VAZQUEZ v. TRIAD MEDIA SOLUTIONS, INC.
OPINION fld. Signed by Judge William H. Walls on 10/18/16. (sr, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT Of NEW JERSEY
NORMA VAZQUEZ, individually and on
behalf of others similarly situated,
Civ. No. 1 5-cv-07220 (WHW)(CLW)
TRIAD MEDIA SOLUTIONS, INC., a New
Jersey Corporation; ZETA INTERACTIVE
CORPORATION, a Delaware Corporation,
and SPIRE VISION LLC, a Delaware
Walls, Senior District Judge
Plaintiff Norma Vazquez moves to strike several affirmative defenses asserted by
Defendants Zeta Interactive Corporation and Spire Vision LLC in their answer to her amended
class action complaint charging Defendants with sending unsolicited commercial text messages
in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C.
§ 227 et seq. Decided without
oral argument under Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, Plaintiff’s motion is granted in part and denied in part.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The facts of this case are more fully set out in the Court’s opinion addressing Plaintiffs
motion to strike Defendant TriAd Media Solutions, Inc’s affirmative defenses to Plaintiffs
initial complaint. ECF No. 18. In brief, Plaintiff Norma Vazquez, an individual domiciled in
Braselton, Georgia, alleges that on or about June 7, 2015, three Defendant marketing companies,
TriAd Media Solutions, Inc. (Triad), Zeta Interactive Corporation (Zeta), and Spire Vision LLC
(Spire), sent an unsolicited text message to her wireless phone “promoting a drawing for a
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
scholarship.” ECF. No. 34 ¶ 31 (including image of the message). Plaintiff did not consent in
writing to receive this message. Id.
¶ 30. Defendants sent this same, or substantially the same,
text message to thousands of phone numbers generated by an automatic dialing system. Id.
On September 30, 2015, Plaintiff Vazquez brought an action against Triad on behalf of
herself and a class of”[a]ll individuals in the United States whose wireless telephones [Triad], or
someone on its behalf, sent a non-emergency, unsolicited text message through the use of an
automatic dialing system, at any time within the four years prior” to the filing of the complaint
(the “class”). ECF No. 1
¶ 34. Plaintiff amended the complaint to add Defendants Zeta and Spire
on June 27, 2016. ECF No. 34. Plaintiff alleges that Triad, Spire, and Zeta violated the
Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C.
§ 227(b)(1)(A)(iii), by sending
unsolicited, non-emergency commercial text messages through the use of an automatic dialing
system without receiving prior express written consent from recipients. Id.
¶J 56—61. Plaintiff
seeks, on behalf of herself and the class, monetary and injunctive relief and an award of
reasonable attorney’s fees. Id.
On August 15, 2016, Defendants Zeta and Spire filed an answer and affirmative defenses
to Plaintiffs first amended complaint. Answer and Affirmative Defenses, ECF No. 45. On
September 6, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) to strike several of these
affirmative defenses. ECF No. 52. Plaintiff now argues that one of Zeta and Spire’s affirmative
must be stricken along with their reservation of the right to add
affirmative defenses to their answer. Id. Defendants Zeta and Spire filed an amended answer on
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
September 26, 2016, but this answer did not address the content Plaintiff challenges. Am.
Answer, ECF No. 61.’
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(0, a “court may strike from a pleading an
insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(f). The court may do so “on its own” or “on motion made by a party either before
responding to the pleading or, if a response is not allowed, within 21 days after being served with
the pleading.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f)(1)-(2). Whether to strike a defense under Rule 12(f) is at the
discretion of the court. Newborn Bros. Co., Inc. v. Albion Engineering Co., 299 F.R.D. 90, 94
(D.N.J. 2014) (citations omitted).
“A Rule 12(0 motion is not meant to determine unclear or disputed questions of law.”
Fed. Dep. Ins. Co. v. Modular Homes, Inc., 859 F. Supp. 117, 120 (D.N.J. 1994). Although
“motions to strike serve a useful purpose by eliminating defenses and saving the time and
expense which would otherwise be spent litigating issues which would not affect the outcome of
the case,” Id. at 93 (quoting United States v. Kramer, 757 F. $upp. 397, 410 (D.N.J. 1991)), the
court “should not grant a motion to strike a defense unless the insufficiency of the defense is
clearly apparent.” Id. (quoting Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc., 789 F.2d 181, 188 (3d Cir.
1986)). Generally, motions to strike will be “denied unless the allegations have no possible
relation to the controversy and may cause prejudice to one of the parties, or if the allegations
confuse the issues.” Garlanger v. Verbeke, 223 F. Supp. 2d 596, 609 (D.N.J. 2002) (quoting
The Court will consider Plaintiffs motion as being addressed to Defendants’ amended answer. See Sun Co. (R &
M) v. Badger Design & Constructors, Inc., 939 F. Supp. 365, 367 n.3 (ED. Pa. 1996) (considering an initial motion
to dismiss germane to an amended complaint that failed to cure “a majority of the deficiencies alleged”); see also 6
Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. § 1476 (3d ed.) (“If some of the defects raised in
the original motion remain in the new pleading, the court simply may consider the motion as being addressed to the
amended pleading. To hold otherwise would be to exalt form over substance).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
Tonka Corp. v. Rose Art Industries, Inc., 836 F. sup. 200, 217 (D.N.J. 1993)); see also 5C
Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure,
§ 1381 (3d ed. 2015)
(“Motions to strike a defense as insufficient are not favored by the federal courts because of their
somewhat dilatory and often harassing character.”). Simply demonstrating that a challenged
defense is “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous” is insufficient; the moving party
must also show that “the presence of surplusage will prejudice the adverse party.” Newborn
Bros, 299 F.R.D. at 94 (quoting Hope Now, 2011 WL 883202, at *1); see also Wright & Miller,
§ 1381 (“[E]ven when technically appropriate and well-founded, Rule 12(f) motions often are
not granted in the absence of a showing of prejudice to the moving party.”).
While the Third Circuit has not definitively addressed the issue, district courts within the
Third Circuit have held that the heightened Iqbal/Twombly requirement that a pleading “state a
that is plausible on its face,” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)), does not apply to the pleading of
affirmative defenses under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c). See Mfflinburg Tel., Inc. v. Criswell, 80 F. Supp.
3d 566, 573 (M.D. Pa. 2015); Newborn Bros, 299 F.R.D. at 97 (citing Tyco Fire Products LP v.
Victaulic Co., 777 F. Supp. 2d 893, 900 (E.D. Pa. 2011); Signature Bank v. Check-X-Change,
LLC, 2013 WL 3286514, at *5 (D.N.J. June 27, 2013); Hope Now, 2011 WL 883202, at *3).
Instead, a defendant asserting a Rule 8(c) affirmative defense “must merely provide fair notice of
the issue involved.” Tyco fire Products, 777 F. Supp. 2d at 900.
The Ninth Affirmative Defense
Plaintiff moves to strike Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense for failure to provide fair
notice. ECF No. 52 at 2—3. Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense reads: “This action may not
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
be maintained as a class action pursuant to Rule 23 of the federal Rules of Civil Procedure.”
ECF. No. 61 at 11. As previously stated, affirmative defenses should not be stricken unless no
facts which can be inferred from the pleadings exist to support them, but courts can strike “bare
bones conclusory allegations.” See Mfflinburg Tel., $0 F. Supp. 3d at 573 (quoting Dann, 274
F.R.D. at 145—45); But see Raymond Well, S.A. v. Theron, 585 F. $upp. 2d 473, 489—90
($.D.N.Y. 2008) (“[A] motion to strike boilerplate affirmative defenses.
wastes the client’s
money and the court’s time.”). Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense
should be stricken because it is so bare bones and conclusory as to be prejudicial. The Court
Defendants must plead affirmative defenses to prevent surprise and undue prejudice to the
plaintiff. Robinson v. Johnson, 313 F.3d 128, 135 (3d Cir. 2002). A successfully pled affirmative
defense “provid[es] the plaintiff with notice and the opportunity to demonstrate why the
affirmative defense should not succeed.” Id. Even affirmative defenses that are conclusory and
boilerplate can survive as long as they bear a logical relationship to the litigation such that
plaintiffs have sufficient notice to dispute them. See United States v. Consolidation Coal Co.,
Civ. No. 89—2124, 1991 WL 333694, at *4 (W.D.Pa. Jul.5, 1991) (“An affirmative defense may
be pleaded in general terms and will be held to be sufficient, and therefore invulnerable to a
motion to strike, as long as it gives plaintiffs fair notice of the nature of the defense.”); See also
Sibley v. Choice Hotels Int’l, Inc., 304 F.R.D. 125, 133 (E.D.N.Y. 2015) (“Choice Hotels’ first
five affirmative defenses, which are essentially boilerplate, do give Plaintiff fair notice of the
nature of the defenses.
