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Rodriguez v. Brown

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 22, 2017

JOSEPH D. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
EDMUND G. BROWN, JR,, Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE DEFENDANT'S AFFIRMATIVE DEFENSES TO COMPLAINT BE DENIED IN PART AND GRANTED IN PART (ECF NO. 31)

         I. BACKGROUND

         Joseph D. Rodriguez (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case now proceeds on the original Complaint filed by Plaintiff on November 19, 2015, against Stuart Sherman (Warden of the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (“SATF”)) (“Defendant”), for adverse conditions of confinement and related state claims. (ECF No. 28.)

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on November 19, 2015. (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff is presently incarcerated in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the SATF in Corcoran, California, where the events at issue in the Complaint allegedly occurred. Id. In Plaintiff's complaint, he alleges various adverse conditions including an infestation of vermin in the dining facility at SATF, causing unsanitary conditions affecting his meals. Id. On December 8, 2015, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint, finding only a cognizable claim under the Eighth Amendment against only Defendant Sherman for his failure to remedy the sanitation issues, and that Plaintiff failed to state any other sort of claim against any of the other Defendants. (ECF No. 6.) The Court also exercised supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims that arise out of the same case or controversy as the aforementioned cognizable federal claim. Id.

         Defendant Sherman filed an answer to the complaint on December 7, 2016, listing various affirmative defenses. (ECF No. 29.) On December 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike Defendant's affirmative defenses to complaint arguing that “Defendants' affirmative defenses are vague, conclusory allegations that fail.” (ECF No. 31, p. 2.) On January 6, 2017, Defendant Sherman filed an opposition to the motion. (ECF No. 33.) This motion and opposition are now before the Court.

         II. MOTION TO STRIKE

         Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a district court to “strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010). “[T]he function of a 12(f) 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 . . .” Everett H. v. Dry Creek Joint Elementary Sch. Dist., 5 F.Supp.3d 1167, 1177 (E.D. Cal. 2014) (citing Sidney-Vinstein v. A.H. Robins Co., 697 F.2d 880, 885 (9th Cir.1983)).

         Defendants are required to “affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defenses.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c)(1). Plaintiff asserts that Defendant's affirmative defenses failed to “plead facts showing that the defense is plausible, not just possible.” (ECF No. 31, p. 3) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2000)). The Ninth Circuit has indicated that “‘the fair notice' required by the pleading standards only requires describing the defense in ‘general terms.'” Kohler v. Flava Enterprises, Inc., 779 F.3d 1016, 1019 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, § 1274 (3d ed. 1998)). Since Kohler, this District has routinely applied the fair notice standard to a motion to strike affirmative defenses. Gomez v. J. Jacobo Farm Labor Contractor, Inc., 188 F.Supp.3d 986, 991-92 (E.D. Cal. 2016) (citing United States v. Gibson Wine Co., 2016 WL 1626988, *4-6 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 25, 2016)).

         The fair notice standard “is less demanding than the Twombly/Iqbal standard, but still requires a party to plead some factual basis for its allegations.” Sherwin-Williams Co. v. Courtesy Oldsmobile- Cadillac, Inc., No. 1:15-CV-01137 MJS HC, 2016 WL 615335, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 16, 2016). “The key to determining the sufficiency of pleading an affirmative defense is whether it gives plaintiff fair notice of the defense.” Simmons v. Navajo Cty., Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1023 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Wyshak v. City National Bank, 607 F.2d 824, 827 (9th Cir. 1979)). “Although ‘fair notice' is a low bar that does not require great detail, it does require a defendant to provide ‘some factual basis' for its affirmative defenses. [Citations] Simply referring to a doctrine or statute is insufficient to afford fair notice.” Gomez, 188 F.Supp.3d at 992 (quoting Gibson Wine Co., 2016 WL 1626988, *4-6).

         III. DISCUSSION OF PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE

         Defendant's answer lists eight affirmative defenses. To evaluate the merits of Plaintiff's motion to strike, each of Defendant's affirmative defenses will be discussed in turn.

         A. First Affirmative Defense: Not Entitled to Punitive Damages

         In Defendant's first affirmative defense, he states “Plaintiff is not entitled to punitive damages because this answering Defendant did not act with malicious intent to deprive him of any constitutional right or to cause any other injury.” (ECF No. 29, p. 5.) Plaintiff argues this defense is merely “an assertion that the [plaintiff] cannot prove the elements of [his or] her claim.” (ECF No. 31, p. 4).

         “[P]roper ‘[a]ffirmative defenses plead matters extraneous to the plaintiff's prima facie case, which deny plaintiff's right to recover, even if the allegations of the complaint are true.” Leos v. Rasey, No. 1:14-CV-02029-LJO-JLT-PC, 2016 WL 1162658, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 24, 2016) (citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Main Hurdman, 655 F.Supp. 259, 262 (E.D. Cal. 1987)). In contrast to these defenses, “a denial of allegations in the complaint or ‘an assertion that the [plaintiff] cannot prove the elements of [its] claim' is not a proper affirmative defense.” Id. (citing Solis v. Couturier, No. 2:08-CV-02732-RRB-GGH, 2009 WL 2022343, at *3 (E.D. Cal. July 8, 2009)).

         As such, the Court recommends the first affirmative defense be stricken without leave to amend. Defendant can contest punitive damages in the ordinary ...


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