We faced two Motions for More Definite Statements last week.
Defense attorneys file Motions for a More Definite Statement in both state and federal court. When Burger Law files suit on behalf of its clients, we sometimes encounter and respond to these types of motions – and usually win. Other times, we know we will likely lose, and instead of fighting it, we preemptively amend our Petition or Complaint to avoid a trip to court.
But what is a Motion for a More Definite Statement? Why are these motions filed? How should plaintiff attorneys respond to these motions?
Missouri and Illinois are fact-pleading states. ITT Commercial Fin. Corp v. Mid Atl. Marine Supply Corp., 854 S.W.2d 371, 379 (Mo. banc 1993); 735 ILCS 5/2-603(a). A legal complaint/petition must contain “a short and plain statement of the facts showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 55.27(d); City of Chicago v. Baretta U.S.A. Corp, 821 N.E.2d 1099 (Ill. 20024).
The purpose of this standard is “to enable a person of common understanding to know what is intended.” Gardner v. Bank of America, N.A., 466 S.W.3d 642, 646 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). A Petition or Complaint is good enough when it invokes principles of substantive law which entitle the pleader to relief and lets the defendant know what the plaintiff will do at trial. See Kantel Communications, Inc. v. Casey, 865 S.W.2d 685, 691 (Mo. App. W.D. 1993).
The Missouri Rules of Civil Procedure let a party to move for a more definite statement of matters pled without “sufficient definiteness and particularity” to enable the opposing party to respond or prepare for trial.” Mo. Sup. Ct. R. 55.27(d); see also 735 ILCS 5/2-615(a). These motions are not a test of the truth or evidence supporting the pleading, only the clarity of the pleading itself. Hartvedt v. Harpst, 172 S.W.2d 65 (Mo. 1943).
A party might also file a Motion for a More Definite Statement when the facts alleged are vague or broad. See, Bennett v. Mallinckrodt, Inc., 698 S.W.2d 854, 865 (Mo. App. E.D. 1985). One example is when the defendant is trying to figure out particular types of injuries in a negligence case. See, Bennet at 865.
Defendants also commonly file them when there are multiple claims and more than one defendant, and it is unclear if the Plaintiff is suing all defendants for all claims. Also, in employment cases where the alleged wrongful conduct spanned a long period of time, defendants will file these motions asking plaintiffs to say the exact date of each wrongful act, because some recovery might be barred by the statute of limitations.
Defense attorneys will also often file Motions for a More Definite Statement to test the adequacy of a Petition alleging violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act (MMPA), as the MMPA has a heightened particularity standard, requiring more detail. See Gardner v. Bank of America, N.A., 466 S.W.3d 642 (Mo. App. E.D. 2015). This is true when any fraud is alleged, such as fraudulent misrepresentation.
In fact, this just happened to us! In a case where we are suing major drug companies for, among other things, misleading consumers about the safety of their drugs, defendant filed a Motion for a More Definite Statement saying we did not provide enough details to state a MMPA claim.
Genavieve Fikes and Jake Thomeczek researched the law, filed a response, and stood our ground in court. But, alas, we lost and now have to amend our pleadings.
What are your options when defense counsel files a Motion for a More Definite Statement? You can, of course, fight the Motion. In doing so, you should point out that under Missouri’s fact-pleading standard, a pleading is sufficient so long as it gives the defendant enough information to respond.
I always say, it’s not like the defendant is going to go ahead and admit anything just because I amend it, so what’s the point. Apparently, that argument won’t work all the time.
Often it may be simpler – and save you a trip to the courthouse, to just amend your pleading and cure any defects described in the defendant’s motion. This is what we did in response to a Motion for More Definite Statement in our second case. Defendants rightfully claimed we needed to plead fraud allegations with more specificity, including the “who, when, where, and how” details of a fraudulent statement.
Rather than fight a legitimate motion, we just conceded and preemptively filed an Amended Petition, which the court would have made us do anyway. Burger Law has the experience necessary to deal with Motions for a More Definite Statement and other complex pleadings. If you need help with a complex case, call us to discuss co-counsel and referral opportunities.