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Blount v. Johnson Controls, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 5, 2018




         Plaintiff Charles Blount asks the Court to strike some of Defendant Johnson Controls, Inc.'s (“JCI”) affirmative defenses as insufficiently pleaded. See Pl.'s Mot. [42]. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Blount's Motion to Strike [42] as to defenses based on the Mississippi Constitution and Ellerth/Faragher. The motion is otherwise denied.

         I. Facts and Procedural Posture

         Blount filed his Complaint against JCI on October 25, 2017, alleging that JCI violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), see 42 U.S.C. § 12112, when it failed to hire him, see Pl.'s Compl. [1]. JCI responded on December 20, 2017, asserting 19 affirmative defenses. Def.'s Answer [29]. Less than a month later-and before any discovery-Blount moved to strike 16 of JCI's affirmative defenses asserting that they failed to meet the pleading standard announced in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) and Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). See Pl.'s Mot. [42].

         II. Standard

         A. Rule 12(f)

         Motions to strike fall under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), which states: “The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” “A Rule 12(f) motion serves to ‘avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial.'” Zytax, Inc. v. Green Plains Renewable Energy, Inc., No. H-09-2582, 2010 WL 2219179, at *5 (S.D. Tex. May 28, 2010) (citations omitted).

         That said, “[m]otions to strike defenses are generally disfavored and rarely granted.” Solis v. Bruister, No. 4:10-CV-77-DPJ-FKB, 2012 WL 776028, at *7 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 8, 2012) (citation omitted). Such relief is warranted only when the defense “cannot, as a matter of law, succeed under any circumstance.” United States v. Renda, 709 F.3d 472, 479 (5th Cir. 2013). And “if there is a question of law or fact regarding a particular defense, a court must deny a motion to strike.” Bertoniere v. First Mark Homes, Inc., No. 2:09-CV-156-DCB-MTP, 2010 WL 729931, at *1 (S.D.Miss. Feb. 25, 2010) (citations omitted).

         Finally, a motion to strike “generally should not be granted absent a showing of prejudice to the moving party.” Conn v. United States, No. 3:10-CV-300-CWR, 2011 WL 2117969, at *5 (S.D.Miss. May 27, 2011); accord Davis v. Hinds Cty., Miss., No. 3:16-CV-674-DPJ-FKB, 2017 WL 2269010, at *2 (S.D.Miss. May 23, 2017); see also 5C Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1382 (3d ed.) (noting general agreement that Rule 12(f) motions should be denied absent showing that defense “may cause some form of significant prejudice”).

         B. Pleading Standards

         Here, the parties spend considerable time disputing the applicable pleading standard for affirmative defenses. In Woodfield v. Bowman, the Fifth Circuit stated that the standards were the same for complaints and defenses, and as such, defendants were required to “plead an affirmative defense with enough specificity or factual particularity to give the plaintiff ‘fair notice' of the defense that is being advanced.” 193 F.3d 354, 362 (5th Cir. 1999).

         Of course, Twombly redefined fair notice as it applies to complaints filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). To avoid Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal, a plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. The question is whether Twombly should apply to affirmative defenses under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(b) and (c) the same as it applies to complaints under Rule 8(a). Blount says it must and that ruling otherwise would be unfair.

         The analysis must start with the text of Rule 8, which reveals that its subparts are not coterminous. Rule 8(a) governs claims for relief and provides that such pleadings must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). But the “showing” required under Rule 8(a) is not found in the rules governing defenses. Specifically, Rule 8(b)(1) provides, “[A] party must . . . state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it, ” and 8(c)(1) provides says “a party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense.” These distinctions matter because Twombly was premised on Rule 8(a)'s unique language. According to the Supreme Court, the plausibility standard “reflects the threshold requirement of Rule 8(a)(2) that the ‘plain statement' possess enough heft to ‘sho[w] that the pleader is entitled to relief.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (emphasis added). Neither Rule 8(b) nor Rule 8(c) requires the pleader to show anything.[1]

         Although the Fifth Circuit has not squarely addressed whether Twombly overruled Woodfield, it continues to apply Woodfield when addressing affirmative defenses. See, e.g., LSREF2 Baron, L.L.C. v. Tauch, 751 F.3d 394, 398 (5th Cir. 2014) (“A defendant must plead with ‘enough specificity or factual particularity to give the plaintiff “fair notice” of the ...

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