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Phelps v. City of Parma

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 2, 2015

TERESA L. PHELPS, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PARMA, Idaho; CRAIG TELFORD, individually and as Mayor of the City of Parma; ALBERT ERICKSON, individually and as Chief of Police, City of Parma; NATHAN LEIGH, individually and as Council Member, City of Parma; ONEY EGUIA, individually and as Council Member, City of Parma; ANGIE LEE, individually and as Council Member, City of Parma; TOM SMITH, individually and as Council Member, City of Parma, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE: PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE DEFENDANTS' AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES AND IMPROPER RESPONSES TO THE COMPLAINT (Docket No. 11)

RONALD E. BUSH, Magistrate Judge.

Now pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants' Affirmative Defenses and Improper Responses to the Complaint ("Motion to Strike") (Docket No. 11). Having carefully considered the record and otherwise being fully advised, the Court enters the following Memorandum Decision and Order:

I. BACKGROUND

Only certain of the facts giving rise to the instant action are important for the purposes of resolving the at-issue Motion, as described to follow. Plaintiff alleges that, because of her whistle-blowing activities, she was denied a year-end raise and not reappointed as the City Clerk for the City of Parma, Idaho. Plaintiff's Complaint seeks damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the United States and Idaho Constitutions, and the Idaho Public Employees Protection Act. Through their Answer, Defendants deny the allegations informing Plaintiff's claims against them, while also asserting fourteen "defenses." Pursuant to FRCP 12(f), Plaintiff moves to strike various of the Answer's stated defenses and responses.

II. DISCUSSION

Under FRCP 12(f), "[t]he court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." "[T]he function of a 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial." Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983). However, motions under FRCP 12(f) are "generally regarded with disfavor because of the limited importance of pleading in federal practice, and because they are often used as a delaying tactic." Neilson v. Union Bank of Cal., N.A., 290 F.Supp.2d 1101, 1152 (C.D. Cal. 2003).

Courts have broad discretion in deciding such motions. See Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1528 (9th Cir. 1993). The motions are construed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and will be denied if the challenged defenses have "any relation to the subject matter of the controversy, could be held to in any manner defeat the plaintiff's claim, or if it fairly presents any question of fact or law.'" United States v. 45.43 Acres of Land Situate in Ada County, Idaho, 2009 WL 1605127, *2 (D. Idaho 2009) (quoting United States v. Articles of Food... Clover Club Potato Chips, 67 F.R.D. 419, 421 (D. Idaho 1975)). Still, "[a]n affirmative defense may be stricken as insufficient if it is not recognized as a defense to the cause of action.'" 45.43 Acres, 2009 WL 1605127 at *2 (quoting Tonka Corp. v. Rose Art Indus., 836 F.Supp. 200, 217 (D. N.J. 1993)).

A. Plaintiffs' Objections to Defendants' Stated "Defenses"

Plaintiff objects to 13 of the 14 defenses raised by Defendants (only the Third Defense is unchallenged). See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Strike, pp. 8-13 (Docket No. 11, Att. 1).

To begin, Plaintiff takes aim at Defendants' Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Defenses, arguing that "[d]efenses that merely negate an element of Plaintiff's proof are not affirmative defenses because they merely controvert an element of Plaintiff's prima facie case." Id . at p. 9-10. Setting aside the issue of whether such defenses are even "affirmative defenses" as that term is used in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, [1] there is no purpose to be served under the rule for such judicial pruning here. The issue was raised in a case recently considered by U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale, and the undersigned is satisfied that Judge Dale's reasoning in that case is apropos to the pending dispute:

The Court also declines in this case to strike Defendants' allegedly redundant defenses. It is true that defenses that negate an element of, or assert a defect in, a plaintiff's prima facie case are negative, not affirmative, defenses. But, at this stage in the litigation, striking negative defenses would do little more than tidy up the pleadings. [Plaintiff] would still have the burden of proving his prima facie case and Defendants would still be entitled to argue that he does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Given these practical realities, the Court is loath to micro-manage the pleadings merely to credit [Plaintiff's] technical points.

McBurney v. Lowe's Home Centers, LLC, 2014 WL 2993087, *3 (D. Idaho 2014) (internal citations omitted). Such reasons apply here, and the Motion to Strike is denied in this respect.

Next, Plaintiff challenges Defendants' First Defense as simply reserving a right to amend that is unnecessary in light of FRCP 15. See Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Strike, p. 11 (Docket No. 11, Att. 1). There is just no point in striking such material from Defendants' Answer. The information contained within Defendants' First Defense simply puts Plaintiff's counsel on notice of what Defendants' counsel considers to be the potential defenses known at that time. While not required to be included, such a statement is not unusual and, more importantly, not remotely burdensome to Plaintiff toward preparing her case moving forward. At most, it reiterates FRCP 15's charge; nothing more, nothing less. Plaintiff's Motion to Strike is denied in this respect.

Likewise, Plaintiff's issue with Defendant asserting that Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Defendants' Second and Tenth Defenses) misses the point. It is true, as Plaintiff contends, that these defenses are "bare allegations" and "allege no facts." Id . However, they put Plaintiff on notice that Defendants generally believe that Plaintiff's claims are unsupported. Under FRCP 8(b) and 8(c), the responding party must "state" defenses to the claims asserted against it; here, Defendants did just that by properly presenting a defense outlined within FRCP 12(b)(6). The fact that it is a catch-all type statement does not make it inappropriate; rather, it is consistent with a "cover-the-waterfront" statement commonplace to a defendant's answer regarding whether or not a complaint has stated a claim for relief. In essence, the statement is one which makes abundantly clear that the defendant is putting everything contained in the complaint at issue. Nothing changes as to testing defenses during discovery or, ultimately, in future motion practice. Until then, they simply reiterate Defendants' ...


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