MADISON, Ala. (WHNT) – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the City of Madison over the 2019 officer-involved shooting death of Dana Fletcher.
Fletcher, 39, was shot and killed by Madison police officers on Oct. 27, 2019 in a parking lot at the intersection of Highway 72 and Wall Triana Highway.
The wrongful death lawsuit, filed by Fletcher’s wife in federal court in October 2021, named the City of Madison as the defendant and alleged Fletcher’s civil rights had been violated. The lawsuit asked for changes to city policy and sought payment from the city for wrongful death and pain and suffering, among other things.
But, U.S. District Judge Liles C. Burke said in a Feb. 17 order that he was granting the defendant’s motion to dismiss.
“Plaintiffs have repeatedly failed to present their claims discretely and succinctly,” the judge wrote. “Because Plaintiffs’ Second Amended Complaint is a shotgun pleading, and because granting Plaintiffs a third opportunity to amend would be futile the Court grants Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss, Denies Plaintiffs’ Motion for Leave to File Third Amended Complaint and dismisses Plaintiffs’ claims.”
Madison Police said officers responded to a call about Fletcher and a woman inside a nearby Planet Fitness taking pictures and asking questions. They found Fletcher, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter in a van in the parking lot.
Officers pulled Fletcher’s wife and daughter from the van. Authorities said Fletcher pointed a gun at officers before he was shot and killed by an unidentified Madison police officer.
Fletcher’s wife sued the City of Madison; Madison Mayor Paul Finley; the former chief of the Madison Police Department, David Jernigan; seven Madison City Councilmembers; and five police officers.
Judge Burke cited ‘shotgun pleadings’ and failure to amend complaints as reasons the lawsuit was dismissed in his opinion.
Shotgun pleadings are identified as claims that aren’t presented in a specific and clear manner so that the court can “determine what facts support which claims and whether the plaintiff has stated any claims upon which relief can be granted, and at trial, the court can determine that evidence which is relevant and that which is not,” according to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the decision for Weiland v. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
District courts can dismiss complaints on shotgun pleading grounds, provided that the plaintiff has had at least one opportunity to amend their claims.
Judge Burke wrote in his opinion that the plaintiffs already failed to amend their complaints to cure deficiencies. He said that the court even ordered the plaintiffs, Fletcher’s family, to discuss with defending counsel before filing the second amended complaint and warned them they wouldn’t have another chance to amend.
The judge detailed his concerns with the complaints.
“While Plaintiffs adequately describe the interactions that allegedly occurred between the Fletcher family and the MPD Officers, they interweave their factual allegations with irrelevant information and conclusory statements, and they fail to properly connect their factual allegations to their claims against Defendants,” Burke wrote.
“Moreover, the Complaint does not sufficiently separate Plaintiffs’ claims into
different counts, and it thus lacks short, plain statements showing that Plaintiffs are
entitled to relief.”
The court said the Fletcher lawsuit and amended complaint failed all four tests the courts have set out as to why a “shotgun pleading” fails.
“The facts section in the Second Amended Complaint is rife with conclusory allegations that are mixed haphazardly with facts which, at a minimum, makes it difficult for the Court to determine what facts support what claims for relief and whether Plaintiffs have stated claims upon which relief can be granted. For instance, in Paragraph 44, Plaintiffs write that the MPD, the Madison County Sheriff’s Department (“MCSO”), and the Huntsville Police Department (“HPD”) have a
‘reputation for working together, for harassing people, and for being overly
aggressive’ without citing any factual bases to support such conclusions.”
“Of note, the City of Huntsville and the MCSO are non-parties. And yet,
Plaintiffs incorporate Paragraph 44 in Counts 4, 5, 6, 9, 19, 20, and 24 while failing
to properly connect the statements in the Paragraph to each claim. As a result, those
seven counts include information immaterial to the underlying causes of action.”
A proposed third amended complaint was submitted to the court, according to Burke’s opinion, but he said the plaintiffs failed to amend the complaints to cure the deficiencies previously discussed.