Lawsuits (Baffling)

Chavez v. ‘Cause Y’all Took My Phones I Don’t Know Their Names (S.D.N.Y. 2021)

Generic legal document—do not imitate

Unless a plaintiff is alleging fraud, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are fairly lenient when it comes to pleadings. Rule 8 requires only a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” and a demand saying what relief is sought. But occasionally one does come across a pleading that fails to meet these standards.

This one, for example:

At just two pages, this one is refreshingly short. But it is not plain. Well, it is “plain” in the sense that it is unadorned by decoration, or complete sentences, but the rule uses the word to mean “clear,” as in “with a meaning evident to the mind or senses of another.” And in that sense, this pleading is not plain.

What can we determine from it? Well, with a little effort we can determine where it was filed (the Southern District of New York), who filed it (a Mr. Juan Pablo Chavez), and the date on which he filed it (October 15). In a few instances, we could determine the line upon which certain words appear, if it were necessary to do so, because Mr. Chavez has helpfully written the line numbers in by hand on the caption page. True, it would never be necessary to do this, because the point of the numbers is to allow more specific citations and you would never cite a specific part of a caption page, but it’s nice to have the option. There is a second page, but that sheds no light on what Mr. Chavez is after. Even if there is some meaning encoded in the sketch that appears there, it is hardly “plain.” So this pleading does convey some information, but not enough to satisfy the rule.

Eventually (I think staring at the sketch caused me to black out for several hours), I noticed that the scrawling on the caption page included what appeared to be a URL (“See”). Against my better judgment, I decided to type in this URL and see what happened. To my surprise, it led to a Google Docs page displaying something much more like a standard pleading. But even if you were allowed to incorporate documents this way, and I’m pretty sure you’re not, this still doesn’t really answer any questions.

The online document appears to be a draft pleading prepared for some other case. It’s dated August 27, and purports to be a complaint by Mr. Chavez against a restaurant in New York called “The Keep” (possibly this one) and some of its owners and/or employees. It alleges the defendants violated Mr. Chavez’s civil rights by conspiring to “falsely imprison” him on stage during open-mike nights in order to mock him and his musical efforts. (The complaint refers to a violin, which might be what his sketch represents). For example, during one such night in September, Chavez alleges that “[defendant] John Doe #1 while ‘on stage’ with his dog cursed plaintiff and called him a clown.” To avoid any confusion, the draft complaint notes that “Plaintiff has never performed as a clown,” and “was not dressed in any clown outfit at that time.”

Chavez alleges that this mistreatment was racially motivated (and not due, for example, to anti-clown prejudice), but the unfinished complaint sort of trails off without explaining Chavez’s false-imprisonment theory. It actually cites a case listing the elements of that claim, which requires an intentional confinement to which plaintiff did not consent. The complaint doesn’t allege any facts suggesting the defendants tried to force plaintiff to perform on open-mike night; to the contrary, the facts suggest they very much did not want him to do that.

This problem could be why the complaint trails off at that point.

It’s still not clear what Chavez was trying to do here. The online draft names certain specific defendants, whereas the complaint he actually filed is against “‘Cause Y’all Took My Phone(s) I Don’t Know Their Names.” Obviously he does know some names, and while the draft does name three “Doe” defendants, it doesn’t allege any of them took his phone(s). Thus, many mysteries remain.

A quick check of the court’s docket reveals that Mr. Chavez is no stranger to the Southern District of New York. Someone by that name (and the details strongly suggest it’s just the one person) has filed at least a dozen cases in that district, acting pro se, filing similar complaints, and asking (unsuccessfully) that filing fees be waived. In a letter attached to his most recent effort, he writes, “Good afternoon Judges, it’s me, Juan,” and adds, “sorry for the new complaint.” In some ways this seems similar to what might be happening on open-mike night: the guy keeps showing up and delivering subpar work and is somehow surprised nobody’s happy to see him again.