United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ROBERT BROWN, III, RAYMOND B. ROBINSON, JR., VICTOR LAGOMBRA, NORRIS DOUGLAS, EKILISANDRO TEIXEIRA, CRAIG C. NELSON, ANDERSON BUCKMIRE, RASHEED HALL, ANTHONY DINGLE-JONES, and BATRON SULLIVAN, INDIVIDUALLY, AND ON BEHALF OF ALL OTHER SIMILARLY SITUATED INDIVIDUALS, Plaintiffs,
CLOVER FAST FOOD, INC. d/b/a/ and a/k/a CLOVER FOOD LABS, AYA MUIR, MEGAN PILEGGI f/k/a MEGAN PEDERSON, and CHRIS ANDERSON, Defendants.
ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS FOR A MORE DEFINITE
STATEMENT AND TO STRIKE EXHIBITS
Sorokin United States District Judge
April 17, 2016, the plaintiffs filed a corrected, amended
complaint against the defendants, Clover Fast Food, Inc.
(“Clover”), Aya Muir (“Muir”), Megan
Pileggi (“Pileggi”), and Chris Anderson
(“Anderson”) (collectively, the
“Defendants”). Doc. No. 10. On May 31, 2016, the
Defendants moved for a more definite statement pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e) and moved to strike the exhibits attached
to the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Doc. No 13.
For the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES both
bulk of the allegations levied by the plaintiffs focus on
individual plaintiffs Robert Brown III (“Brown”)
and Raymond B. Robinson, Jr. (“Robinson). Brown,
described in the complaint as a “Black-American,
” Doc. No. 10 ¶ 16, alleges he was initially hired
by Clover in September 2012 to pack delivery vans, then
promoted to manager of the operations department in March
2013. Id. ¶¶ 43, 51-52. In the latter
position he was paid $16 per hour while his white predecessor
was paid more, receiving a salary of $83, 000 per year.
Id. ¶¶ 50, 54. Brown further asserts he
was not adequately compensated for all of the hours he worked
or for overtime and was excluded from manager meetings and
other managerial activities. Id. ¶¶ 56-59,
64, 77, 79. In July 2014, Brown complained to defendant
Pileggi about the work conditions at Clover, ultimately
filing a complaint pursuant to the Occupational Safety and
Health Act (“OSHA”) and to the Massachusetts
Board of Health. Id. ¶¶ 86, 91, 130.
August 2014, Clover offered Brown $25, 000 per year to take
the position of support operations lead, which he
characterizes as the same job he was already performing.
Id. ¶¶ 94, 96; Doc. No. 10-6. He refused
because the salary was less than his hourly wage. Doc. No. 10
¶¶ 95, 97. Defendants Pileggi and Anderson then met
with Brown to persuade him to take the support operations job
and informed him that he would be terminated if he declined
the offer. Id. ¶ 99, 101. Three days later,
Brown received a termination letter stating that he was being
fired for making threats during the meeting. Id.
¶¶ 112, 115. The letter coincided with a visit from
the Massachusetts Board of Health and Clover's receipt of
notification that the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (the “Administration”) was
launching an investigation in response to Brown's
complaint. Id. ¶¶ 126, 132, 134. Brown
filed a complaint with the Administration as a whistle blower
asserting he was terminated in retaliation for his report of
workplace safety violations. Id. ¶ 147.
Brown's departure, Clover offered the operations manager
position to Robinson, also described in the complaint as a
“Black-American, ” for $11.25 per hour.
Id. ¶¶ 17, 142. Robinson declined and was
also terminated. Id. ¶¶ 143, 265. Clover
instead hired a white woman to take the job, paid her a
salary (rather than the hourly wage offered to Brown and
Robsinson), and included her in managerial activities.
Id. ¶¶ 144-45. The remaining named
plaintiffs are not mentioned in the complaint.
plaintiffs, or subgroups thereof, bring 22 causes of action
against the defendants for: violations of the Fair Labor
Standards Act (“FLSA”) and its state law
counterparts (Counts I-IV, XII-XIII); violations of Title VII
of the Civil Rights Act and M.G.L. c. 151B (Counts V-VII,
violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 and M.G.L.
c. 12 (Counts VIII-IX); violation of OSHA (Count XI);
retaliatory termination (Counts XIV - XVII, XIX - XXII); and
defamation (Count XVIII). Id. at 24-45.