cf Mfflinburg Tel., 80 F. Supp. 3d at 574 (“In her Answer,
Defendant Wolfe simply lists many of the eighteen affirmative defenses listed in Rule $(c)(1),
along with numerous other defenses seemingly unrelated to this litigation. She does not elaborate
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
on these defenses or in any way indicate how they may be logically related to the claims against
Plaintiff claims that Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense fails to provide notice because it
gives “no notice as to what elements or provisions of Rule 23 Plaintiff will need to address.” P1’s
Reply Br., ECF No. 59 at 2 (emphasis in original). This argument is unconvincing. first,
Defendants’ answer specifically responds to each class action allegation that Plaintiff asserts in
the first Amended Complaint, alerting Plaintiff that Defendants contest the specific elements of
Rule 23. ECF No.
Second, the nature of class action lawsuits necessitates that Plaintiff
proves each requirement of Fed. R. Civ. P. 23 to maintain a class action, Comcast Corp. v.
Behrend, 133 S.Ct. 1426, 1432 (2013). This necessity undermines the argument that Plaintiffs
have no notice of the relevant provisions of the Rule. Finally, unlike the cases Plaintiff
references, where courts struck general affirmative defenses because they failed to identify a
specific applicable statute,2 here there is no question which rule Defendants assert in their
defense. The Court denies Plaintiffs request to strike Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense for
failure to provide adequate notice.
Defendants’ Reservation of Rights
Defendants “expressly and specifically” reserve the right to amend and/or supplement
their Answer and Affirmative Defenses. ECF No. 61 at 11—12. Plaintiff correctly claims that fed.
R. Civ. P. 8 does not allow a general reservation of affirmative defenses. A “general
reservation,” like the one here, “does not actually assert a defense. Instead, it merely indicates a
United States v. Sensient Colors, Inc., 580 F. Supp. 2d 369, 378 (D.N.J. 2008) (striking an affirmative defense that
failed to specify which statute of repose defendant intended to rely on); Huertas, 2009 WL 21232429, at *3 (D.N.J.
July 13, 2009) (striking affirmative defenses of laches and statutes of limitations to identify which claims are barred
by these defenses and which statute of limitations applies); Trustees of Local 464A United Food & Commercial
Workers Union Pension Fund v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., No. CIV.09-668 (WJM), 2009 WL 4138516, at *6 (D.N.J.
Nov. 24, 2009) (affirmative defense “sufficiently vague as to warrant striking” when defendants only stated that they
had complied with “all disclosure requirements under all applicable laws”).
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
defendant’s possible intention to assert a defense in the future. As such, it injects only ambiguity
into the pleadings and therefore violates Rule 8’s notice requirement.” Sensient Colors, 580 F.
Supp. 2d at 389 (citations omitted).
According to Defendants, the “reservation is not labeled or intended to be an affirmative
defense.” ECF No. 56 at 7. Instead, the reservation “simply puts Plaintiff on notice that
Defendants have not waived their right to seek leave of the Court to amend the Answer..
To the extent that Defendant’s reservation can be read as an attempt to secure the right to assert
additional affirmative defenses without leave of the Court, the Court strikes it. Otherwise,
Defendant may follow the procedure provided in Fed. R. Civ. P. 15 to seek leave of the Court to
amend or supplement its pleadings.
Plaintiffs motion to strike Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense and reservation of
right to supplement and/ or amend their answer is granted in part and denied in part. The Court
finds that Defendants’ Ninth Affirmative Defense provides adequate notice, but strikes
Defendant’s reservation of any automatic right to assert additional affirmative defenses. An
appropriate order follows.
William H. Walls
Senior United States District Court 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?