Dioguardi v. Durning
139 F.2d 774 (2d Cir. 1944)

  • Dioguardi imported some “bottles and tonics” from Italy, but never claimed them. Durning, who was the Collector of Customs at the Port of New York, sold the property at auction.
    • Under 19 USCA § 1491, items that remain unclaimed for a year are sold at auction.
  • Dioguardi sued Durning, claiming that he improperly handled and sold the property.
    • Dioguardi drafted his own complaint and didn’t do a good job.
    • Dioguardi was action pro se, which means he didn’t have a lawyer.
  • Durning filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.
    • Dioguardi’s complaint didn’t do a very good job of stating the reasons why he was suing Durning.
  • The Trial Court dismissed Dioguardi’s complaint. Dioguardi appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and remanded the case for trial.
    • The Appellate Court found that the plaintiff does not have to describe in detail all causes of action in the complaint for the complaint to be sufficient.
    • The Court noted that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure follow the notice pleading standard.
      • Under that standard, a complaint need only put the Court and the defendant on notice of the causes of action.
      • For proper notice, a complaint only need to present a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.
    • The Court suggested that Dioguardi hire a lawyer to help him.
  • In general, complaints in Federal Courts usually only require:
    • A statement of subject matter jurisdiction,
    • A short and plain statement of the claim, and
    • A demand for judgment.
      • Special matters (e.g. fraud, mistake or special damages) must be pleaded with more specificity. (See Federal Rule 9)
  • Turns out that Dioguardi got his trial in the end, but still lost. However, the fact that he ultimately lost doesn’t mean that he didn’t have the right to hear his complaints heard.
  • Btw, this case was heard by a judge who was on the committee that wrote Federal Rule 9, so he probably knew what he was talking about.