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Wilburn v. St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

November 1, 2018

TASHIANNE WILBURN et al., and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
ST. JOSEPH COUNTY JUVENILE JUSTICE CENTER et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          Michael G. Gotsch, Sr. United States Magistrate Judge

         There are two motions before the Court. On June 1, 2018, Plaintiffs, Tashianne Wilburn and Quanan Wilburn, the natural parents and guardians of Z.W., a minor child, filed a motion to strike Defendants' fourth and sixth affirmative defenses pursuant to Rule 12(f). On June 6, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion to strike Defendants' jury demand. On June 13, 2018, Defendants, Cynthia Nelson, in her official capacity as the Executive Director of the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center (“JJC”), the Board of County Commissioners of St. Joseph County, and the St. Joseph County Council, filed their responses to both motions. Both motions are now ripe and for the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS the Wilburns' motion to strike affirmative defenses and Defendants' jury demand.

         I. Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses Based on Immunity

          A. Relevant Background The Wilburns proceed against Defendants at the St. Joseph County Juvenile Justice Center (“JJC”) seeking money damages for the solitary confinement of their minor child, Z.W., and declaratory and injunctive relief for all similarly situated juvenile detainees. [DE 12 at 2]. In response, the Defendants asserted inter alia the following affirmative defenses:

4. Judicial immunity applies to all allegations which are directed at the function of the St. Joseph Probate Court.
6. Certain allegations of the complaint violate the Eleventh Amendment of the United States.

[DE 19 at 30].

         B. Standard

         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). Rule 12(f) authorizes the court to strike a pleading or part of a pleading “on its own; or on motion made by a party either before responding to the pleading or, if a response is not allowed, within 21 days after being served with the pleading.” The Wilburns' motion to strike is timely and the Court addresses the merits of the motion below.

         Motions to strike are generally disfavored because they “potentially serve only to delay, ” Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). However, “where . . . motions to strike remove unnecessary clutter from the case, they serve to expedite, not delay.” Id.

         “Affirmative defenses will be stricken only when they are insufficient on the face of the pleadings.” Id. (citation omitted); see also Williams v. Jader Fuel, 944 F.2d 1388, 1400 (7th Cir. 1991). “Ordinarily, defenses will not be struck if they are sufficient as a matter of law or if they present questions of law or fact.” Heller Fin., Inc., 883 F.2d at 1294 (citation omitted). “Affirmative defenses are pleadings and, therefore, are subject to all pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. (citation omitted). “Thus, defenses must set forth a ‘short and plain statement,' Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), of the defense.” Id. (citation omitted).

         C. Judicial Immunity Defense

         The Wilburns argue that the defense of judicial immunity should be stricken because they are suing Defendants only in their official capacities. [DE 21 at 3]. The assertion that this is solely an official capacity suit is unopposed by the Defendants. “The only immunities available in an official capacity suit are those that may be asserted by the governmental entity itself (e.g., Eleventh Amendment immunity or sovereign immunity).” DeVito v. Chicago Park Dist., 83 F.3d 878, 881 (7th Cir. 1996) (rejecting the contention that a personnel board was a “quasijudicial body” when board members were only sued in their official capacities); see also Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167. The Wilburns are not suing defendants in their individual capacities. Thus, the Defendants' fourth affirmative defense of judicial immunity is insufficient as a matter of law and should be stricken pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f).

         D. Eleventh ...


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