Motions to Strike or Dismiss Complaints and Answers on Pleading Technicalities

This article provides a brief discussion on the general rules for pleading in Florida lawsuits, and a perspective on motions challenging pleadings for technicalities that do not affect the ability to prosecute or defend the case. If you have questions on filing or answering a lawsuit in Florida, the rules of pleading a complaint or answer in Florida, and the advisability of challenging pleadings for nonmaterial technicalities, please contact Bernhard Law Firm at 786-871-3349, abernhard@bernhardlawfirm.comwww.bernhardlawfirm.com

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The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure provide some very basic ground rules for drafting complaints to initiate a lawsuit, and answers in response. These are generally in Rules 1.100, 110, and 1.140. Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.110(b) provides that any pleading which sets forth a claim for relief, including a counterclaim, should provide a short and plain statement of the ultimate facts showing why the claimant is entitled to relief and damages. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.110(b). Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.110(c) further provides that in an answer, the pleader should state in short and plain “terms” the defenses to each claim asserted. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.110(c). Denials shall fairly meet the substance of the averments. Id. When a pleader intends to deny only a part of an averment, the pleader must specific so much of it as is true and deny the remainder. Id

Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.140(f) only allows a party to move to strike matter from a pleading that is redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous. Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.140(f). The Florida Rules of Civil Procedure do not provide any conduit to strike material simply because it is in an introductory statement, is relevant and material but seemingly wordy. Id.  Neither Rule 1.140(f) nor Rule 1.110 provide that a pleading can be stricken or dismissed for failure to comply with Rule 1.110’s requirements.

Likewise, Florida case law does not provide authority to strike or dismiss matters that comply with Rule 1.140(f) but otherwise seem technically deficient under Rule 1.110. As stated by one Florida appellate court:

“[T]he Florida courts long ago abandoned the intricate maze and complex structure of common law and equity pleading whereby the preparation of complaints and answers devolved into a rather unique and abstruse science, as though the correct manner of framing a litigant’s allegations in writing was an end in itself. These rules were so venerated by some courts and crafty pleaders that a departure from any one of them could prove fatal and deprive an unwary but otherwise deserving litigant of rights actually due him or her. The ferment created by strict adherence to these technical rules aroused the courts in most jurisdictions to simplify procedure to reduce technicalities to a minimum and adopt procedural rules that allowed cases to be decided on their merits as expeditiously as possible.”

Ranger Constr. Indus., Inc. v. Martin Cos. of Daytona, Inc., 881 So. 2d 677, 680 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004).

Thus, in Florida, “forms of action and technical forms for seeking relief and of pleas, pleadings, or motions are abolished.” Id. (quoting Florida Rule of Civil Procedure 1.110(a)).

The same can be seen in the federal rules of civil procedure, from which Florida’s rules substantially derive. It was in 1937 that the federal rules abolished technical forms for pleadings and seeking relief. See Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.110(a); Fed. R. Civ. P. 7 at Advisory Committee Notes (1937). There are no technical forms of pleading or motions required. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(1); cf. Equity Rule 18 (Pleadings – Technical Forms Abrogated). 

In making these changes away from technical forms of pleading, the federal Advisory Committee specifically cited Hankin’s Alternative and Hypothetical Pleading (1924), 33 Yale L.J. 365 as providing the reasoning against technical forms of pleading. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 (Notes of Advisory Committee on Rules (1937)). 

There, Hankin states “[t]he test whether [a] pleading is good or bad” should be “whether the adversary is actually able to understand the pleading and make answer.” Hankin at 366. If there is nothing uncertain about the essential elements of the indictment, then there is no reason why it should be held bad. Id. Hankin warned against objecting to pleadings where there is no uncertainty that would prejudice the respondent if she simply answers. Id. at 367. 

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Hankin also warned that depriving pleaders of the privilege to avoid formulaic and constrained pleadings “would mean to punish the client for living in a complex world.” Hankin at 368. Hankin noted that the courts are thus more inclined to a more liberal interpretation of the rules, rather than strict interpretation. Hankin at 370. Hankin also noted that “[t]he relaxation of the rule against alternative pleadings has in no way injured our legal system.” Hankin at 376.

Subsequent jurisprudence on certainty in pleadings in Florida is in keeping with Hankin’s perspective. This Florida jurisprudence only requires that a party must set forth elements and supporting facts in such a manner as to reasonably inform the adversary of what the party proposes he or she will prove, in order to provide the other side with a fair opportunity to meet it with a response and prepare his or her evidence. See, e.g., Zito v. Washington Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass’n of Miami Beach, 318 So. 2d 175, 176 (Fla. 3d DCA 1975) (pleading did not set forth claim with requisite degree of certainty); Cady v. Chevy Chase Sav. and Loan, Inc., 528 So. 2d 126, 138 (Fla. 4th DCA 1988) (pleading failed to allege sufficient facts for requisite certainty); Walker v. Walker, 254 So. 2d 832, 834 (Fla. 1st DCA 1971) (claimant did not plead sufficient facts to give responding party requisite certainty).

If a pleading, taken as a whole, states cause of action or defense, it should not be dismissed; and any surplusage should simply be disregarded rather than stricken or dismissed. Harrell v. Hess Oil & Chemical Corp., 287 So. 2d 291, 295 (Fla. 1973) (reversing dismissal based on surplusage); Balbontin v. Porias, 215 So. 2d 732, 734 (Fla. 1968) (“Even though complaint violates spirit and intent of rules of pleading, if complaint as a whole, in any part, stated cause of action, the remaining parts could be considered as surplusage.”); Beraglia v. Owens-Corning Fiberglass Corp., 606 So. 2d 1213, 1214 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992) (holding that complaint stated cause of action, and remaining allegations were mere surplusage which need not be proven at trial). Any seemingly additional portions of a counterclaim or defense should be treated as surplusage that can be used to understand the background of the case or as surplusage that can be ignored or disregarded; however, there is no legal basis to strike such material. Id.

In sum, the trend and law are moving away from substantial technical requirements for pleadings, whether in a complaint initiating a lawsuit or in answer to suit. Motions challenging pleadings for technicalities and deficiencies that do not affect the ability to prosecute or defend the case may not gain much traction. If you have questions on filing or answering a lawsuit in Florida, the rules of pleading a complaint or answer in Florida, and the advisability of challenging pleadings for nonmaterial technicalities, please contact Bernhard Law Firm at 786-871-3349, abernhard@bernhardlawfirm.comwww.bernhardlawfirm.com

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