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Nuwintore v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 28, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


JENNIFER L. THURSTON, Magistrate Judge.

Defendant Management & Training Corporation ("MTC") seeks to strike the request for punitive damages made by Plaintiff Richard Nuwintore ("Plaintiff") in his First Amended Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 28.) Plaintiff opposes the motion to strike, arguing he "sufficiently plead his prayer for punitive damages." (Doc. 31.)

The matter was referred for the entry of Findings and Recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72. (Docs. 41, 42.) Because Plaintiff fails to plead facts sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages, the Court recommends MTC's motion be GRANTED.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint against MTC and the United States of America ("the Government") on June 25, 2013. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges the defendants operated Taft Correctional Institution, and their "officers, agents and/or employees negligently and recklessly exposed... Plaintiff to the potentially deadly disease known as Coccidioidomycosis, " commonly referred to as Valley Fever. ( Id. at 2, ¶¶ 2-3.) Valley Fever "is contracted by the inhalation of an airborne fungus... endemic in the soil of various areas of the Southwest." ( Id. at 4, ¶ 10.) Plaintiff alleges that he was sentenced to serve 14 months in federal prison on July 5, 2011, and was assigned to Taft Correctional Institution on or about August 4, 2011. ( Id. at 11, ¶ 34.) According to Plaintiff, prior to incarceration, he "had not previously been exposed to the disease Coccidioidomycosis." ( Id. )

Plaintiff asserts that the defendants "were on notice of the risk of harm from cocci and failed to take actions to protect Plaintiff from that harm." (Doc. 1 at 6, ¶ 16.) He alleges "the defendants failed to take any particular measures to protect the inmates at Taft from inhaling the naturally occurring airborne dust generated by the desert winds and nearby agricultural activities." ( Id. at 11, ¶ 36.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges:

Plaintiff was not provided any special protective breathing masks or other devices, and to his knowledge there was no special air conditioning equipment employed by the facility to filter out the dust occurring in the local environment. Nor was there any prohibition of outdoor activities during dusty conditions. Nor was anything done to keep the dust that forms that basis of the facility covered with grass or shrubs. Nor was that dust ever watered down or oiled down. Nor were inmates kept inside during windy conditions. As a result of these errors, Plaintiff contracted Cocci.

( Id. at 11, ¶ 36.) Based upon these facts, Plaintiff asserted the defendants were liable for negligence, and that the Government violated 18 USC Section 4042(a). ( Id. at 13-17.)

Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC") on November 26, 2013. (Doc. 23.) In addition to the facts alleged previously, Plaintiff alleges an epidemic of Valley Fever at Taft CI and its surrounding areas occurred in 2003, after which the Bureau of Prisons "contacted the Center for Disease Control ("CDC") to develop and implement a plan related to the cocci-outbreak at Taft CI." (Doc. 23 at 7-8, ¶¶ 25-26.) Plaintiff asserts that the CDC and the BOP "eventually developed a policy to address the cocci outbreak at Taft CI...", which "only protected infected-inmates and a small portion of non-infected inmates (those who suffered from other medical conditions that compromised their immune systems)." ( Id. at 8-9, ¶ 28.) He asserts the defendants are liable for negligently failing to house him in a safe and habitable prison. ( Id. at 17, 19). In addition, Plaintiff alleges the Government is liable for a breach of duty of care under 18 USC Section 4042(a), and that MTC is liable for negligent "failure to operate and maintain [the] prison facility in safe and habitable condition" ( Id. at 18, 20, emphasis omitted.) In his prayer for relief, Plaintiff included a request for an award of punitive damages from MTC. ( Id. at 23.)

Defendant MTC filed the motion to strike now before the Court on December 10, 2014, seeking to strike the request for punitive damages. (Doc. 28.) MTC argues Plaintiff "fails to establish that punitive damages are proper." ( Id. at 3.) According to MTC, "the First Amended Complaint sets forth no facts in support of Nuwintore's conclusory allegation of intentional conduct on the part of defendant MTC, and sets forth no facts in support of Nuwintore's conclusory allegations of fraud and malice." ( Id. at 4.) Accordingly, MTC contends the claim for punitive damages should be stricken from the First Amended Complaint. ( Id. at 5.)

II. Rule 12(f) Motion to Strike

Pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a district court "may strike from a pleading... any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter."[1] Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). The purpose of a Rule 12(f) motion "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). As a general rule, Rule 12(f) motions are disfavored. Abney v. Alameida, 334 F.Supp.2d 1221, 1234 (S.D. Cal. 2004) (citing Cairns v. Franklin Mint Co., 24 F.Supp.2d 1013, 1037 (C.D. Cal. 1998)).

According to MTC, "[Plaintiff's] request for punitive damages should be stricken, as his complaint fails to establish that punitive damages are proper." (Doc. 28 at 3.) However, the Ninth Circuit has opined a Rule 12(f) motion is not the proper method by which to strike a claim for punitive damages. Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 974 (9th Cir. 2010). In Whittlestone, the district court struck the plaintiff's claims for lost profits and consequential damages, and the Ninth Circuit examined "whether Rule 12(f) authorizes the district court to strike such matter at all." Id. at 973. Finding Rule 12(f) did not empower the court to strike the claims for damages, the Ninth Circuit explained:

Were we to read Rule 12(f) in a manner that allowed litigants to use it as a means to dismiss some or all of a pleading... we would be creating redundancies within the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because a Rule 12(b)(6) motion (or a motion for summary judgment at a later stage in the proceedings) already serves such a purpose... We therefore hold that Rule 12(f) does not authorize district ...

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