Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Seventh Circuit rebukes a lawyer for poor writing

This week, the Seventh Circuit affirmed a case dismissal after an attorney, Maksym, repeatedly filed substandard documents. Stanard v. Nygren, __ F. 2d __ (7th Cir. Sept. 19, 2011). Maksym filed complaints that were “generally incomprehensible and riddled with errors,” thus failing to give the defendants adequate notice of the claims against them. His Second Amended Complaint was incoherent, as illustrated by a “staggering and incomprehensible 345-word sentence” (which the court reproduced for the reader’s edification in footnote 7). The pleading contained so many spelling and grammatical errors that the judge said it would be impractical to add “[sic]” to each. The judge concluded that the document was “little more than gibberish” and dismissed it without leave to amend.

On appeal, the Seventh Circuit observed that not all prolix complaints merit dismissal, but when prolixity and other errors make a complaint unintelligible, then dismissal is warranted. In this instance, Maksym had even failed to learn from his missteps in the district court. His appellate brief  contained “all the deficiencies” of the trial court documents. And although he cited 81 cases, most were irrelevant to the issues. Finding Maksym's work “alarmingly deficient,” the Seventh Circuit upheld the dismissal, sent a copy of the decision to the Illinois bar’s disciplinary body, and ordered Maksym to show cause why he should not be removed from the court’s bar.

This case would serve as an excellent cautionary tale for your students who don't think that judges really care about good writing and careful drafting.  Pages 13-17 focus on the court's exasperation with poor writing skills and general incomprehensibility.  (You've got to love an opinion that uses language like this:  " . . . prolixity was not its chief deficiency.")

You can also use the case as a teaching tool to show students that you can also listen to oral arguments on the Seventh Circuit website.  It's sometimes fascinating to listen to the argument of a case you are going to use in a brief or memorandum.

hat tip:  Mireille Butler, Assistant Professor, Legal Research and Writing Pepperdine University School of Law

(njs and jdf and mew)

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