Oladeinde v. City of Birmingham

Decision Date24 June 1992
Docket NumberNo. 91-7518,91-7518
Citation963 F.2d 1481
PartiesVALINDA F. OLADEINDE, PATRICIA L. FIELDS, Plaintiffs-Counterclaim Defendants-Appellees, v. CITY OF BIRMINGHAM, a municipal corporation, Richard Arrington, individually and in his capacity as Mayor of the City of Birmingham, Arthur Deutsch, individually and in his capacity as Chief of Police of the City of Birmingham, Julius Walker, individually and in his capacity as Provisional Captain of Administrative Vice-Narcotics Division, R.L. Webb, individually and in his capacity as Provisional Captain of Internal Affairs Division, Defendants-Counterclaim Plaintiffs-Appellants, David Barber, Roger Brown, United States of America, State of Alabama, Movants.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Kenneth L. Thomas, Thomas, Means & Gillis, Birmingham, Ala., for Walker.

Joe R. Whatley, Jr., Samuel H. Heldman, Cooper, Mitch, Crawford, Kuykendall & Whatley; and Donald V. Watkins, Birmingham, Ala., for all other defendants.

William M. Dawson, Jr., and Gayle H. Gear, Dawson, Ramsey & Wiley, Birmingham, Ala., for appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before EDMONDSON and COX, Circuit Judges, and MERHIGE *, Senior District Judge.

EDMONDSON, Circuit Judge:

Defendants, sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, appeal the district court's order denying their motion to dismiss based, among other things, on qualified immunity. We reverse in part and affirm in part.


Plaintiffs, Valinda F. Oladeinde and Patricia L. Fields, are Birmingham Police Department officers who filed a section 1983 action against the City of Birmingham, Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington, Birmingham Police Chief Arthur Deutsch, Provisional Captain Julius Walker of the Vice-Narcotics Division of the Birmingham Police Department and Provisional Captain R.L. Webb of the Department's Internal Affairs Division. (Excluding the City, defendants were sued in their official and individual capacity.) Plaintiffs alleged that defendants violated plaintiffs' rights to free speech, due process, equal protection and freedom of association by retaliating against plaintiffs' "whistleblowing" about wrongdoing in the Police Department. 1

Defendants moved unsuccessfully to dismiss the original complaint and then moved for dismissal again after some discovery and pretrial proceedings. The district court denied this second motion, but certified the denial order for interlocutory appeal. This court denied permission to appeal; we were unable to determine what question of law might control plaintiffs' claims because plaintiffs' complaint was a "shotgun" pleading containing rambling facts and multiple claims for relief all under one count and because we were unable to determine from the district court's order whether the district court ruled on a question of law. See Oladeinde v. City of Birmingham, No. 91-2061 (11th Cir. filed May 8, 1991).

The case went back to the district court, which allowed plaintiffs to amend their complaint. Defendants again moved for dismissal after plaintiffs amended their complaint; the motion to dismiss was based on these grounds: (1) complaint's failure to conform to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8; (2) complaint's failure to state a claim for which relief might be granted; (3) the substance of the alleged wrongful activity was privileged from discovery; (4) qualified immunity; and (5) for the state-law claims, defendants' argument that the district court should exercise no pendent jurisdiction.

The district court denied defendants' motion with the following brief statement:

Defendants evidently got carried away by the Eleventh Circuit's comments by way of dicta and citation to Pelletier v. Zweifel, 921 F.2d 1465 (11th Cir.1991) [ (condemning "shotgun" pleadings), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 112 S.Ct. 167, 116 L.Ed.2d 131 (1991) ]. This court is satisfied that plaintiffs' complaint falls comfortably in between what would be required by strict common law pleading and "shotgun" or nebulous and vague pleading so as to find acceptance under the notice pleading requirements of the federal rules.

In addition, defendants' motion to dismiss appears to be fired out of the same or a similar shotgun from which they accuse plaintiffs of firing. In any event none of the grounds or rounds fired are sufficient to justify a grant of the motion to dismiss.

Oladeinde v. City of Birmingham, No. 91-AR-0196-S (N.D.Ala. filed June 2, 1991). Apart from stating that plaintiffs' complaint met federal civil procedure pleading requirements, the district court never explained why it rejected defendants' other grounds for dismissal. This appeal by the individual-capacity defendants followed.


