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Michigan Prisoner’s Corizon Suit Dismissed Due to “Morass of Irrelevancies”

by David M. Reutter

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a prisoner’s civil rights complaint because it was filled with “pages of irrelevant and unspecific allegations.” The Court said that in drafting a complaint, a “plaintiff must not append so many limbs and outward flourishes to a pleading that neither the court nor defendant can easily identify the soul of the claim.”

The Court’s July 20, 2021, opinion was issued in an appeal brought by Michigan prisoner Temujin Kensu, who is also known as Frederick Freeman. The Court noted that Kensu has filed several actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 actions while serving a life sentence for first degree murder. One of those actions resulted in a jury finding five defendants had been “deliberately indifferent to his serious medical need[s].” It awarded him $325,002, including $285,000 in punitive damages in Kensu v. Buskirk, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 151329 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 1, 2016) [PLN, Jan. 2017]. Since then, he has filed “a flurry” of lawsuits against the Michigan Department of Corrections and Corizon, Inc., a private prisoner health care provider.

In March 2019, Kensu filed a new lawsuit that had 808 allegations listed in over 180 pages. The Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing it violated Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The district court granted the motion after finding that Kensu made allegations contained in another lawsuit and found the complaint was “difficult to discern what conduct” was “unnecessary background and what conduct [wa]s being alleged.” The dismissal was without prejudice and with leave to amend.

Kensu reduced 40% of the page count and the allegations by about 33%. The Defendants again moved to dismiss. The district court found the amended complaint lacked sufficient detail on the conduct of each defendant and it was particularly troubled by the timeframe of many allegations. It said it was difficult to discern whether the conduct had been or should have been brought in another lawsuit. It again dismissed with leave to amend, but it warned Kensu this would be his last chance.

The second amendment increased the page count from 104 to 108 and the numbered allegations jumped from 542 to 572. Rather than trimming the complaint, Kensu added a table of contents and “descriptive headings to guide the reader.” In dismissing the complaint with prejudice, the district court found it was filled with “a morass of irrelevancies.” Kensu appealed.

The Sixth Circuit began by noting that Rule 8 requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim” that will “give the defendant fair notice of what the… claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” The rule proscribes obfuscation of the plaintiff’s claims.

The district court and the defendants should not have to “fish a gold coin from a bucket of mud” to identify the allegations really at issue, the Sixth Circuit said. It noted that Kensu was given two chances to amend, the district court identified the specific problems with the deficient complaints, and Kensu was warned the third pleading would be his last chance to submit a proper pleading. Still, he continued to plead irrelevant and unspecific allegations. His failure to make allegations to show what the lawsuit was about indicated “an inability or unwillingness to comply with the district court’s orders.” The district court’s order was affirmed. See: Kensu v. Corizon, Inc., 5 F.4th 646 (6th Cir. 2021). 

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Related legal case

Kensu v. Corizon, Inc.