On March 12, 2019, the Southern District of Florida dismissed a putative Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) case for a second time because of repeated pleading defects. In Settle v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Judge Ursula Ungaro granted State Farm’s dismissal request because plaintiff’s efforts to fix defects in her original complaint were inadequate. Although Judge Ungaro’s order totals only two pages, it has much to teach TCPA defendants who often face generic and unclear complaints.
In Settle, plaintiff sued State Farm under a provision of the TCPA that prohibits certain calls to telephone numbers registered on the National Do Not Call list. In her original complaint, plaintiff made numerous allegations ranging from the purported facts of the calls she challenged, to jurisdictional allegations, to general statements about the TCPA. When plaintiff explained her causes of action, she simply incorporated and re-alleged all of those allegations without specifying what facts supported which claims. Judge Ungaro found that this was a “shotgun pleading” that had to be dismissed and amended.
Seeking to address the Court’s concerns, plaintiff simply deleted the paragraphs of her complaint that incorporated and re-alleged prior allegations. Judge Ungaro rejected that approach. She explained that plaintiff’s efforts left “the Court and Defendant in the dark just as much as if Plaintiff had incorporated every factual allegation into every count.” Judge Ungaro went further, noting that “[t]his sort of sloppy pleading cannot be tolerated,” and explained that the Court had the right to dismiss the case with prejudice. Although Judge Ungaro ultimately decided to dismiss the case without prejudice, she did not grant plaintiff the right to amend, forcing plaintiff to refile if she wants to pursue the case.
TCPA defendants are well acquainted with the often generic and unclear complaints that are ubiquitous in TCPA litigation. Whatever the cause of such sloppy pleadings may be, Judge Ungaro’s decision in Settle makes clear that the same pleading rules that require precise pleading in other cases apply with equal force in the TCPA context. Defendants facing similarly loose TCPA complaints should consider State Farm’s approach where binding caselaw permits.