Don’t Blame the Pro Se Packet!

Maharaj v. Saint Barnabas Health Care System, 2011 WL 4435080 (App. Div. Sept. 26, 2011).  In this case, the Appellate Division (Judges Carchman and Nugent) reversed a dismissal of the pro se plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim.  The panel held that the judge below had gone beyond the four corners of the complaint in analyzing the issues, which is, in general, not permissible on a motion to dismiss a complaint.  The panel found that plaintiff “may” have stated a claim, and remanded for further consideration of that issue on the proper record.

At the end of the opinion, the panel addressed an unusual argument that plaintiff had made.  Plaintiff asserted that if his allegations were insufficient to state a claim, it was because the “Pro Se Packet” that the judiciary makes available to pro se plaintiffs was deficient and contained a “fundamentally flawed” complaint form.  The panel easily rejected that argument.  “Aside from urging the benefits of being represented by counsel, the packet, in plain language, described for plaintiff that the ‘[c]omplaint is a document in which the plaintiff tells the court his or her version [of] the facts of a case and states what relief is sought.’  In his complaint, plaintiff identified the various defendants named in the caption.  He had the obligation to set forth relevant facts related to those named defendants.”

It’s never a good idea to try to blame someone else, or something else, for deficient legal papers.  Even pro se parties cannot get very far with such an argument.