not ethically) to couch one's claim in vague, conclusory terms; avoid being specific for it might provide your opponent (or the court) with the basis by which to make short work of the suit; fleshing out vague allegations requires discovery; and discovery requires money, often more money than the bottom line of the entire lawsuit will justify. Thus, a lawyer knows that settlement (cash) often lies at the end of the nebulous complaint. Notice pleading makes this possible, and thus carries with it the inevitable consequence that defendants will be forced to litigate and settle cases that have little or no merit.
None of this necessarily means the Federal Rules or their philosophical foundation are somehow wrong or should be reconsidered. No system of rules can be drawn so precisely that it will reflect perfectly the interests to be protected on both sides in every case. In a world of imperfect knowledge, all rules are over- or underinclusive to some extent. Notice pleading is overinclusive in the sense that it permits at least some dubious claims to survive the initial gauntlet of motions under Rule 12. The alternative, common law or code pleading, was underinclusive in that it enabled defendants to avoid liability by extinguishing some meritorious claims. See generally C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure Sec. 1202 (1969 & 1988 Supp.). Rule makers have, at least for the present, opted for the former, in the belief that on balance it is better (for society) that all individuals injured in a legally cognizable manner be compensated, even if it means compensating others who have suffered no injury (or at least no legally cognizable injury) and penalizing those without fault. There is a basis to doubt the wisdom of this approach, see Coase, The Problem of Social Cost, 3 J.L.& Econ. 1 (1960), but it need not detain us here. It is enough to recognize that the doctrine of notice pleading provides plaintiffs with an incentive to seek compensation for injuries for which defendants are not legally responsible. This recognition, in turn, justifies enhanced judicial scrutiny of certain pleadings, see, e.g., Strauss v. City of Chicago, 760 F.2d 765 (7th Cir. 1985); Patton v. Przybylski, 822 F.2d 697 (7th Cir. 1987), including those which carry telltale signs (evidenced, for example, by patently ridiculous allegations) that an abuse is in progress.
This is such a case. To allow these plaintiffs (and their lawyers) to escape the consequences of their risible allegations with a breezy invocation of "notice pleading" would mock the system we are charged to protect. We will not force defendants to endure the costly ordeal of litigation when a plaintiff has made allegations that obviously are without sense. Notice pleading was intended to simplify litigation and alleviate the Draconian results spawned by common law pleading; it was not meant to insulate baseless lawsuits from dismissal during the pleading stages. The defect in this case smacks of far more than a typographical mistake or other innocent drafting error; it leaves the unmistakable impression that this complaint was filed without reasonable inquiry into its factual basis, and perhaps for a questionable purpose (to coerce settlement) as well. As Rule 11 illustrates, there is no room in the Federal courts for either of these practices.
The plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration is denied. In addition, the plaintiffs' claims against Pikes Brothers are dismissed for the reasons stated in our May 20, 1988 order (see p. 5) dismissing the plaintiffs' original complaint. The clerk is directed to enter an order pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 58 dismissing the entire case.
Date: 31 May 1989
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