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Leonard v. The Trustees of Indiana University

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 23, 2019

ROBERT J. LEONARD, Plaintiff,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF INDIANA UNIVERSITY, INDIANA UNIVERSITY HEALTH CARE ASSOCIATES, INC. d/b/a IU HEALTH PHYSICIANS, Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO STRIKE

          MARK J. DINSMORE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses [Dkt. 23.] Plaintiff seeks to strike and summarily dismiss the University's Affirmative Defense Nos. 1 through 11 and 13 through 22, and the University's answer to paragraph 26 of Plaintiff's Complaint. Similarly, Plaintiff seeks to strike and summarily dismiss IUHP's Affirmative Defense Nos. 1 through 9 and 11 through 19, and IUHP's answers to paragraphs 24 and 26 of Plaintiff's Complaint. [Dkt. 24 at 1.] Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have failed to state a “short and plain statement” of the defenses as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). [Dkt. 24 at 2.] For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's Motion to Strike.

         I. Background

         This is an action brought by Plaintiff, Robert J. Leonard, M.D. (“Plaintiff”) against Defendants, Indiana University Health Care Associates, Inc. d/b/a IU Health Physicians (“IUHP”) and the Trustees of Indiana University (“University”) (collectively “Defendants”), for violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000 et seq., the Americans with Disability Act, as amended (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. §§ 701 et seq., and for breach of contract. [Dkt. 1 at 1.]

         Defendants hired Plaintiff on July 1, 2017 to work as an emergency medicine physician for IUHP and as an Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine for the School of Medicine. [Dkt. 1 at 3.] Plaintiff alleges the first nine months of his employment were smooth and uneventful; however, the environment changed in April, 2018. [Dkt. 1 at 3.] After two meetings with Plaintiff's supervisors, Defendants terminated his employment on September 18, 2018 for the stated reason that he had left his “scheduled shift on August 28, 2018 three hours early and without permission to do so.” [Dkt. 1 at 5-6.] Plaintiff alleges his termination was pretext for unlawful discrimination under the ADA, Rehabilitation Act, Title VII, and breach of contract. [Dkt. 1 at 6-8.] In response to Plaintiff's allegations, the University denied most of Plaintiff's allegations and asserted twenty-two affirmative defenses. [Dkt. 16 at 17-19.] IUHP also responded to Plaintiff's complaint by denying most of the allegations and asserting nineteen affirmative defenses. [Dkt. 17 at 18-20.] These affirmative defenses are at issue in Plaintiff's Motion to Strike. [Dkt. 23.]

         II. Legal Standard

         A court “may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Motions to strike are appropriate when they expedite matters by “remov[ing] unnecessary clutter from the case.” Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Power Co., 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989). A court may thus strike defenses that are “insufficient on the face of the pleadings, ” that fail “as a matter of law, ” or that are “legally insufficient.” Id. at 1294. District courts have considerable discretion in ruling on motions to strike. See Delta Consulting Grp., Inc. v. R. Randle Const., Inc., 554 F.3d 1133, 1141 (7th Cir. 2009).

         III. Discussion

         Plaintiff moves to strike or summarily dismiss the University's Affirmative Defense Nos. 1 through 11 and 13 through 22, and the University's answer to paragraph 26 of Plaintiff's Complaint. [Dkt. 23.] Likewise, Plaintiff moves to strike or summarily dismiss IUHP Affirmative Defense Nos. 1 through 9 and 11 through 19, and IUHP's answers to paragraphs 24 and 26 of Plaintiff's Complaint. [Dkt. 23.] As Plaintiff does not assert that the defenses are redundant or scandalous, the Court will address each defense in relation to the other requirements set forth in Rule 12(f).

         It is well established that defenses consisting of “nothing but bare bones conclusory allegations” are deficient. Heller, 883 F.2d at 1295. “Affirmative defenses are pleadings and, therefore, are subject to all pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.” Id. at 1294. Accordingly, they must set forth a “short and plain statement of the defense” that gives the other party fair notice of the nature of the defense. Id. at 1294 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 8(a)). The exact amount of factual material that a defense must include, however, is unclear. The Seventh Circuit has yet to determine whether the more stringent pleading standard for complaints set forth in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 666 (2009), also applies to affirmative defenses. For the purpose of resolving this motion, however, the Court does not need to further analyze which standard to apply. As explained in detail below, the pleading deficiencies here violate even the lowest standard set forth in Heller.

         A. The University's Affirmative Defenses

         Plaintiff and the University have agreed that no punitive damages are sought against the University. [Dkt. 27 at 9-10.] The only claims brought against the University are those pursuant to Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act, not in pursuant of punitive damages. Therefore, Affirmative Defenses No. 5, and 13-15 are moot.

         1. Failure to State a Claim: Defense No. 1.

         Plaintiff argues the Court should strike the University's Affirmative Defense No. 1 because the University has not provided any allegations as to how Plaintiff failed to state a claim. However, the Court will not strike the defense on this ground. The Rules allow parties to raise the defense of “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted” in the responsive pleading. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(2)(A). It is a nonwaivable defense that may be asserted at any time. Simply asserting that defense in a responsive pleading is a mere nullity; it has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the proceedings without some factual and legal support. The Rules permit this as an adequate response; therefore, this Court does as well. The Court will not rule on the merits of the University's Rule ...


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