United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT
Stewart Cercone United States District Judge.
before the court in the above-captioned matter is a motion
for judgment on the pleadings filed by the United States
(referred to hereafter, at times, as the
“government”). For the reasons that follow, the
motion will be denied.
United States commenced this case against defendant Timothy
L. Burke (hereafter, “Burke”) on August 30, 2016.
In its complaint, see Doc. No. 1, the government
alleged that Burke was indebted to it in the total amount of
$43, 967.81 as of November 3, 2015. Compl. ¶3. Attached
to the complaint, and incorporated by reference, are
Certificates of Indebtedness that purportedly certify the
debt Burke allegedly owes as a result of defaulted student
loans. Id. ¶4; see Compl. Ex. A.
According to the complaint, “[d]emand has been made
upon [Burke] by [the government] for the sum due but the
amount due remains unpaid.” Compl. ¶5. In its
ad damnum clause, the government requested a
monetary judgment in the amount of $43, 967.81, plus
prejudgment interest, administrative costs, “service of
process costs allowed by law, ” post-judgment interest,
and attorney's fees as “allowed by law or
contract.” Id. (ad damnum clause).
October 31, 2016, Burke filed his answer to the complaint.
See Doc. No. 2. Therein, Burke admitted the
government's allegations concerning this court's
subject-matter jurisdiction and his own “last-known
address.” Answer ¶¶1-2. Burke denied as
“untrue” the United States' allegations
about: (a) the amount of debt owed, (b) the validity of the
government's Certificates of Indebtedness, and (c)
Burke's failure to pay his debts despite the
government's prior demand. Id. ¶¶3-5.
Burke also asserted the defense of failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted. Id.
the United States filed the instant motion for judgment on
the pleadings. See Doc. No. 9. The government
contends that Burke's answer is “not sufficiently
particular to inform the Plaintiff as to the defenses it will
be called upon to meet.” Doc. No. 9, ¶14. The
government argues that the answer violates “basic
notions of due process, adequate notice and fair play,
” id. at ¶15 (citing White v.
Smith, 91 F.R.D. 607, 608 (W.D.N.Y. 1981)), and will
only cause further delay in the resolution of this case.
Id. at ¶17.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that “after the
pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a
party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Judgment
on the pleadings is appropriate only when the movant
“‘clearly establishes that no material issue of
fact remains to be resolved and that he is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.'” Minnesota
Lawyers Mut. Ins. Co. v. Ahrens, 432 F. App'x 143,
147 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Rosenau v. Unifund Corp.
539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008)).
case, the United States contends that it is entitled to
judgment on the grounds that Burke did not properly deny the
allegations in Paragraphs 3 through 5 of the complaint. Those
paragraphs set forth the government's averments that
Burke has failed to repay $43, 967.81 that is currently due
and owing, as evidenced by the appended Certificates of
Indebtedness, despite the government's demand. Compl.
¶¶3-5. According to the United States, Burke's
general denial of these averments as “untrue” is
insufficient because it fails to inform the government as to
the defenses that the government will be called upon to meet.
Based upon its review of the pleadings, this court finds the
United States' argument unpersuasive.
to Rule 8(b)(1), a party responding to a pleading must:
“(A) state in short and plain terms
its defenses to each claim asserted against it; and
(B) admit or deny the allegations asserted
against it by an opposing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(b)(1)(A) and (B). “A denial must fairly respond to
the substance of the allegation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(2).
A denial may be general or specific. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(3). “A party that does not intend to
deny all the allegations must either specifically deny
designated allegations or generally deny all except those
specifically admitted.” Id. In addition,
“[a] party that intends in good faith to deny only part
of an allegation must admit the part that is true and deny
the rest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(4). An answer may refer by
number to a paragraph in the complaint. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(b) (“A later pleading may refer by
number to a paragraph in an earlier pleading.”).
“An allegation - other than one relating to the amount
of damages - is admitted if a responsive pleading is required
and the allegation is not denied.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
the government's complaint consists of five (5) numbered
paragraphs, an ad damnum clause, and appended
exhibits. Doc. No. 1. Burke's answer states that the
allegations in the first two paragraphs are admitted and that
the allegations in paragraphs 3 through 5 are denied
“as untrue.” Doc. No. 5. This is sufficient for
purposes of Rule 8. See 5 Charles Alan Wright, et
al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 1266 (3d
ed. 2004) (“The particular language or form of the
specific denial is not important as long as it is clear which
allegations are being negated and which are not. Usually, a
party will indicate the averments denied by reprinting them
in full or by specifically denying them by paragraph number,
since this type of reference is permitted by Rule
10.”); see also White v. Smith, 91 F.R.D. 607,
608 (W.D. N.Y. 1981) (“For the most part, denials are
to be ‘specific denials of designated averments or
paragraphs.'”) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)). To the
extent the government desires greater clarity concerning the
specific facts at issue in this case, it can utilize
discovery and other pretrial procedures to elucidate the
exact contours of the disputed issues. See 5 Charles
Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure
§ 1261 (3d ed. 2004) (“As is true of pleadings
asserting a claim for relief, “plain notice” of
the issues being raised by the defendant is all that is
required at the pleading stage by the federal rules;[
] the parties are provided with adequate discovery and
pretrial procedures to develop in detail the facts pertinent
to their various claims and defenses and the pleadings are
not intended to carry that burden.[
]”)(footnotes omitted). There is no reason to
believe that this will be an unduly burdensome or costly
exercise in this case; as the government itself acknowledges,
“the Plaintiff and Defendant are the only two parties
with respect to the loan transaction that would have any
information regarding the status of the loans and their
repayment.” Reply Br. of Pl. at 2, Doc. No. 15.
support of its motion, the United States analogizes
Burke's answer to the responsive pleading at issue in
White v. Smith, supra. In White,
the district court ruled that the defendants' answer
“[did] not come close to complying with the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, not to mention basic notions of due
process, adequate notice and fair play.” 91 F.R.D. at
608. The facts in White, however, are readily
distinguishable from those at issue here. In White,
the pro se plaintiff filed a complaint that
“plainly and cogently presented” his claims, 91
F.R.D. at 608, and provided a “meticulously detailed
and quite specific” description of the events
surrounding his allegedly unlawful extradition. Id.
at 608-09. In response to the complaint, the defendants
jointly filed an answer in which they generally denied
“each and every allegation of the complaint which
allege [sic] or tends to allege that they violated any of
plaintiff's constitutionally protected rights.”
Id. at 608 n.1. The court found this general denial
insufficient under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Id. at 608. The court further concluded, based on
the circumstances of the case, that “delay, not the
judicial resolution of this lawsuit, was first and foremost
on defense counsel's mind when he signed and submitted
defendants' responsive pleading.” Id. at
case does not involve circumstances that are comparable to
those at issue in White. First, the complaint is not
factually complicated or terribly detailed, consisting only
of five enumerated averments. Second, Burke's answer does
not contain a nebulously worded general denial like the one
at issue in White; instead, it specifically denies
certain of the government's factual averments while
expressly admitting others. Third, there is nothing of record
to suggest that Burke's answer was filed in bad faith or
out of a desire to engage in delay tactics. This case is, by
all appearances, a fairly straightforward collections action,
and there is no reason to assume that pretrial procedures
will be unduly complicated or protracted. Consequently, the
ruling in White has no relevance here.
on the foregoing reasons, the court is not persuaded that the
government has demonstrated grounds for entry of judgment
under Rule 12(c). ...