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Cintron v. Title Financial Corp.

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

February 1, 2018



          Dana L. Christensen, United States District Court Chief Judge.

         Before the Court is Plaintiff Rosalinda Cintron's ("Cintron") Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses. (Doc. 13.) For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the motion in part and denies the motion in part.


         Cintron initiated her Complaint on August 10, 2017, and then filed an Amended Complaint on September 8, 2017. Cintron alleges that Defendants discriminated against her at her workplace due to her disability. Cintron began working for Title Financial in 2005. She suffered a stroke in January 2014 and took leave from work. When she returned, Cintron alleges that she was harassed and fellow employees believed she was faking her stroke and her ability to perform her job functions. The harassment allegedly culminated with in-patient hospitalization for post-traumatic stress disorder.

         Defendants answered the Complaint, asserting twenty-one affirmative defenses. (Doc. 8 at 11-12.) Cintron filed the present motion, arguing that the affirmative defenses should be stricken because they do not meet the Twombly and Iqbal pleading requirement. (Docs. 13; 14 at 5.) Defendants oppose the motion, urging the Court to adopt the "fair notice" pleading standard recognized by the Ninth Circuit.


         I. Pleading Sufficiency of Affirmative Defenses

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f), a "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). While district courts possess consideration discretion in disposing of Rule 12(f) motions to strike, such motions are regarded with disfavor because they are often used as delaying tactics and because of the limited importance of pleadings in federal practice. 5C Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1392 (3d ed.); see also Benham v. Am. Servicing Co., No. C 09-01099 JSW, 2009 WL 4456386, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 30, 2009). Rule 8 requires a response to a pleading to include defenses, admissions, and denials. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b), (c). "[A] party must affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense" in order to avoid waiver. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c).

         The Ninth Circuit has directed courts to evaluate the pleading sufficiency of affirmative defenses under the "fair notice" standard. Simmons v. Navajo Cty., Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Wyshakv. City Nat'l Bank, 607 F.2d 824, 827 (9th Cir. 1979), also citing In re Gayle Sterten, 546 F.3d 278, 285 (3d Cir.2008) (noting that "the proper focus of our inquiry" is whether framing the defense as a denial of an allegation "specifically deprived [the plaintiff] of an opportunity to rebut that defense or to alter her litigation strategy accordingly")). Therefore, an affirmative defense need only give the plaintiff fair notice of the defense. Wyshak, 607 F.2d at 827.

         In her motion, Cintron contends that all twenty of Defendants' affirmative defenses are pled insufficiently. (Doc. 14 at 11-18.) Cintron requests this Court to apply the reinterpreted pleading standards under the Supreme Court's holdings in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) to affirmative defenses. (See id. at 8-11.) Although the Ninth Circuit has not yet adopted the Twombly I Iqbal pleading standard for affirmative defenses, Cintron cites to several district courts that have done so. (Doc. 14 at 9- 10.) Notably, however, no court in the District of Montana has adopted this standard.[1]

         In response, Defendants direct the Court to many Ninth Circuit cases that have reiterated the "fair notice" standard applies to affirmative defenses- particularly cases following the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Twombly and Iqbal (Doc. 17 at 7 (citing Simmons, 609 F.3d at 1023 (2010 case citing "fair notice" standard from Wyshak); Garner v. Pritzker, 609 Fed.Appx. 433, 434 (9th Cir. 2015) (reciting "fair notice" standard); Patsystems (NA) Ltd. Liab. Co. v. TrendExch, Inc., 695 Fed.Appx. 206 (9th Cir. 2017) (June 2, 2017 opinion citing with approval the standard set forth in Simmons).) In any case, it is clear that this point is unresolved in the Ninth Circuit.

         Absent further direction, this Court declines to extend the Twombly/Iqbal pleading standards to affirmative defenses. Several considerations inform this conclusion. Most significantly, the Ninth Circuit has continued to recognize the "fair notice" standard of affirmative defense pleading even after Twombly and Iqbal. See Simmons, 609 F.3d 1011; Schutte & Koerting, Inc. v. Swett & Crawford, 298 Fed.Appx. 613, 615 (9th Cir. 2008). Moreover, the Supreme Court's analysis in Twombly and Iqbal is limited to pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2). 550 U.S. at 555, 556 U.S. at 677-678. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that the party stating a claim for relief provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Rule 8(c), on the other hand, only requires a responding party to "affirmatively state" its affirmative defenses. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c). Therefore, applying the plausibility standard to affirmative defenses, without clear controlling authority from the Ninth Circuit, would broaden the scope of specific federal pleading standards.

         For these reasons, this Court will review the sufficiency of Defendants' affirmative defenses under the ...

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