WHAT IS REQUIRED IN NOTICE PLEADING AND ARE THE REQUIREMENTS STRICTER IF THE PLAINTIFF IS PLEADING FRAUD?
Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.
Vondracek v. Mid State Co. Op. In., 79 P.3d 197 (Kan. Ct. App. 2003).
This case addresses the following issue:
What is required in notice pleading and are the requirements stricter if the plaintiff is pleading fraud?
This case explored the issue of what is required in notice pleading and if the requirements are stricter if the plaintiff is pleading fraud. In exploring this case, the court concluded that a pleading was sufficient if it contained a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader was entitled to relief and a demand for judgment. Id. at 200. Furthermore, the court held that when a plaintiff was pleading fraud, the circumstances constituting fraud must be stated with particularity. Id.
In this case, a farm supply company filed several lawsuits against a family asking for $40,000 for amounts due on the family’s accounts. Id. at 199. In response, the family sued the farm supply company. Id. After some negotiations, the family offered the company $25,000 cash, plus all the family’s stock in the company. Id. The company accepted the family’s offer and all was well between the two parties for 10 years. Id. However, after the family found out that the stock had been set-off by the company, the family filed suit alleging breach of contract and misrepresentation (fraud). Id. The district court ruled in favor of the company, stating that the family was too late to bring a lawsuit because the statute of limitations (period of time one can bring a lawsuit) had passed. Id. As a result, the family appealed and the Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s decision on the basis that the record failed to establish when the family knew, or should have known, that their stock and equities were set off as part of the settlement agreement. Id. Ultimately, the question became whether the family sufficiently pled fraud. Id.
The farm supply company’s core argument was that the family failed to sufficiently plead fraud. Id. In order to address this argument, the court explained the concept of notice pleading. Id. at 200. According to the court, the Kansas Rules of Civil Procedure permitted notice pleading. Id. The court stated that a pleading was sufficient if it contained “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader was entitled to relief and a demand for judgment.” Id. Additionally, the court indicated that an exception existed when one of the parties was pleading fraud. If this occurred, the circumstances constituting must be pled with particularity. Id.
The court stated that actionable fraud was an untrue statement of fact, known to be untrue by the party making it, made with the intent to deceive or recklessly made with disregard for the truth, where another party justifiably relied on the statement and acts to his injury. Id. Moreover, the court noted five essential elements required to sustain an action for fraud. Id. In reviewing the family’s petition to see if it sufficiently pled fraud, the court determined that the petition made no attempt to clearly describe the five elements of fraud. Id. Also, the court indicated that there was no allegation that the company ever made a statement with an intent to defraud. Id. In fact, the court found no allegation by the family that the company ever made an untrue statement. Id. With this in mind, the court only found two elements of fraud alleged in the family’s petition. Id.
In sum, a review of the family’s petition revealed that they failed to sufficiently plead a fraud claim against the farm supply company. Id. Therefore, the district court did not err in ruling in favor of the company. Id. at 201.