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Doe v. Smith

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Defendant secretly videotaped him and Plaintiff having sex without her knowledge or her consent. Plaintiff sued him for violating a federal wiretapping statute, but failed to allege how the videotape satisfied a certain element of the statute.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    In federal court, a plaintiff’s complaint will be sufficient as long as it states a claim for relief and will not be deemed insufficient if every single element of a cause of action is not specifically asserted in the complaint.

    Facts.

    Jane Doe (Plaintiff) filed suit against Jason Smith (Defendant) for secretly videotaping them having sex. Plaintiff was unaware of the videotape and did not consent to being videotaped. In Plaintiff’s complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant shared the video with students at his high school. Plaintiff sued Defendant in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, claiming that Defendant violated the federal wiretapping statute. According to the federal wiretapping statute, a remedy will be provided to anyone whose “wire, oral, or electronic communication is intercepted, disclosed, or intentionally used.” Plaintiff claimed that Smith intentionally disclosed the video of them having sex in violation of that law, but did not specifically allege how the recording of them having sex was an “interception.” Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted, and the district court granted Defendant’s motion. The district court concluded that Plaintiff’s complaint did not specifically state that the recording was an “interception” as required by the federal wiretapping statute. Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    Does a plaintiff’s complaint have to expressly plead every single element of a cause of action in federal court?

    Held.

    No. A plaintiff does not have to expressly plead every single element of a cause of action in federal court. A complaint will be sufficient as long as it states a claim for relief. In this case, Plaintiff’s claim put Defendant on notice of the cause of action asserted against him. It is possible for Plaintiff to prove how Defendant’s act was an “interception” once discovery takes place. It is premature for the court to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim simply because certain elements were not specifically presented in her complaint. Therefore, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit reversed the district court’s ruling and remanded the case.

    Discussion.

    Before Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was codified, plaintiffs had to specifically plead every single element of a legal cause of action in federal court. However, Rule 8 does not require this specificity in the complaint as long as the plaintiff pleads a claim for relief that will put the defendant on notice of the causes of action asserted. A plaintiff may not be aware of how every element is satisfied prior to discovery; therefore, the other elements may be proven further in the litigation. Under Rule 9(b), a plaintiff must plead certain causes of action with particularity. However, Rule 9(b) did not apply in this case. Therefore, Plaintiff was only required to assert a claim for which relief can be granted in her initial complaint.


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