Tips & Reminders for Pleading in Federal Court
Since ERISA is a federal statute and we focus on ERISA claims, we primarily practice in federal court. Pleading any case in federal court has its unique requirements; however, pleading a discrimination case has specific minimum requirements, which was recently illustrated in a case in the Eleventh Circuit.
Facts of the Case:
- Lowe was a union worker. He was the only union member who worked on a roofing project at a nuclear power plant in Waynesboro, Georgia, until its completion.
- Many of the union employees who also worked on the project were called back to work on other projects, but Lowe was not.
- He ultimately learned about a project at the Farley Nuclear Plant in Alabama and sought employment there through the union.
- Lowe was given a conditional offer of employment, but he failed the background check and was terminated.
- After filing an EEOC claim, he was given a dismissal and a right to sue letter on April 13, 2021.
- Lowe filed a discrimination lawsuit with a variety of assertions on August 4, 2021.
- In Lowe v. Day & Zimmerman, 2:21-cv-1070-CLM (N.D. Ala. Apr. 20, 2022), Judge Corey Maze patiently navigated through the pro se pleadings, and in the end, dismissed the case on several grounds.
Here are a few tips and reminders of the minimum requirements for pleading in federal court:
1. No shotgun pleadings.
A case may be dismissed for this. Judge Maze noted that the Eleventh Circuit had identified four types of pleadings that might be shotgun pleadings:
- A complaint that contains multiple counts where each adopts the allegations of all preceding counts (be very careful with the incorporation by reference tool)
- Failing to marry your facts to a relevant cause of action. “[A] complaint that is ‘replete with conclusory, vague, and immaterial facts not obviously connected to any particular cause of action’”
- Failing to separate your counts “… a complaint that does not separate ‘into a different count each cause of action or claims for relief’”
- Asserting multiple claims against multiple defendants, but which does not specify who did what (“multiple claims against multiple defendants without specifying which of the defendants are responsible for which acts or omissions, or which of the defendants the claim is brought against.”) Weiland v. Palm Beach Cty. Sheriff’s Off., 792 F.3d 1313, 1321-23 (11th Cir. 2015)
2. For a discrimination claim, state the date that the EEOC right to sue letter was received and then file your lawsuit within 90 days as provided by 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1).
There is a presumption that you receive a letter three days after it is issued. Mr. Lowe filed an EEOC charge for discrimination because of his race, sex, age, and national origin, as well as for retaliation. The EEOC issued Lowe a notice of dismissal and a right to sue on April 13, 2021, and more than 90 days later, his lawsuit was filed on August 4, 2021. The court dismissed his claims.
3. Plead factual detail that establishes your client was treated less favorably than comparator employees relevant to the alleged protected characteristic.
See, Uppal v. Hospital Corp. of Am., 482 Fed.Appx. 394, 396 (11th Cir. 2012).
4. Allege the basis of the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.
“… Lowe failed to state the basis for the court’s subject matter jurisdiction, as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Eleventh Circuit precedent.” Lowe v. Day & Zimmerman, 2:21-cv-1070-CLM, at *11-12 (N.D. Ala. Apr. 20, 2022). His case was dismissed for this, as well.
5. State your basis for venue and then marry your facts to that venue.
Facts that pertain to a different venue could well cause a dismissal.
Rules are rules, and the Court expects everyone to follow them. If your client has an ERISA claim for long-term disability, short-term disability, life insurance, pension, retirement, or medical benefits, don’t worry about going to federal court. We have extensive experience in all aspects of ERISA cases, from claims and administrative appeals to litigation and appeals in federal court. We will gladly screen your case for you and with you, and it doesn’t cost a thing. Most of our cases come from other lawyers.