Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Chris Lazarini provided insight on a case revealing that while less stringent standards are often applied to pro se litigants, courts still should require them to adhere to the procedural rules. 

Chris provided the analysis for Securities Litigation Commentator (SLC). The full text of the analysis is below and used with permission from the publication. If you would like to receive additional content from the SLC, please visit the SLC website to sign up for the newsletter.

Wieck vs. Board of Trustees of the Ky. Teachers’ Retirement Syst., No. 3:15-cv-692 (W.D. Ky., 9/29/16) 

Pro se litigants are often held to less stringent standards than parties represented by counsel; however, courts should still hold them to the rules of procedure and should not manufacture claims for them. 

A pro se group of current and retired teachers (“Plaintiffs”) filed this putative class action on behalf of similarly situated members of the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (“KTRS”). Defendants included the KTRS Board (“Board”), the state Attorney General (“AG”), the state Auditor (“Auditor”), the Kentucky Educational Association (“KEA”), and five investment companies. Plaintiffs asserted multiple federal and state causes of action, all linked to the concept that the KTRS was mismanaged, resulting in an underfunding of the system. Defendants moved to dismiss under FRCP 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), 12(b)(3), 12(b)(4), 12(b)(5), 12(b)(6), and, for the state law claims against the state entities, the doctrine of sovereign immunity.

The Court finds that since the Board, AG, and Auditor are being sued in their official capacities, state law claims against them in federal court are barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and dismisses those claims without prejudice. Turning to the federal claims against those entities, the Court finds that the Board, AG, and Auditor are residents of Frankfort, Kentucky, in the Eastern District of the state, because that is where they meet, make decisions, and otherwise perform their official duties. Finding that Plaintiffs alleged no acts of wrongdoing by the Board, AG, or Auditor in the state’s Western District, the Court finds venue lies only in the Eastern District and dismisses the federal claims without prejudice under FRCP 12(b)(3). 

Next, the Court considers the claims against the investment companies. Examining the “few” specific references to the investment companies in Plaintiffs’ Complaint and several “vague” references regarding “alternative investment managers” it finds no state claims against the named investment companies. The Court therefore dismisses the claims against three investment companies with prejudice under FRCP 12(b)(6). It would do the same for the fourth one, but for the fact that it lacks personal jurisdiction over it and must dismiss without prejudice, because Plaintiffs failed to perfect service on the company within 120 days after the complaint was filed, as required by FRCP 4(m). The fifth investment company also cannot be dismissed for failure to state a claim; it did not respond to the litigation and the Court has no way of knowing whether proper service was obtained. 

Finally, Defendant KEA did not file a proper Rule 12 motion to dismiss but instead asserted improper venue as an affirmative defense. The Court declares that, had KEA filed a proper 12(b)(3) motion, it would have found improper venue against this state entity and admonishes KEA to follow the rules. 

As courts occasionally do with pro se plaintiffs, the Court, in dicta, gives them its thoughts on the merits of the claims, analyzing them in some detail and concluding for each: “if the Court had jurisdiction over the merits [of claim x],” it would grant or deny Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim.