Craten et al v. Foster Poultry Farms Incorporated

Filing 54

ORDER granting in part as explained herein 30 Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses One, Seven and Eight. FURTHER ORDERED denying as moot 33 Motion for Judicial Notice. (See Order for details.) Signed by Judge Douglas L Rayes on 6/24/2016. (MMO)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 James Craten, et al., Plaintiffs, 10 11 ORDER v. 12 No. CV-15-02587-PHX-DLR Foster Poultry Farms Incorporated, 13 Defendant. 14 15 16 Before the Court is Plaintiffs James and Amanda Craten’s Motion to Strike 17 Affirmative Defenses One, Seven and Eight. (Doc. 30.) The motion is fully briefed.1 18 For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. BACKGROUND 19 20 In December 2015, the Cratens filed this lawsuit against Defendant Foster Poultry 21 Farms Incorporated (Foster) alleging that their minor child, N.C., became severely ill and 22 suffered serious injuries as a result of salmonella poisoning traceable to Foster’s chicken. 23 (Doc. 7.) The Cratens bring strict liability, breach of implied warranty, and negligence 24 claims. (Id.) In March 2016, Foster answered the complaint and pled eight affirmative 25 defenses. (Doc. 26.) The Cratens have moved to strike Foster’s first, seventh, and eighth 26 affirmative defenses pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(f). (Doc. 30.) 27 1 28 The Cratens’ request for oral argument is denied because the motion is fully briefed and oral argument will not aid in the Court’s resolution of the motion. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); LRCiv. 7.2(f). 1 LEGAL STANDARD 2 On its own or upon timely motion by a party, Rule 12(f) authorizes the court to 3 “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, 4 or scandalous matter.” The purpose of a motion to strike “is to avoid the expenditure of 5 time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those 6 issues prior to trial[.]” Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 7 1983). Motions to strike generally are disfavored, Ordahl v. U.S., 646 F. Supp. 4, 6 (D. 8 Mont. 1985), and 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 should be granted only where (1) it appears to a certainty that the plaintiff will succeed regardless of what facts could be proved in support of the defense; (2) the affirmative defense sought to be struck does not present disputed and substantial questions of law that could be resolved in such a way as to support the defense; and (3) the plaintiff shows it will be prejudiced by the inclusion of the affirmative defense. Tompkins v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 92 F. Supp. 2d 70, 80 (N.D.N.Y. 2000). DISCUSSION The Cratens argue that the pleading standards for complaints announced in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) apply equally to affirmative defenses. (Doc. 30 at 5-6.) They contend that Foster’s first, seventh, and eighth affirmative defenses are not supported by sufficient factual allegations and, therefore, are not facially plausible. (Doc. 30 at 6); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Alternatively, the Cratens argue that these affirmative defenses, as alleged, are too vague to impart fair notice. (Doc. 34 at 4.) I. Applicability of Twombly and Iqbal In Twombly, the Supreme Court considered “what a plaintiff must plead in order to state a claim” under Rule 8(a)(2), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544-555. The Supreme Court concluded that a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. In Iqbal, the Supreme Court explained, “[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity -2- 1 and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 2 556 U.S. at 679. Notably, neither case refers to Rule 8(c), which governs pleading 3 affirmative defenses. 4 Since then, federal courts have split over whether Twombly and Iqbal extend to 5 affirmative defenses. Compare Hayden v. United States, No. 3:14-CV-1060-AC, 2015 6 WL 350665, at *4 (D. Or. Jan. 26, 2015) (concluding that Twombly and Iqbal apply to 7 affirmative defenses), Palmer v. Oakland Farms, Inc., No. 5:10CV00029, 2010 WL 8 2605179, at *5 (W.D. Va. June 24, 2010) (“[T]he considerations of fairness, common 9 sense and litigation efficiency underlying Twombly and Iqbal strongly suggest that the 10 same heightened pleading standard should also apply to affirmative defenses.”), and 11 HCRI TRS Acquirer, LLC v. Iwer, 708 F. Supp. 2d 687, 691 (N.D. Ohio 2010) 12 (concluding that “[t]he underlying rationale used by the Supreme Court [is] a justification 13 for extending the holdings of Twombly and Iqbal to affirmative defenses”), with Tyco 14 Fire Prods. LP v. Victaulic Co., 777 F. Supp. 2d 893, 900 (E.D. Pa. 2011) (concluding 15 that Twombly and Iqbal do not apply to affirmative defenses “[i]n light of the differences 16 between Rules 8(a) and 8(c) in text and purpose”), Lane v. Page, 272 F.R.D. 581, 591 17 (D.N.M. 2011) (“Neither the text of the rules nor the Supreme Court’s decisions in 18 [Twombly and Iqbal] require the Court to extend the pleading standard from