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Currier v. Town of Gilmanton

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

August 12, 2019

Brett A. Currier and Brenda L. Currier
v.
Town of Gilmanton, et al.

         Opinion No. 2019 DNH 129

          ORDER

          Landya McCafferty United States District Judge

         Brett and Brenda Currier bring this suit against the Town of Gilmanton (“Town”) and Marshall Bishop, who is a current member of the Town Board of Selectman. Plaintiffs have actively participated in local government by publicly criticizing defendants and making numerous requests for information from the Town under New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law. Plaintiffs assert federal and state claims alleging that defendants have retaliated against them for this protected conduct and have violated New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law. Defendants move to dismiss plaintiffs' 60-page complaint for failure to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)'s “short and plain statement” requirement.[1] Plaintiffs object. For the following reasons, the court grants defendants' motion and dismisses the complaint without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs are long-time residents of Gilmanton and active participants in local government. Mr. Currier served as a member of the Town Board of Selectman (“Board”) from 2012 to 2015. In 2016, he lost his bid for reelection and two new people were elected to the Board, including defendant Marshall Bishop. Between 2016 when the new Board members began sitting and 2018, plaintiffs publicly criticized the Board on many occasions, filed numerous Right-to-Know requests with the Town, and made inquiries to state agencies about whether Bishop's business, Gilmanton Winery and Vineyard, was properly permitted. Plaintiffs claim that defendants retaliated against them for this protected conduct through harassment and defamation.

         Based on these allegations, plaintiffs assert four claims: (1) violation of New Hampshire's Right-to-Know Law, New Hampshire Revised Statutes Annotated (“RSA”) chapter 91-A; (2) a “free speech” claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; (3) a “free speech” claim under Part I, Article 22 of the New Hampshire Constitution;[2] and (4) defamation. Plaintiffs assert all claims against both defendants. Plaintiffs allege that the Town is directly and vicariously liable for the conduct of its past and present public officials and employees. And they allege that Bishop is liable in his official and individual capacities.

         Plaintiffs' complaint is 60 pages long and contains 291 numbered paragraphs. Before filing this motion, defendants asked plaintiffs to amend the complaint to comply with Rule 8(a)(2). Because plaintiffs declined to do so, defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss under Rule 8(a)(2).

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Rule 8(a)(2) provides that a complaint “must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8(d) also requires that each allegation in the complaint be “simple, concise, and direct.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b) (requiring each numbered paragraph to be “limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances”). “The purpose of a clear and succinct pleading is to give a defendant fair notice of the claim and its basis as well as to provide an opportunity for a cogent answer and defense.” Belanger v. BNY Mellon Asset Mgmt., LLC, 307 F.R.D. 55, 57 (D. Mass. 2015). Indeed, while a complaint must contain enough facts “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” it need not include “detailed factual allegations.” Goldstein v. Galvin, 719 F.3d 16, 29 (1st Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         A district court may dismiss a complaint that fails to comply with Rule 8's “short and plain statement” requirement. Kuehl v. F.D.I.C., 8 F.3d 905, 908 (1st Cir. 1993). Although verbosity and length are generally insufficient grounds for dismissal, complaints that are “unnecessarily lengthy, repetitive, convoluted, or otherwise difficult to comprehend may be dismissed.” Chalifoux v. Chalifoux, No. 14-CV-136-SM, 2014 WL 1681626, at *1 (D.N.H. Apr. 25, 2014). This is so because “unnecessary length places an unjustified burden on the court and on the party who must respond to [the complaint].” Greg Beeche Logistics, LLC v. Skanska USA Bldg., Inc., No. 1:12-CV-11121, 2014 WL 4656503, at *5 (D. Mass. Aug. 5, 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988) (“[U]nnecessary prolixity in a pleading places an unjustified burden on the court and the party who must respond to it because they are forced to select the relevant material from a mass of verbiage.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). In evaluating whether a pleading meets Rule 8's “short and plain statement” requirement, the court should consider “the nature of the action, the relief sought and a number of other pragmatic matters.” Carney v. Town of Weare, No. 15-CV-291-LM, 2016 WL 320128, at *4 (D.N.H. Jan. 26, 2016) (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted).

         DISCUSSION

         The court has carefully reviewed the complaint. The court finds two primary problems with the complaint: (1) it is unnecessarily lengthy based on the nature of the action; and (2) the separate counts fail to identify with specificity which factual allegations support which count.

         1. Unnecessarily Lengthy

         This action is not legally or factually complex. It involves two plaintiffs, two defendants, and four claims. Although buried within 291 paragraphs, the gist of the complaint appears to be that defendants violated the Right-to-Know Law and retaliated against plaintiffs for protected conduct by defaming and harassing them. The court acknowledges that defendants' alleged wrongdoing spans three years and includes many alleged acts of harassment and defamation. Additionally, plaintiffs have alleged a § 1983 claim against a local government, which requires proof that “action pursuant to official municipal policy” caused plaintiffs' injury. Connick v. Thompson,563 U.S. 51, 60 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). Such an official municipal policy may ...


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