SCHMIDT, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 97-4198.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

August 31, 1998

Argued Aug. 5, 1998.

Page 517

Douglas M. Grimes (argued), Gary, IN, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Thomas J. Canna, John F. Canna, Dawn M. Hinkle (argued), Canna & Canna, Orland Park, IL, for Defendants-Appellees.


EASTERBROOK, Circuit Judge.

The district court dismissed this employment-discrimination case, 1997 WL 760495, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19034, ruling that, at 12 "repetitious, rambling, and disorganized" pages, the complaint is not "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief". Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Because the complaint did not lay out facts that would be essential to support a decision for plaintiff on the merits, the district judge also dismissed it under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The tension between these two reasons--which imply that the complaint is simultaneously too long and too short--has led to plaintiff's appeal.

Twelve pages is longer than the model complaints appended to the Rules of Civil Procedure, and we agree with the district court that most averments after page five could have been omitted. By page five the complaint has told us who the plaintiff is, what position the defendants occupy (members of the Board of Directors of School District 15 in DuPage County, Illinois), stated that the plaintiff was turned down for teaching jobs at District 15, and asked to proceed on behalf of a class of similarly situated applicants. The essential allegations that make these events into a "claim for relief"--that Bennett was qualified and that she "was not permitted to interview for the position(s) because of her race"--appear on page five. Page 12 contains the demand for relief. The intervening six pages add detail (much of it repetitive, though some is potentially applicable to the class aspect), state that plaintiff wants to pursue a disparate-impact theory as well as a disparate-treatment claim, and assert four separate claims

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that appear to be different legal characterizations of the same events.

Complaints need not plead law or match facts to every element of a legal theory, so most averments in these six pages were unnecessary. See Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. (Zurich), 953 F.2d 1073 (7th Cir. 1992). But "[a]ll pleadings shall be so construed as to do substantial justice." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(f). This objective is defeated if excess length becomes a fatal misstep. Prolixity is a bane of the legal profession but a poor ground for rejecting potentially meritorious claims. Fat in a complaint can be ignored, confusion or...

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