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Valley Forge Insurance Co. v. Hartford Iron & Metal Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

March 21, 2017

VALLEY FORGE INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant,
v.
HARTFORD IRON & METAL, INC., et al., Defendants/Counter-Claimants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Susan Collins, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is a motion to strike (DE 631) filed by Defendants and Counter-Claimants Hartford Iron & Metal, Inc., and Alan B. Goldberg, doing business as Hartford Iron & M (together, “Hartford Iron”) pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, seeking to strike the answer (DE 625) filed by Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Valley Forge Insurance Company to Hartford Iron's Second Amended Counterclaims (DE 508). Hartford Iron contends that Valley Forge's answer should be stricken because: (1) it is untimely and has resulted in prejudice to Hartford Iron; and (2) more than 50 of the responses in the answer purportedly do not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b), in that they do not include, or are not limited to, an admission, a denial, or an averment that the party lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth of the averment. The motion is now ripe for ruling. (DE 639; 649).

         For the following reasons, Hartford Iron's motion to strike will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b) states that in responding to a pleading, a party must “admit or deny the allegations asserted against it by an opposing party.” “A party that lacks knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief about the truth of an allegation must so state, and the statement has the effect of a denial.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(5).

         Rule 12(f) states that the Court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). “Generally speaking, motions to strike portions of pleadings are disfavored as they consume scarce judicial resources and may be used for dilatory purposes.” Silicon Graphics, Inc. v. ATI Techs. ULC, No. 06-C-611-C, 2007 WL 5312633, at *1 (W.D. Wis. Mar. 12, 2007) (citing Custom Vehicles, Inc. v. Forest River, Inc., 464 F.3d 725, 727 (7th Cir. 2006); Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989)). However, “a motion that seeks to remove unnecessary clutter serves not to delay, but rather to expedite.” Abayneh v. Zuelch, No. 2:10-CV-415 RLM-RCB, 2011 WL 572407, at *1 (N.D. Ind. 2011) (citing Heller Fin., Inc., 883 F.2d at 1294).

         Motions to strike pleadings “will generally be denied unless the portion of the pleading at issue is prejudicial.” U.S. Liab. Ins. Co. v. Bryant, No. 3:10-cv-129, 2011 WL 221662, at *1 (S.D. Ill. Jan. 21, 2011) (citing Heller Fin., Inc., 883 F.2d at 1294; Tektel, Inc. v. Maier, 813 F.Supp. 1331, 1334 (N.D. Ill. 1992)). The decision whether to strike material under Rule 12(f) is within the discretion of the district court. Delta Consulting Grp., Inc. v. R. Randle Constr., Inc., 554 F.3d 1133, 1141 (7th Cir. 2009); Talbot v. Robert Matthews Distrib. Co., 961 F.2d 654, 665 (7th Cir. 1992).

         B. Analysis

         1. Timeliness and Prejudice

         Hartford Iron first argues that Valley Forge's answer, which was filed on January 22, 2017, should be stricken for the reason that it is untimely. Hartford Iron contends that pursuant to Rule 12(a)(4), Valley Forge's answer was due 14 days after the Court's Order dated January 4, 2017, that dismissed a portion of Hartford Iron's counterclaims. Hartford Iron asserts that Valley Forge's delay prejudiced Hartford Iron in that it could not use the answer in its January 23rd and 24th depositions of Brian Frankl and Valerie Rodriguez.

         In response, Valley Forge argues that Rule 12(a)(1)(B), rather than Rule 12(a)(4), applies, and thus, that it had 21 days, rather than 14 days, after the Court's January 4th Order within which to file its answer. Valley Forge urges that even if it was mistaken in applying Rule 12(a)(1)(B) rather that Rule 12(a)(4), its reliance on the time frame set forth in Rule 12(a)(1)(B) was in good faith and constitutes “excusable neglect” under Rule 6(b)(1)(B). Additionally, Valley Forge rejects Hartford Iron's claim of prejudice, emphasizing that Hartford Iron had originally noticed Frankl's and Rodriguez's depositions for January 19th and 20th, respectively, and thus, that Hartford Iron never intended to use Valley Forge's answer during these depositions. Valley Forge emphasizes that, in any event, Hartford Iron received the answer on the evening of January 22nd-still before the depositions commenced.

         The Court agrees that even if Rule 12(a)(1)(B) applies, Valley Forge has shown excusable neglect for its delay. With respect to “excusable, ” the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has stated:

the determination is at bottom an equitable one, taking account of all relevant circumstances surrounding the party's omission. These include . . . the danger of prejudice to the [non-movant], the length of the delay and its potential impact on judicial proceedings, the reason for the delay, including whether it was within the reasonable control of the movant, and whether the movant acted in good faith.

Moje v. Fed. Hockey League, LLC, 792 F.3d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Pioneer Inv. Servs. Co. v. Brunswick Assocs. L.P., 507 U.S. 380, 395 (1993)). Here, Hartford Iron has not shown that it was prejudiced by Valley Forge's delay, and the delay was minimal-just four days. Furthermore, once Hartford Iron alerted Valley Forge to Hartford Iron's calculation of the deadline, Valley Forge filed its answer the next day, suggesting that counsel acted in good faith. (DE 639 at 4-5); see, e.g., Saul v. Prince Mfg. Corp., No. 1:12-CV-270, 2013 WL 228716, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 22, 2013) (considering when finding excusable neglect, that as soon as counsel was alerted to the missed deadline, it filed a response the next day); Ruiz v. Carmeuse Lime, Inc., No. 2:10-CV-21-PRC, 2011 WL 3290376, at *1 (N.D. Ind. July 14, 2011) (same). Moreover, Valley Forge's proffered reason for its delay falls within a type of excusable neglect described as “good faith misinterpretation ...


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