Rick et al v. Trustmark National Bank
ORDER denying 20 Motion to Strike defendant's counterclaim. Signed by District Judge William H. Steele on 10/25/2017. (tgw)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
COLETTE RICK, etc., et al.,
) CIVIL ACTION 17-0330-WS-MU
TRUSTMARK NATIONAL BANK, etc.,)
This matter is before the Court on the plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss or, in the
alternative to strike, the defendant’s counterclaim. (Doc. 20). The parties have
filed briefs in support of their respective positions, (Docs. 21, 24, 25), and the
motion is ripe for resolution.
While the plaintiffs nominally seek dismissal of the counterclaim under
Rule 12(b)(6), and while they identify what they believe to be the governing legal
principles, (Doc. 21 at 3-4), they do not apply those principles or identify any
manner in which the counterclaim is legally deficient. Accordingly, their motion
to dismiss is denied.
The plaintiffs are the residual beneficiaries of a trust of which the defendant
is trustee. The amended complaint asserts claims for breach of trust and removal
of the defendant as trustee. (Doc. 11 at 7-11). The plaintiffs move to strike the
counterclaim pursuant to Rule 12(f) on the grounds it is “redundant” with their
claims and/or the defendant’s affirmative defenses. (Doc. 21 at 4-7). The
plaintiffs acknowledge the Court has “broad discretion” in resolving this motion.
(Id. at 5).
The counterclaim contains a single count for declaratory relief. (Doc. 12 at
12-13). While the plaintiffs insist that, to the extent they lose in this litigation, the
defendant necessarily will obtain the relief its counterclaim seeks, the Court is not
so sure. For example, the plaintiffs ask the Court to prohibit the defendant from
using any monies associated with the trust to pay its attorney’s fees and costs in
defending this action. (Doc. 11 at 9). If the Court rules against the plaintiffs on
this claim, all it can do is say the defendant is not prohibited from using trust
assets to pay its attorney’s fees and costs. The counterclaim, however, seeks more
than that: it seeks “an award of the legal fees and costs” incurred in this action.
(Doc. 12 at 13). Because the counterclaim seeks affirmative relief beyond the
defeat of the plaintiffs’ claim, it is not redundant.1
In their reply brief, the plaintiffs argue the counterclaim should be stricken
because otherwise they will suffer “severe prejudice.” Their theory is that the
counterclaim seeks an award of attorney’s fees and costs directly from them, even
though the law does not permit a trustee to recover its attorney’s fees and costs
from the beneficiaries rather than from the trust. (Doc. 25 at 2-3). The Court has
indicated that, in deciding how to exercise its broad discretion when the question
of redundancy is close, it will take into consideration any articulated prejudice to
the plaintiff from retaining the counterclaim. Bank of Brewton, 2013 WL
12155799 at *1. Here, however, the question of redundancy is not close. At any
rate, having to defend a legally deficient counterclaim is not the sort of prejudice
that could be relevant to a Rule 12(f) analysis. The proper response to a claim that
To the uncertain extent the plaintiffs suggest the defendant’s affirmative
defenses render its counterclaim redundant, the same response applies: affirmative
defenses may defeat the plaintiffs’ claims, but they do not provide affirmative relief to
The plaintiffs say the counterclaim’s request for an award serves no useful
purpose because the defendant could seek attorney’s fees and costs under Rule 54(d)
even if it did not demand such relief in the counterclaim. (Doc. 25 at 2). But the
question is whether the counterclaim stands to achieve something beyond what would be
achieved by defeat of the plaintiffs’ claim, not whether it will achieve something
unattainable by any other means. The plaintiffs’ own authority for the “useful purpose”
test makes this clear. (Doc. 21 at 5).
is legally deficient is a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56, not a motion under
As this Court has noted, “[s]triking a pleading on Rule 12(f) grounds is a
drastic, disfavored remedy.” Odom v. Southeast Supply Header, LLC, 2009 WL
1658961 at *1 (S.D. Ala. 2009). As this Court has also noted, “the safer course
for the court to follow is to deny a request to dismiss a counterclaim for
declaratory relief unless there is no doubt that it will be rendered moot by the
adjudication of the main action.” Bank of Brewton v. Travelers Companies, Inc.,
2013 WL 12155799 at *1 (S.D. Ala. 2013) (internal quotes omitted). Both
principles argue against the plaintiffs’ position.
For the reasons set forth above, the plaintiffs’ motion to strike the
defendant’s counterclaim is denied.
DONE and ORDERED this 25th day of October, 2017.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?