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AT&T Mobility, LLC v. Yeager

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 7, 2017

AT&T MOBILITY LLC, Plaintiffs,


         One of several motions contesting certain filings of defendant-intervenor Mrs. Victoria Yeager is before the court. Parsons Behle & Latimer, PLC (“PB&L”), plaintiff-intervenor, moves to strike Mrs. Yeager's Answer and Cross-Complaint. Mot., ECF No. 278; Mem., ECF No. 278-1. Mrs. Yeager opposes. Opp'n, ECF No. 294. The court submitted the matter without a hearing on October 31, 2016. Mins., ECF No. 305. As discussed below, the court GRANTS PB&L's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The court has outlined the facts and procedural history of this case in prior orders and so limits this background section to the information relevant to understanding the instant motion.

         In 2007, General Yeager sued AT&T Mobility, LLC (“AT&T”) and others for unjustly enriching themselves by using his name, without his permission, to promote their products. Yeager v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, No. 07-2517 (E.D. Cal. filed Nov. 21, 2007). At trial in 2012, General Yeager was represented by PB&L; he prevailed in part and was awarded damages, costs and fees. See Case No. 07-2517, ECF Nos. 227, 270. In January 2013, AT&T deposited the combined award with the court and filed this interpleader case, noting several people had come forward with competing claims to these funds. ECF No. 1. In April 2014, the court granted PB&L's request to intervene to assert a claim for $106, 408.53 of the deposited funds based on General Yeager's allegedly unpaid legal fees. ECF No. 91 (order granting intervention); ECF No. 93 (PB&L Complaint). In June 2014, General Yeager answered PB&L's complaint-in-intervention and asserted affirmative defenses against PB&L. ECF No. 95.

         In March 2015, this court granted Mrs. Yeager a limited right to intervene in the interpleader action on her own behalf. Order, ECF No. 164. The court expressly forbade her from speaking for General Yeager or asserting claims on General Yeager's behalf. Id. at 6. In December 2015, after a hearing regarding General Yeager's competency to proceed with litigation, the court appointed James E. Houpt as General Yeager's guardian ad litem. Order Dec. 28, 2015, ECF No. 227. Over a year later, Mrs. Yeager moved to broaden her intervention rights to assert claims and defenses on General Yeager's behalf as well. ECF No. 248. She based her request on a written “assignment” of General Yeager's rights and interests. Id. The court granted Mrs. Yeager's intervention request, but only to protect rights and interests General Yeager expressly assigned to her; namely, rights and interests pertaining to “[General Yeager's] name, image, and trademarks as it relates to his claims and causes of action against and by AT&T.” Intervention Order, ECF No. 263, at 5 (filed Aug. 12, 2016); see also Assignment, Ex. A, ECF No. 222 at 4. Three months later the court dismissed General Yeager from this action without prejudice, deeming Mrs. Yeager his substitute; at the same time the court relieved Mr. Houpt as guardian ad litem. Substitution Order, ECF No. 306 (“[Mrs. Yeager] steps into General Yeager's shoes from the date of this order forward.”).

         Mrs. Yeager then filed answers and cross-complaints against multiple parties. See ECF Nos. 270, 271. As relevant here, one of her filings was another answer to PB&L's complaint-in-intervention, which asserted three cross-claims against PB&L. Answer, ECF No. 271, at 5-11; Cross-Compl., ECF No. 271, at 1-5. PB&L moves to strike this new filing as beyond the permissible scope of Mrs. Yeager's intervention. PB&L Mem. at 5-13.


         A district court may “strike from a pleading . . . any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f); Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (“The 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[.]”) (citations and quotation marks omitted).

         The court may also strike filings and pleadings under its “inherent power to control [its] docket.” Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. v. Hercules, Inc., 146 F.3d 1071, 1074 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation and quotations marks omitted); Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 586-88 (9th Cir. 2008) (discussing district court's ability to strike exhibits to a motion); Hambleton Bros. Lumber Co. v. Balkin Enters., Inc., 397 F.3d 1217, 1224-26 (9th Cir. 2005) (affirming district court's decision to strike deposition corrections and a declaration); cf. Carrigan v. Cal. State Legislature, 263 F.2d 560, 564 (9th Cir. 1959) (discussing inherent power to strike briefs and pleadings that are “scandalous, impertinent, scurrilous, and/or without relevancy”).

         It is “universally acknowledged” that courts may exercise this inherent power as “necessary to the exercise of all others, ” including the “power to impose silence, respect, and decorum.” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991) (citations and quotation marks omitted). This inherent power is “governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases, ” id. (citing Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962)).


         A. Answer

         Mrs. Yeager's additional Answer to PB&L's complaint will be stricken. Nothing in this court's intervention or substitution orders permitted Mrs. Yeager to file additional pleadings, either on her own behalf or on General Yeager's behalf. By not filing a complaint-in-intervention, Mrs. Yeager limited her intervention request to existing pleadings; granting her request thus did not signal an opportunity to litigate new claims and raise new affirmative defenses. See generally Intervention Order. Also, by subsequently substituting Mrs. Yeager and granting her the right to step into General Yeager's shoes for all remaining purposes, the court expressly bound Mrs. Yeager to General Yeager's prior decisions and filings. Substitution Order at 1.

         To ensure intervenors remain within the permissible scope of intervention, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 24 requires intervention motions to “be accompanied by a complaint in intervention “that sets out the claim or defense for which intervention is sought.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 24(c); Landry's, Inc. v. Sandoval, No. 2:15-cv-01160-GMN-PAL, 2016 WL 1239254, at *3 (D. Nev. Mar. 28, 2016). Without such a complaint, a court generally grants intervention only when the purpose of intervention is to stand on the existing pleadings. Landry's, 2016 WL 1239254, at *3. See, e.g., Beckman Indus., Inc. v. Int'l Ins. Co., 966 F.2d 470, 474 (9th Cir. 1992) (noting intervention motions have been approved without a pleading when the motion sufficiently apprised the court of the grounds for intervention); Bushansky v. Armacost, No. 12-CV-01597-JST, 2014 WL 5335255, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 17, 2014) (permitting a party to intervene without filing a proposed pleading when the intervenor adopted the existing pleadings); Munoz v. PHH Corp., No. 1:08-CV-0759-AWI-BAM, ...

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