Brief Fact Summary. Plaintiff sued Defendant, his former employer, for slander. Defendant moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to allege that the allegedly slanderous statements were published and/or not subject to privilege. In the alternative, Defendant moved to strike certain allegations of Plaintiff’s complaint pertaining to statements subject to an absolute privilege.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, all inferences drawn and allegations construed are in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. If there is some basis that the plaintiff can prove at trial that would entitle him/her to relief, then the motion to dismiss must be denied. Alternative relief for the defendant for a vague complaint is to require the plaintiff to make a more definite statement to strike certain allegations that cannot contribute to a cause of action.
Issue. Can Plaintiff’s complaint alleging slander be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when Plaintiff vaguely alleges publication and the alleged statements may be subject to conditional privilege? Can Paragraphs 5-8 of Plaintiff’s complaint be stricken because they pertain to statements made at a hearing when a statute makes statements made at such a hearing absolutely privileged?
Held. First issue: No. Second issue: Yes. Defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied. Defendant’s motion to strike Paragraphs 5-8, alleging that Defendant further accused Plaintiff of procuring prostitution during a labor hearing, is granted. Defendant’s motion for a more definite statement is granted. Paragraph 9 of Plaintiff’s complaint, the contents of which are not mentioned in the casebook, is stricken. On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, all allegations are construed and all inferences are drawn in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. All allegations are considered true. If the Court can find some basis which would entitle the plaintiff to relief, the complaint should not be dismissed. The complaint alleges that Plaintiff was “falsely and slanderously” accused of procuring prostitution. Although the complaint does not allege the specific circumstances of when these statements were made, the complaint should not be dismissed on this basis. Paragraph 4, alleging that Plaintiff was “falsely and slanderously” accused of “procuring prostitution by Defendant, is sufficiently vague so as to warrant a more definite statement. Slander allegations that do not illustrate the circumstances upon which the slander is based must be more definite in order to apprise Defendant of the allegations against it. Conditional privilege of slanderous statements cannot be a basis for dismissing a complaint. The Defendant has the burden to prove the applicability of conditional privilege and the Plaintiff must be given an opportunity to contest the Defendant’s assertion of privilege. Paragraphs 5-8, alleging that Defendant further accused Plaintiff of procuring prostitution during a labor hearing that Plaintiff was required to bring, concern statements that, by statute, are protected by absolute privilege. Because they cannot be considered in a case for slander, they are stricken from the complaint. Paragraph 9 is considered stricken by consent of the parties. (The contents of Paragraph 9 are not discussed in the casebook).
Discussion. The court’s analysis shows that dismissal of a case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure should not be ordered unless there is no basis for relief. Vagueness or superfluous allegations will not defeat a complaint.