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Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s 99-Page Complaint

Seventh Circuit Reverses Dismissal of Prisoner’s 99-Page Complaint


by Mark Wilson


The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has reversed a district court’s finding that a prisoner’s “99-page complaint defies understanding, rendering it unintelligible and subject to dismissal on that basis.”

In 2011, federal prisoner Jurijus Kadamovas, who is Lithuanian and claims to be English-illiterate, filed a Bivens action alleging that prison officials violated his religious rights and subjected him to cruel and unusual punishment.

Before the defendants filed an appearance in the case, an Indiana federal district court dismissed Kadamovas’ complaint with leave to amend. The case was later dismissed with prejudice after he failed to file an amended complaint.

In an opinion authored by Judge Posner, the Seventh Circuit explained that “length and unintelligibility, as grounds for dismissal of a complaint, need to be distinguished.”

The Court of Appeals noted that “Length may make a complaint unintelligible, by scattering and concealing in a morass of irrelevancies the few allegations that matter.” However, “a complaint may be long not because the draftsman is incompetent or is seeking to obfuscate (‘serving up a muddle’ to the judge, as such complaints are sometimes described).” Rather, it may be lengthy, like Kadamovas’ complaint, because it contains a large number of distinct claims.

“District judges are busy, and therefore have a right to dismiss a complaint that is so long that it imposes an undue burden on the judge, to the prejudice of other litigants seeking the judge’s attention,” the appellate court observed; however, “surplusage can and should be ignored.”

While “one doesn’t need 99 pages to make” Kadamovas’ allegations, “the complaint isn’t in fact 99 pages long, as the district judge thought,” the Seventh Circuit wrote. “It’s 28 pages long, the last 71 pages being an appendix, which the judge could have stricken without bothering to read.”

As used in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), “‘short’... is a relative term,” the Court of Appeals found. “Brevity must be calibrated to the number of claims and also to their character.” Given the Supreme Court’s requirement that a complaint establish plausibility of its claims pursuant to Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) [PLN, July 2009, p.18], the appellate court observed that “complaints are likely to be longer – and legitimately so – than” before the ruling in Iqbal.

Noting that “unintelligibility is distinct from length, and often unrelated to it,” the Court of Appeals determined that “far from being unintelligible, the complaint in this case ... is not only entirely intelligible; it is clear.”

The Court found that “the complaint charges that in retaliation for the plaintiff’s going on hunger strikes, the defendants used excessive force to force feed him and extract blood samples from him, placed him in a cell infested with feces, denied him minimal recreational opportunities, refused to allow him to have a Bible, refused to allow him to file grievances, and tried to block his access to the federal courts.”

The Seventh Circuit thus concluded that Kadamovas’ complaint did “not violate any principle of federal pleading,” and remanded the case for further proceedings. See: Kadamovas v. Stevens, 706 F.3d 843 (7th Cir. 2013).

Following remand, on September 30, 2013 the district court granted in part and denied in part the defendants’ motion for summary judgment, finding that portions of Kadamovas’ personal declaration were inadmissible because they contained hearsay and “legal assertions, arguments, conclusions, or conjecture not otherwise supported by admissible evidence.” The court granted summary judgment or judgment as a matter of law to the defendants on most of the claims, but declined to do so on a claim alleging that one defendant was deliberately indifferent to Kadamovas’ serious medical needs.

The district court appointed counsel to represent Kadamovas in November 2013, and this case remains pending. See: Kadamovas v. Lockett, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Ind.), Case No. 2:11-cv-00015-WTL-DKL; 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 141795.


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Related legal cases

Kadamovas v. Lockett


Kadamovas v. Stevens