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Keller v. Enhanced Recovery Co., LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, LaFayette Division

October 31, 2018

WILLIE DWIGHT KELLER, on behalf of himself and those similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ENHANCED RECOVERY COMPANY, LLC, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Andrew P. Rodovich United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the court on the Motion to Strike Answer and Affirmative Defenses [DE 28] filed by the plaintiff, Willie Dwight Keller, on July 8, 2018. For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         Background

         The plaintiff, Willie Dwight Keller, initiated this matter against the defendant, Enhanced Recovery Company, LLC, on March 12, 2018. On April 28, 2018, before Enhanced Recovery had answered the complaint, Keller filed an amended complaint. Keller, on behalf of himself and those similarly situated, brought this civil class action for violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. Additionally, Keller has asserted a negligence claim. Enhanced Recovery answered the amended complaint on June 18, 2018.

         Keller filed this motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) requesting the court to strike specific paragraphs and unnumbered affirmative defenses in Enhanced Recovery's answer. Keller asserts that the specified paragraphs fail to adequately respond to the allegations asserted in the amended complaint and contain impermissibly qualified responses. Moreover, he asserts that Enhanced Recovery's answer contains affirmative defenses that are insufficient. Enhanced Recovery filed a response in opposition on July 23, 2018, and Keller filed a reply on July 29, 2018.

         Discussion

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) states that “the court may strike from a pleading any . . . redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Motions to strike generally are disfavored, although they may be granted if they remove unnecessary clutter from a case and expedite matters, rather than delay them. Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., Inc., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989); Doe v. Brimfield Grade School, 552 F.Supp.2d 816, 825 (C.D. Ill. 2008). The decision whether to strike material is within the discretion of the court. Talbot v. Robert Matthews Distrib. Co., 961 F.2d 654, 665 (7th Cir. 1992). “Affirmative defenses will be stricken only when they are insufficient on the face of the pleadings.” Heller, 883 F.3d at 1294.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b) provides that, “[i]n responding to a pleading, a party must . . . state in short and plain terms its defenses to each claim asserted against it; and . . . admit or deny the allegations asserted against it by an opposing party.” The rule also provides, “[a] denial must fairly respond to the substance of the allegation.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b)(2). “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.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b)(5).

         Keller has argued that Enhanced Recovery's answer contains responses that fail to adequately respond to the allegations in the amended complaint. Specifically, he has indicated that paragraphs 8, 42, 43, 44, 50, 53, and 55 of Enhanced Recovery's answer state, “[t]he allegation that [synopsis of allegation] is a legal conclusion, and therefore, Defendant is not required to respond.” Keller has argued that Enhanced Recovery is required to respond to each allegation, even if it calls for a legal conclusion. Thus, Keller contends that Enhanced Recovery has failed to adequately respond, and those responses should be stricken.

         District courts within the Seventh Circuit consistently have found that responses that an allegation is a “legal conclusion” or that a document “speaks for itself” are insufficient and contrary to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. N. Ind. Metals v. Iowa Express, Inc., 2008 WL 2756330, at *3-4 (N.D. Ind. July 10, 2008); see, e.g., Donnelly v. Frank Shirey Cadillac, Inc., 2005 WL 2445902, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Sept. 29, 2005) (“Unacceptable devices now familiar in this district include: refusing to admit something that is alleged about a document on the grounds that the document ‘speaks for itself[ ]' . . . and declining to respond to an allegation because it ‘states a legal conclusion.'”); State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v. Riley, 199 F.R.D. 276, 278 (N.D. Ill. 2001) (noting that declining to respond to an allegation because it states a legal conclusion violates Rule 8(b)'s express requirement that all allegations must be responded to).

         Enhanced Recovery's responses in paragraphs 8, 42, 43, 44, 50, 53, and 55 do not meet Rule 8(b)'s requirements. The court grants the motion to strike as to paragraphs 8, 42, 43, 44, 50, 53, and 55.

         Moreover, Keller asserts that paragraphs 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 18 also contain impermissible qualified responses. Paragraphs 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 18 state, “[t]he allegation that [synopsis of allegation] is a legal conclusion, and therefore, Defendant is not required to respond. To the extent a response is required, Defendant denies the allegations contained in Paragraph [X] of the Amended Complaint.” Keller has argued that due to Enhanced Recovery's use of the language “to the extent” the court and the plaintiff are unable to determine what facts it is admitting or denying.

         The phrase “to the extent that further response may be required, the allegations in this paragraph are denied” is akin to an impermissible qualified denial. Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Hartford Iron & Metal, Inc., 2017 WL 1101096, at *2 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 21, 2017) (citing Reis Robotics USA, Inc. v. Concept Indus., Inc., 462 F.Supp.2d 897 (N.D. Ill. 2006) (striking defendant's answer where defendant began with the phrase “to the extent that” and then denied the remaining allegations, finding it was an impermissible “qualified answer”); Trs. Of Auto. Mechs. Local No. 71 Pension & Welfare Funds v. Union Bank of Cal., N.A., 2009 WL 4668580, at *1 (N.D. Ill.Dec. 2, 2009) (“[The phrase] ‘to the extent that' is a telltale tipoff that [the party] has failed to comply with the notice pleading requirements that the federal system imposes on defendants as well as plaintiffs.”).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(b)(1)(B) requires that the responding party admit or deny the allegations. Despite, using the language “to the extent a response is required, ” Enhanced Recovery unequivocally has denied the allegations contained in paragraphs 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 18. Therefore, Enhanced Recovery's answers easily ...


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