those cases 19 to affirmative defenses.”), and Wells Fargo & Co. v. United States, 750 F. Supp. 2d 20 1049, 1051 (D. Minn. 2010) (“Iqbal and Twombly do not apply to the pleading of 21 affirmative defenses.”). The Ninth Circuit has not addressed the issue, and district courts 22 throughout the Ninth Circuit have resolved it differently. Compare Vogel v. Huntington 23 Oaks Del. Partners, LLC, 291 F.R.D. 438, 440-42 (C.D. Cal. 2013) (applying Twombly 24 and Iqbal to affirmative defenses), and Barnes v. AT & T Pension Ben. Plan- 25 Nonbargained Program, 718 F. Supp. 2d 1167, 1172 (N.D. Cal. 2010) (same), with 26 Rockwell Automation, Inc. v. Beckhoff Automation, LLC, 23 F. Supp. 3d 1236, 1241-42 27 (D. Nev. 2014) (declining to extend Twombly and Iqbal), and Kohler v. Staples the Office 28 Superstore, LLC, 291 F.R.D. 464, 468-69 (S.D. Cal. 2013) (same). Having considered -3- 1 the parties’ arguments and surveyed the cases discussing the issue, the Court finds that 2 the text of Rule 8(c)(1) and fairness considerations compel the conclusion that Twombly 3 and Iqbal do not govern pleading affirmative defenses. 4 The Court begins with the plain language of the Rule. See Hughes Aircraft Co. v. 5 Jacobson, 525 U.S. 432, 438 (1999). Unlike Rule 8(a)(2), which requires a complaint to 6 contain “a short and plain statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” 7 Rule 8(c)(1) requires only that a party “affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative 8 defense[.]” The Court generally assumes that identical words in different parts of a 9 provision share the same meaning, and that different meanings are intended when certain 10 language is used in one part but different language in another. DePierre v. Untied States, 11 564 U.S. 70, 83 (2011); Atl. Cleaners & Dryers v. United States, 286 U.S. 427, 433 12 (1932). For example, Rule 8(b)(1), which governs defenses, admissions, and denials in 13 responsive pleadings, requires a responding party to “state in short and plain terms its 14 defenses to each claim asserted against it.” Because of its linguistic similarity with Rule 15 8(a)(1), many courts have determined that “Rule 8’s requirements with respect to 16 pleading defenses in an answer parallels the Rule’s requirements for pleading claims in a 17 complaint.” Barnes, 718 F. Supp. 2d at 1172; see also HCRI TRS Acquirer, LLC, 708 F. 18 Supp. 2d at 691 n.3; Vogel, 291 F.R.D. at 441. 19 However, “[u]nlike subsections (a) and (b), subsection (c) does not include any 20 language requiring the party to state anything in ‘short and plain’ terms.” McLemore v. 21 Regions Bank, No. 3:08-CV-0021, 2010 WL 1010092, at *12 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 18, 22 2010), aff'd, 682 F.3d 414 (6th Cir. 2012). “Requiring an affirmative defense to contain a 23 ‘short and plain’ statement would ignore Rule 8(c)’s plain language[.]” F.T.C. v. AMG 24 Servs., Inc., No. 2:12-CV-536-GMN-VCF, 2014 WL 5454170, at *6 (D. Nev. Oct. 27, 25 2014). Furthermore, the Court must read provisions in such a way as to give effect, 26 whenever possible, to every clause and word so that no portion is superfluous. Duncan v. 27 Walker, 533 U.S. 167, 174 (2001). If the Court interpreted the words “affirmatively 28 state” in Rule 8(c) to have the same meaning as the words “contain . . . a short and plain -4- 1 statement . . . showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” in Rule 8(a)(2), it would 2 render much of Rule 8(a)(2) superfluous. 3 Fairness considerations also support the Court’s interpretation. Plaintiffs and 4 defendants are not similarly situated at the pleading stage. For example, plaintiffs have 5 the entire statute of limitations period to investigate their claims, thereby enabling them 6 to allege specific facts in their complaints. Once served, however, defendants typically 7 have only 21 days in which to file responsive pleadings. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a). Requiring 8 defendants to allege affirmative defenses with the same level of factual specificity as 9 plaintiffs allege claims would require a similar pre-suit investigation in a much shorter 10 window of time. Such a result would impose an unreasonable and asymmetric burden, 11 and increase the risk that defendants will waive potentially meritorious affirmative 12 defenses. See Tyco Fire Prods., 777 F. Supp. 2d at 901 (“[A]pplying the concept of 13 notice to require more than awareness of the issue’s existence imposes an unreasonable 14 burden on defendants who risk the prospect of waiving a defense at trial by failing to 15 plead it . . . and have a short amount of time to develop the facts necessary to do so[.]”); 16 see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b) (“Every defense to a claim for relief in any pleading must 17 be asserted in the responsive pleading if one is required.”). 