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United States v. Bd. of Harbors Comm'rs - 73 F.R.D. 460 (D. Del. 1977)

Rule:

Motion for More Definite Statement is applicable in situations where pleadings are unintelligible.

Facts:

Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e) Defendants SICO Company (SICO) and North American Smelting Company (NASCO) moved for a more definite statement on the ground that the complaint filed against them by the government is so vague and ambiguous that they are unable to frame a responsive pleading as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 7. In addition, a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b), was filed by defendants City of Wilmington, Port of Wilmington, Board of Harbor Commissioners, and Wilmington Marine Terminal (City) on the ground that the government failed to comply with 10 Del. C. § 8124 ,which requires a notice of claim of any injury to person or property to be filed with the Mayor of Wilmington within one year of such injury as a prerequisite to recovery in any suit against the City or its subdivisions.

Issue:

Can a party make a Motion for a More Definite Statement based on want of detail?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

A motion for a more definite statement under Rule 12(e) is ordinarily restricted to situations where a pleading suffers from "unintelligibility rather than the want of detail." 2A Moore's Federal Practice para. 12.18[1] at 2389 (2nd ed. 1975). If the requirements of Rule 8 are satisfied and the opposing party is fairly notified of the nature of the claim, a Rule 12(e) motion is inappropriate. In this case, the complaint on its face can be fairly read to charge each of the defendants with owning or operating onshore facilities which discharged oil into the Delaware River, or that each of the defendants took actions causing such oil to be discharged. This allegation, together with the other averments in the complaint, fairly notifies defendants of the nature of the claim against them. Defendants' motion for a more definite statement is really an effort to "flesh out" the government's case;  as such it is a misuse of Rule 12(e).

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