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Murillo v. Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

March 9, 2009

MANUEL MURILLO, AN INDIVIDUAL, ON BEHALF OF HIMSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PACIFIC GAS & ELECTRIC COMPANY, A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION; AND DOES 1 THROUGH 10, INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER RE: MOTION TO STRIKE

Plaintiff Manuel Murillo brought this action against defendant Pacific Gas & Electric Company alleging several violations of state and federal labor laws. Presently before the court is plaintiff's motion to strike certain portions of defendant's Answer to the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f).

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed a Complaint against defendant containing two types of claims: (1) a putative class action alleging violations of the California Labor Code, the California Business and Professions Code, and Orders of California's Industrial Welfare Commission ("IWC"); and (2) a putative collective action pursuant to section 16(b) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), alleging violations of federal labor laws. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), which added a third claim under California's Private Attorneys General Act ("PAGA"), Cal. Labor Code § 2699, for the recovery of civil penalties due to alleged violations of the California Labor Code and Orders of the IWC. Defendant filed its Answer to the FAC on December 22, 2008. (Docket No. 17.)

Plaintiff now moves to strike the following statements from defendant's Answer to the FAC pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f):

Defendant specifically denies that 25% of any penalties recovered by "aggrieved" employees [pursuant to PAGA] are "paid to Plaintiff" himself. The express language of the statute provides that 25% of the penalties recovered shall be paid "to the aggrieved employees." (Answer to FAC 8:26-9:1.)

Defendant alleges that this suit may not be maintained as a representative action under [PAGA] because such actions may not be maintained on behalf of un-named Plaintiffs, and the other so-called aggrieved employees are not named in the Complaint. (Id. at 23:6-9.)

Defendant respectfully reserves the right to amend its Answer to add any applicable defenses revealed during any later proceedings in this case. (Id. at 23:16-17.)

Defendant respectfully reserves the right to amend its Answer to account for any new statutory or decisional law which arises during the pendency of this action. (Id. at 23:18-19.)

II. Discussion

Under 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." The function of a 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." Alcaraz v. Wachovia Mortgage, FSB, No. 08-1640, 2009 WL 160308, at *10 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 21, 2009) (O'Neill, J.) (quoting Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir. 1983)). "Despite the functions they serve," however, "motions to strike are regarded with disfavor . . . because of the policy favoring resolution on the merits." Judge William W. Schwarzer et al., Practice Guide: Federal Civil Procedure Before Trial [hereinafter Schwarzer et al., Practice Guide] § 9:375 (Nat'l ed. 2008) (citing, inter alia, RDF Media Ltd. v. Fox Broad. Co., 372 F. Supp. 2d 556, 566 (C.D. Cal. 2005); Bureerong v. Uvawas, 922 F. Supp. 1450, 1478 (C.D. Cal. 1996)).

Plaintiff moves to strike four statements from defendant's Answer to the FAC. The first is defendant's assertion that any recovery plaintiff obtains on behalf of himself and other aggrieved employees under PAGA will not be rewarded exclusively to plaintiff, but will be allocated to each aggrieved employee. (Mot. Strike 1:24-2:2 (citing Answer to FAC 8:24-9:1).) The second statement, which is contained in defendant's twenty-sixth affirmative defense, asserts that plaintiff's PAGA claim may not be pursued on behalf of unnamed plaintiffs. (Id. (citing Answer to FAC 23:7-8).) Plaintiff maintains that these statements are "immaterial and irrelevant." (Id. at 1:28, 2:7.)

Under Rule 12(f), a statement is "immaterial" if it "has no essential or important relationship to the claim for relief or defenses pleaded." Alcaraz, 2009 WL 160308, at *10 (citing Fantasy, Inc. v. Fogerty, 984 F.2d 1524, 1527 (9th Cir. 1993), rev'd on other grounds, 510 U.S. 517 (1994)); see Schwarzer et al., Practice Guide § 9:386 ("'Immaterial' means the matter has no bearing on the controversy before the court.").

Here, the aforementioned statements in the Answer to the FAC clearly bear an "important relationship" to this litigation; if correct, defendant's assertions could drastically alter the manner in which plaintiff must prosecute his PAGA action. However, although plaintiff's motion to strike describes defendant's statements as "immaterial," the thrust of the motion appears to contend they these statements should be struck as "insufficient defenses." (See Mot. Strike 2:1-2 ("The statute requires that this money be paid to Mr. Murillo and there is no defense that he is not entitled to this money."); id. at 4:17-19 (arguing that PAGA "gives an employee the right to sue for all labor violations . . . for all employees who suffered them and no class standing or certification need be met").)

To strike an insufficient defense, "the court must be convinced that there are no questions of fact, that any questions of law are clear and not in dispute, and that under no set of circumstances could the defense succeed." Ganley v. County of San Mateo, No. 06-3923, 2007 WL 902551, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 22, 2007); accord E.E.O.C. v. Bay Ridge Toyota, Inc., 327 F. Supp. 2d 167, 170 (E.D.N.Y. 2004); see 5C Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 1381 (3d ed. 2008) ("[E]ven when the defense seems to ...


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