18 Moreover, requiring affirmative defenses to satisfy Twombly and Iqbal’s 19 plausibility standard likely would lead to a proliferation of motions to strike. It is 20 unlikely that the Supreme Court intended Twombly and Iqbal to open the floodgates to 21 motions to strike, particularly in light of the disfavor with which such motions are 22 viewed. See Tyco Fire, 777 F. Supp. 2d at 901 (“[R]equiring greater notice conflicts with 23 the longstanding truism that motions to strike are disfavored.”). 24 Finally, although federal courts within the Ninth Circuit and around the country 25 have resolved this question differently, courts within this District have consistently found 26 that Twombly and Iqbal do not apply to affirmative defenses. See, e.g., Verco Decking, 27 Inc. v. Consol. Sys., Inc., No. CV-11-2516-PHX-GMS, 2013 WL 6844106, at *5 (D. 28 Ariz. Dec. 23, 2013); J & J Sports Prods., Inc. v. Vargas, No. CV 11-2229-PHX-JAT, -5- 1 2012 WL 2919681, at *2 n.1 (D. Ariz. July 17, 2012); Ameristar Fence Prods., Inc. v. 2 Phx. Fence Co., No. CV-10-299-PHX-DGC, 2010 WL 2803907, at *1 (D. Ariz. July 15, 3 2010). Accordingly, the Court joins others in this District and concludes that Twombly 4 and Iqbal do not govern affirmative defenses. Rather, “[t]he key to determining the 5 sufficiency of pleading an affirmative defense is whether it gives plaintiff fair notice of 6 the defense.” Simmons v. Navajo Cty., 609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting 7 Wyshak v. City Nat'l Bank, 607 F.2d 824, 827 (9th Cir. 1979)). 8 II. Fair Notice 9 In its first affirmative defense, Foster alleges that the Cratens’ complaint “fails to 10 set forth facts sufficient to constitute a cause of action . . . .” (Doc. 26 at 13.) “A defense 11 which demonstrates that plaintiff has not met its burden of proof is not an affirmative 12 defense.” Zikovic v. S. Cal. Edison Co., 302 F.3d 1080, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002). See also 13 Barnes, 718 F. Supp. 2d at 1174 (finding failure to state a claim identifies a pleading 14 deficiency and is not an affirmative defense). The Federal Rules provide Foster with a 15 mechanism for challenging the sufficiency of the Cratens’ complaint: 16 dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).2 Foster’s first affirmative defense is stricken because it is 17 not a proper affirmative defense. a motion to 18 In its seventh affirmative defense, Foster alleges that the Cratens are barred from 19 recovery because they “have not properly maintained evidence and are guilty of 20 spoliation because they have lost, destroyed, covered over, misplaced, altered, modified, 21 failed to preserve and hindered defendants’ access to relevant and material evidence.” 22 (Doc. 26 at 14.) The Court finds that this affirmative defense is sufficiently clear to put 23 the Cratens’ on fair notice. Moreover, if the evidence alleged to have been spoliated was 24 not clear to the Cratens after reading Foster’s answer, it is clear now in light of Foster’s 25 26 27 28 2 Foster argues that its first affirmative defense is appropriate because it tracks language from Form 30 of the Federal Rules. (Doc. 32 at 8-9); Fed. R. Civ. P. Form 30 (abrogated Dec. 1, 2015). However, “[d]espite its inclusion in Civil Form 30, failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is more properly brought as a motion and not an affirmative defense.” Barnes, 718 F. Supp. 2d at 1174. Moreover, the Appendix of Forms was abrogated effective December 1, 2015. -6- 1 response brief. (Doc. 32 at 9.) Foster has adequately preserved its right to raise the 2 spoliation issue after further factual development. 3 Finally, Foster alleges in its eighth affirmative defense that “Plaintiff’s claims are 4 preempted by the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, 21 U.S.C. § 451 et seq., and 5 related federal regulations, including . . . 21 U.S.C. § 467e.” (Doc. 26 at 16.) The 6 Cratens argue that Foster’s eighth affirmative defense does not sufficiently identify the 7 preemptive federal law. Nevertheless, the parties argue extensively over the merits of the 8 preemption affirmative defense. The Court finds that Foster’s eighth affirmative defense 9 is sufficiently pled, and that the merits of the defense are not appropriate for resolution at 10 such an early stage. Discovery will help refine the basis of the parties’ claims and 11 defenses, thereby allowing the Court to more knowledgably address the preemption issue 12 if it remains active after factual development. 13 CONCLUSION 14 For the foregoing reasons, the Court concludes that Twombly and Iqbal do not 15 govern affirmative defenses, and that Foster’s seventh and eighth affirmative defenses are 16 adequately pled. The Court, however, grants the Cratens’ motion to strike Foster’s first 17 affirmative defense because it does not allege a proper affirmative defense. 18 19 IT IS ORDERED that the Cratens’ motion to strike, (Doc. 30), is GRANTED IN PART as explained herein. 20 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Foster’s Motion for Judicial Notice, (Doc. 21 33), is DENIED as moot because the Court did not rely on the submitted materials in 22 reaching its decision. 23 Dated this 24th day of June, 2016. 24 25 26 27 Douglas L. Rayes United States District Judge 28 -7-

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