Defendants argue that the district court erred by concluding that plaintiffs' complaint conformed to procedural rules, by concluding that plaintiffs' complaint stated a claim for which relief might be granted, and by rejecting defendants' qualified-immunity defense. 2 Many factors complicate our review of defendants' three claims, but no factor plays as dominant a complicating role as the long and wordy nature of plaintiffs' amended complaint.

In all kinds of cases, pleadings should be "simple, concise, and direct." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1). 3 We are perplexed and frustrated by the fact that, despite clear guidance from this court, "the complaint presented to us ... [continues to be] a typical 'shotgun' pleading." Oladeinde v. City of Birmingham, No. 91-2061, slip op. at 2 (11th Cir. filed May 8, 1991). But in the light of the fact that this case is presented to us for the third time 4 (although the case has yet to advance much beyond the initial-pleadings stage) and in the interest of judicial economy and efficiency, we will review defendants' claims instead of remanding this case for further repleading. We admit to serious doubt that the complaint complies with Rule 8, but we will not reverse the district court on this point. We reject defendants' first point on appeal.

On a related question about pleadings (whether the complaint states a claim), we want to use this opportunity to repeat that, "in an effort to eliminate nonmeritorious claims on the pleadings and to protect public officials from protracted litigation involving specious claims, we, and other courts, have tightened the application of Rule 8 to § 1983 cases." Arnold v. Board of Educ. of Escambia County, 880 F.2d 305, 309 (11th Cir.1989) (citation omitted). In pleading a section 1983 action, some factual detail is necessary, especially if we are to be able to see that the allegedly violated right was clearly established when the allegedly wrongful acts occurred. We also stress that this heightened Rule 8 requirement--as the law of the circuit--must be applied by the district courts; and we had anticipated that it would be rigorously applied by the district court in this case, particularly in the light of our earlier decision denying defendants' appeal.

Rule 12(b)(6) and Qualified Immunity

At this early stage in the proceedings, the Rule 12(b)(6) defense and the qualified-immunity defense become intertwined. Under Rule 12(b)(6), defendants can defeat plaintiffs' cause of action if the complaint fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). 5 Under the qualified-immunity defense, defendants are immune from liability and even from trial if plaintiffs' complaint fails to state a violation of "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 2738, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982). And as the Supreme Court has stated, "[a] necessary concomitant to the determination of whether the constitutional right asserted by a plaintiff is 'clearly established' at the time the defendant acted is the determination of whether the plaintiff has asserted a violation of a constitutional right at all." Siegert v. Gilley, --- U.S. ----, ----, 111 S.Ct. 1789, 1793, 114 L.Ed.2d 277 (1991).

When reviewing motions to dismiss, we follow the same standards as the trial courts. All well-pleaded facts in plaintiffs' complaint and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts are taken as true. See, e.g., Stephens v. Department of Health and Human Servs., 901 F.2d 1571, 1573 (11th Cir.1990). Guided by this standard and by the heightened specificity requirement of Rule 8 in section 1983 cases, we now address plaintiffs' claims. We will first discuss plaintiffs' separate claims and then discuss how plaintiffs' surviving claims affect defendants in their individual capacity.

Separate Claims

We can immediately dispose of two claims contained in plaintiffs' complaint: equal protection and freedom of association. Our review of the complaint and relevant case law shows that no set of facts alleged support either of these two claims. This conclusion is made even easier by plaintiffs' counsel's admission during oral argument that she was "persuaded" by defendants' arguments and by applicable case law that the alleged equal-protection and freedom-of-association claims were legally unsupportable and that, if given the chance, she would "not include" these claims in another amended complaint. Plaintiffs, then, have concededly failed to state equal-protection and freedom-of-association claims for which relief might be granted.

Plaintiffs have also failed to state a due-process claim for which relief might be granted. Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that plaintiff Oladeinde's reputation was soiled, that plaintiffs Oladeinde and Fields were transferred for no good reason, and that plaintiff Oladeinde was denied a promotion. None of these allegations implicate the due-process protection of the Fourteenth Amendment.

We first examine whether plaintiffs alleged a violation of their procedural due-process rights. When reviewing a due-process claim, the threshold question is whether plaintiffs were deprived of a...

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