Less is More: Lengthy Pleadings Draw Judicial Ire

Federal rules require plaintiffs in a civil action to submit a short and plain statement of the claim showing that she is entitled to relief.  Nevertheless, attorneys often feel compelled to develop their arguments through protracted complaints, and to support their claims with copious exhibits.  In complex cases, thorough pleadings may be necessary to sustain a claim.  However, in the majority of cases, such extensive pleading may produce irrelevant and redundant content that violates court rules and ultimately detracts from the issues at hand.

A New York federal judge recently raised this concern with several law firms in a trademark infringement lawsuit.  The lawsuit involved a claim by a national shipping company against 11 of its New York franchise stores for continuing to use the company’s trademarks after it terminated their franchise contracts.  The company’s lawyers filed a 175 paragraph complaint and attached over 1,400 pages of exhibits.  The defendants responded with a 210-page answer asserting 12 counterclaims and adding their own set of voluminous exhibits.

In dismissing the majority of the counterclaims, the judge took the opportunity to rebuke the parties’ counsel for their pleading strategy, which he viewed as a ploy to overwhelm the opposition with unnecessary allegations.  The judge noted that the lengthy pleadings were not warranted given the straight-forward nature of the claims.  Despite this admonition for brevity, the plaintiff filed an amended complaint that was even longer than the original.  The judge then issued an order demanding that the parties strip out all surplusage in the pleadings, and threatened sanctions for any excessive filings.  The judge continued that the excessive pleadings are indicative of a wider industry trend toward oversized papers that tie up court resources with irrelevant and redundant allegations.

The judge’s stern criticism of the parties’ counsel should put all law firms on notice of the repercussions of submitting overly long or repetitive documents with the court.  Not only do such filings risk obscuring the essential elements of a claim, but also distract the court with unnecessary and burdensome content.  Attorneys who ignore this rule may incur sanctions, and could damage their client’s case in the long-term.  Thus, when it comes to court filings, less is oftentimes more.  Wherever possible, professionals should strive for brevity in communication, and to avoid complexity where simplicity will avail.