12(e) is reserved for complaints that are “so vague or
ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a
response.” Fed. Civ. P. 12(e). The oft-quoted phrase is
that Rule 12(e) applies when a complaint suffers from being
"overly prolix or complex." 2 James Wm. Moore, et
al., Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 12.36(1)
(3d ed. 2004). Such motions are disfavored in light of Rule 8
and the liberal pleading standards contained in the Federal
Rules. Hilchey v. City of Haverhill, 233 F.R.D. 67,
69 (D. Mass. 2005). Rule 12(e) is appropriately aimed at
complaints that are unintelligible, not ones that lack
detail. Cox v. Maine Mar. Acad., 122 F.R.D. 115, 116
(D. Me. 1988). The search for such detail is in the realm of
discovery. Greater N.Y. Auto. Dealers Ass'n v.
Environmental Sys. Testing, Inc., 211 F.R.D. 71, 77
(E.D.N.Y. 2002). A Rule 12(e) motion is proper “only
when a party is unable to determine the issues he must
meet.” Cox, 122 F.R.D. at 116.
12(f) allows the court to strike from the complaint
“any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous
matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Proper motions under Rule
12(f) “are narrow in scope, disfavored in practice, and
not calculated readily to invoke the court's
discretion.” Manning v. Boston Med. Ctr.
Corp., 725 F.3d 34, 59 (1st Cir. 2013) (quoting
Boreri v. Fiat S.p.A., 763 F.2d 17, 23 (1st Cir.
Defendants argue that the complaint is overly rambling,
complex, voluminous, and meandering. They assert six specific
objections: (1) plaintiffs' use of the device of
incorporating previous allegations by reference; (2)
reference to all defendants without attributing specific
actions to specific defendants; (3) the complaint's
allegations center on Brown and Robinson despite the fact
that there are ten named plaintiffs; (4) the complaint
purports to be “on behalf of all other similarly
situate[ed] individuals;” (5) plaintiffs fail to allege
administrative exhaustion; and (6) the exhibits are
unnecessary, increase the confusion and incoherence of the
complaint, and make the record unruly. Doc. No. 14.
Court concludes there is little merit to the Defendant's
arguments or that a motion to strike is not the proper means
to address their objections. While the complaint is far from
pithy, it cannot be characterized as unintelligible. Turning
to the first of the defendants' objections to the
complaint, each count incorporates by reference all preceding
paragraphs, see, e.g., Doc. No 10 ¶
210, a commonplace practice. These plaintiffs do not employ
this approach any more than the typical complaint filed with
this Court. Some counts, however, also incorporate by
reference the preceding allegations rather than isolate the
specific conduct giving rise to the count. E.g.,
id. ¶ 206. If the Defendants assert that the
factual basis for any particular count is lacking in the
complaint, then a motion to dismiss is at their disposal. The
complaint is not incomprehensible; it lacks factual detail
within each count. The Court applies the same reasoning to
the second of the defendants' arguments - that the
complaint lacks detail regarding which actions were
undertaken by which defendants. If the defendants determine
that the complaint lacks a sufficient factual basis with
respect to each defendant for any particular cause of action,
they may move to dismiss or investigate during discovery.
defendants' third argument, that the complaint fails to
mention any named plaintiff besides Brown and Robinson, is
related to their fourth argument, that the captioning of the
complaint as “on behalf of all other similarly
situate[ed] individuals” is ambiguous. The plaintiffs
explain that with Counts I and III, alleging nonpayment of
regular and overtime wages in violation of the FLSA, they
intend to avail themselves of the collective action tool
provided by section 216(b) of the statute. 29 U.S.C. §
216(b); Doc. No. 25 at 7-10. Section 216(b) states that an
action for violation of the FLSA may be brought
“against any employer . . by any one or more employees
for and in behalf of himself or themselves and other
employees similarly situated.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
Upon a plaintiff's motion for conditional certification,
the Court, with the aid of the pleadings and any proffered
affidavits, determines whether the plaintiffs are
“similarly situated, ” meaning that they
“were subject to a single decision, policy, or plan
that violated the law.” O'Donnell v. Robert
Half Int'l, Inc., 429 F.Supp.2d 246, 249 (D. Mass.
2006) (internal quotation marks omitted). After discovery, a
defendant may move for de-certification, prompting the Court
to revisit whether the plaintiffs are similarly situated.
Nerland v. Caribou Coffee Co., 564 F.Supp.2d 1010,
1017 (D. Minn. 2007). In the instant complaint, the