I’ll Show You a Run-On Sentence

Generic legal document—do not imitate

Ordinarily, not just in legal writing but always, you should avoid run-on sentences like the plague. Although that’s really just a figure of speech and should not be taken literally, given the very, very different consequences of not avoiding those two things. In fact, I guess you really don’t need to take anything like the same level of precautions to avoid a run-on sentence as you would to avoid the plague, at least assuming that by “the plague” we’re talking about the bubonic kind. That you should go to great lengths to avoid. Luckily, run-on sentences are totally under your control. Just don’t write any.

Also don’t use clichés like “like the plague.”

Anyway, Above the Law reported the other day on one of the few cases in which a run-on sentence turned out to be completely fine.

In an Ohio case, the defendant’s lawyer, Nicholas Subashi, filed an answer contending, among other things, that the complaint should be stricken (not considered) because it was so badly written. Again among other things, the complaint was “verbose,” conclusory, and perhaps worst of all, included run-on-sentences.

There is of course precedent for striking complaints because they don’t qualify as “a short and plain statement of the claim,” which is what Rule 8 requires, but normally they’d have to be way over the top before we’d bother with this argument. See, e.g., “Rule 8 Invoked Against 465-Page Complaint” (July 8, 2008) (noting that the complaint’s title alone was eight pages long). I’m sure the complaint here was not in that category, although I haven’t seen it. But it does appear to have included run-on sentences.

So did the motion the plaintiffs’ counsel, Tim Chappars, filed in response. In fact, the motion was a single run-on sentence two pages long. (He also attached a parody scientific paper that is just the word “chicken” repeated over four pages, although that really isn’t the same thing.)

Based on the ABA Journal’s report, the two lawyers involved here know each other, and the defendant’s lawyer admitted he added that contention to the answer “to see if I could get a rise out of Tim.” He did, but Tim responded with humor, and the defendant’s lawyer admitted he told Tim he thought the response was hilarious. (I assume the judge also liked it, or at least I haven’t seen any reports suggesting the judge got mad.) So, good for them.

Nick said he would still argue the complaint violates Rule 8 but will drop the other charges, which, to be honest, were a little verbose anyway.

Here’s the motion: