What’s the Difference Between a Motion to Dismiss – FRCP 12(b) – and a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings – FRCP 12(c)?

Trolling Judge Albert’s tentatives brings a treasure trove of good stuff.  On his calendar October 29, 2015.

“This is the defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings under FRCP 12 (c).  It however reads far more like a Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.  Defendants point out the higher Rule 9 standards and cite to Twombly and Iqbal regarding the facial plausibility requirement.  There is the further complication in that the Plaintiffs claim never to have seen the answer filed August 26, 2015.  There was an extended hiatus by stipulation and order so as to allow other matters to be determined in the interim.  Coming immediately on the heels of an answer, therefore, this entire motion reads far more like a Rule 12(b) motion.  Moreover, the Plaintiffs ask for leave to amend to cure the alleged pleading deficiencies.

The main problem is that the standards are entirely different for Rule 12(c), which is far closer to Rule 56 than to the testing of pleadings usually done in Rule 12 motions. In the words of the editors of Wright & Miller, 5C Federal Practice & Procedure §1367 (3d ed. 2015):

The motion for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule 12(c) has its historical roots in common law practice, which permitted either party, at any point in the proceeding, to demur to his opponent’s pleading and secure a dismissal or final judgment on the basis of the pleadings.  The common law demurrer could be used to search the record and raise procedural defects, or it could be employed to resolve the substantive merits of the controversy as disclosed on the face of the pleadings.  In contrast to the common law practice, the Rule 12(c) judgment on the pleadings procedure primarily is addressed to the latter function of disposing of cases on the basis of the underlying substantive merits of the parties’ claims and defenses as they are revealed in the formal pleadings.

As numerous judicial opinions make clear, a Rule 12(c) motion is designed to provide a means of disposing of cases when the material facts are not in dispute between the parties and a judgment on the merits can be achieved by focusing on the content of the competing pleadings, exhibits thereto, matters incorporated by reference in the pleadings, whatever is central or integral to the claim for relief or defense, and any facts of which the district court will take judicial notice.  The motion for a judgment on the pleadings only has utility when all material allegations of fact are admitted or not controverted in the pleadings and only questions of law remain to be decided by the district court.  This may occur, for example, in actions brought to obtain the construction of a will or litigation in which the sole question is the applicability or interpretation of a statutory provision.  The Rule 12(c) procedure also may be of value when the statute of limitations provides an effective bar against the plaintiff’s claim and the entire controversy may be disposed of by a pretrial summary motion based on the parties’ pleadings. (emphasis added and footnotes omitted) See also, Lawson v. Youngblood, 2014 WL 1600440 (E.D. Cal. 2014) [Rule 12(c ) challenges opposing party’s pleadings and serves as means of summary adjudication on the merits after the pleadings have closed].

It is obvious to the court that the material facts are indeed in dispute and are therefore not amenable to summary adjudication. But the several pleading deficiencies noted in the motion are real as the complaint lacks sufficient details of the: who, what, when and how normally required in fraud complaints under Rule 9. Plaintiff apparently wants to amend but, of course, this is not a Rule 15 motion either. The court also notes that although much time has passed since the complaint was filed, this case has not been (by stipulation and order) not actively litigated to date. So, the logical course is to treat this as a Rule 12(b) motion, grant it and give thirty days to amend.

Grant with thirty days leave to amend”

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