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Sutton v. Chanceford Township

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 28, 2017

CHANCEFORD TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants


          Martin C. Carlson United States Magistrate Judge D

         I. Introduction

         Currently before this Court is the plaintiffs' motion to strike certain affirmative defenses enumerated by the defendants in this case. (Doc. 44.) Specifically, in this motion, the plaintiffs move pursuant to Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to strike a series of affirmative defenses which were outlined by the defendants in the defendants' answer to this complaint, alleging that these defenses which are outlined in a summary fashion, fail as a matter of law.[1] In their motion to strike, the plaintiffs launch a twofold attack upon these affirmative defenses, arguing that they are insufficiently pleaded, since the affirmative defenses are set forth in a boilerplate fashion, and further contending that some of these affirmative defenses are waived because they have not been presented prior to the filing of the defendants' answer. For the reasons set forth below, this motion to strike will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         II. Background

         The plaintiffs in this action are a group of real estate developers and co-owners of a business known as Cinkaj Brogue Limited Partnership (referred to collectively as “plaintiffs” or “developer”). The plaintiffs own a shopping center development in Chanceford Township, York County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs allege that in 2013 their partnership was denied a zoning permit necessary to open a cabaret featuring nude dancing in the shopping center. The plaintiffs have sued Chanceford Township and several of its officials alleging that that Township's denial of their request for a special exception needed to open their intended adult entertainment business violated their rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. The plaintiffs' chief argument seems to be that the Chanceford Township zoning ordinance operates as a prior restraint on protected speech, and thereby violates the First Amendment. The plaintiffs have also made a claim that the ordinance, as applied to their application, violated the plaintiffs' rights under the First Amendment, in particular by arguing that the stated bases given for denying the special exception were pretextual cover for the real reason the permit was denied, namely, a moral aversion to allowing the plaintiffs' to open a business that featured nude dancing. The plaintiffs seek damages and declaratory relief.

         Following the resolution of a number of preliminary motions to dismiss, the defendants filed an answer to the complaint with identified some 25 affirmative defenses. (Doc.39.) The plaintiffs have now moved to strike a number of these affirmative defenses, arguing that the defenses are either insufficiently pleaded or have been waived by the defendants. (Doc. 44.) This motion to strike is now fully briefed (Docs. 44 and 46.) and is, therefore, ripe for resolution.

         For the reasons set forth below, the motion to strike will be granted, in part, and denied, in part.

         III. Discussion

         Rule 12(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs motions to strike pleadings and provides, in part, that:

(f) Motion to Strike. The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.

F. R.Civ. P., Rule 12(f).

         While rulings on motions to strike rest in the sound discretion of the court, Von Bulow v. Von Bulow, 657 F.Supp. 1134, 1146 (S.D.N.Y. 1987), that discretion is guided by certain basic principles. Because striking a pleading is viewed as a drastic remedy, such motions are “generally disfavored.” Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Sales, Inc. v. Avondale Shipyards, Inc., 677 F.2d 1045, 1057 (C.A.La., 1982). As one court has aptly observed: “striking a party's pleadings is an extreme measure, and, as a result, . . . ‘[m]otions to strike under Fed .R.Civ.P. 12(f) are viewed with disfavor and are infrequently granted.' Lunsford v. United States, 570 F.2d 221, 229 (8th Cir.1977) (citing 5 Wright & Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure. Civil § 1380 at 783 (1969)). See also, Resolution Trust Corp. v. Gibson, 829 F.Supp. 1103, 1106 (W.D.Mo.1993); 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal Practice § 12.37[1] (3d ed. 2000).” Stanbury Law Firm v. I.R.S., 221 F.3d 1059, 1063 (8th Cir. 2000). In practice, courts should exercise this discretion and strike pleadings only when those pleadings are both “redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous” and prejudicial to the opposing party. Ruby v. Davis Foods, Inc., 269 F.3d 818, 820 (7th Cir. 2001).

         In this case, the plaintiffs move to strike a litany of affirmative defenses listed by the defendants in their answer to the complaint. In support of this motion, the plaintiffs argue that these affirmative defenses have not been pleaded with the type of specificity and precision needed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. The difficulty with this argument as it is framed by the plaintiffs, however, is that it confuses the pleading standards required of complaints with the separate, and lesser, standard of pleading called for when enumerating affirmative defenses. As this Court has observed:

A textual analysis of Rule 8's different terms and requirements for pleading claims and asserting affirmative defenses demonstrates why different standards apply. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) states: “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain ... a short and plain statement showing that the pleader is entitled to relief....” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). In its Iqbal and Twombly decisions, the Supreme Court focused on this “showing” requirement when establishing the plausibility standard for pleading claims. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79, 129 S.Ct. 1937; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n. 3, 127 S.Ct. 1955; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir.2008) (“ ‘Plausibility' is related to the requirement of a Rule 8 ‘showing.' ”). In contrast, Rule 8(c) applies to affirmative defenses and requires a party only to “affirmatively state any avoidance or affirmative defense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(c) (emphasis added). Therefore, the plausibility standard applicable to pleading claims based on a “showing” does not ...

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