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Graham Engineering Corp. v. Adair

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2018

ERIC ADAIR, Defendant


          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge United States District Court Middle District of Pennsylvania

         Plaintiff Graham Engineering Corporation (“Graham Engineering”) commenced this action against defendant Eric Adair (“Adair”) as well as six related actions against defendants Doug Johnson William Kramer Jeff Lawton Michael Perri Daniel Schilke and Kevin Slusarz (collectively “defendants”) pursuant to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act 18 USC § 1030 and state law (Doc 45) Before the court is Graham Engineering's motion to strike portions of Adair's answer (Doc 53) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) (Doc 55) The court will grant Graham Engineering's motion.

         I Factual Background & Procedural History

         Graham Engineering is a Pennsylvania corporation that offers inter alia design and development expertise for plastic products (Doc 45 ¶¶ 2 14) On January 1 2016 Graham Engineering acquired American Kuhne Inc (“American Kuhne”) a Delaware corporation that employed defendants (Id. ¶¶ 15 17 22 24) As part of the acquisition Graham Engineering acquired ownership of defendants' employment and confidentiality agreements with American Kuhne (Id. ¶¶ 26-28). Graham Engineering contends that defendants violated these agreements by accessing and retaining Graham Engineering's confidential information without permission (See id ¶¶ 43 55 79 92 109 135 155-56) Graham Engineering further avers that defendants utilized this information to form U.S. Extruders a competitor incorporated in Rhode Island (See id ¶¶ 158 187 194)

         Graham Engineering commenced the instant action on December 21 2016 (Doc 1) subsequently filing an amended complaint (Doc 23) on March 31 2017 and a second amended complaint (Doc 45) on October 17 2017 Adair filed his answer on November 21 2017 (Doc 53) In response to fifteen separate allegations in the second amended complaint Adair responds that:

The allegations in this paragraph appear to purport to characterize a document the contents of which speak for themselves and to which no responsive pleading is required By way of further response the allegations in this paragraph appear to characterize a document which Plaintiff accessed from Defendants without authorization and in violation of its statutory and common law legal obligations To the extent a response is required Defendant denies the allegations in this paragraph Defendant denies that Defendants engaged in any unlawful conduct

(Id. ¶¶ 168-70 172-74 176-82 185-86) Graham Engineering moves to strike these fifteen responses pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) (Doc 55) The motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition

         II Legal Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) the court may strike from a pleading “an insufficient defense or any redundant immaterial impertinent or scandalous matter” Fed R Civ P 12(f) District courts have “considerable discretion” in resolving a Rule 12(f) motion. Krisa v Equitable Life Assurance Soc'y, 109 F.Supp.2d 316, 319 (M.D. Pa. 2000) (quoting N. Penn. Transfer, Inc. v. Victaulic Co. of Am., 859 F.Supp. 154, 158 (E.D. Pa. 1994)). In general, such a motion will be denied unless the allegations are severely prejudicial to one of the parties and unrelated to the plaintiff's claims. Id.; see also 5C Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 1382 (3d ed. 2016). A party is prejudiced when the challenged pleading “confuses the issues” or places an undue burden on the responding party. Karpov v. Karpov, 307 F.R.D. 345, 348 (D. Del. 2015).

         III. Discussion

         Graham Engineering contends that Adair's fifteen responses to the second amended complaint, set forth supra, should be stricken for failure to conform to Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 56 at 2, 9, 11). Specifically, Graham Engineering argues that the responses are “inappropriate” because they fail to apprise Graham Engineering as to whether Adair admits or denies the allegations. (Id. at 11).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a party responding to a pleading to “admit or deny the allegations asserted against it.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b). A party's denial must “fairly respond to the substance of the allegation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(2). If the party denies only part of an allegation, the denial must specifically designate what is denied and what is admitted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(b)(3)-(4).

         A Rule 12(f) motion to strike may be used to address an improperly pleaded answer under Rule 8(b). See Sinclair Cattle Co., Inc. v. Ward, No. 1:14-CV-1144, 2015 WL 6125260 at *2 (MD Pa Oct 16 2015) (Conner C J) A motion to strike's purpose is to “clean up the pleadings streamline litigation and avoid unnecessary forays into immaterial matters” McInerney v Moyer Lumber & Hardware Inc. 244 F.Supp.2d 393 402 (ED Pa 2002) (citing Garlanger v Verbeke 223 F.Supp.2d 596 609 (DNJ 2002)) A defendant should respond to a complaint in such a way that a plaintiff will not be burdened with “ferret[ing] out a straightforward answer” See Sinclair Cattle Co. 2015 WL 6125260 at *3

         The bare assertion that a document speaks for itself and that “no responsive pleading is required” falls short of the requirements of Rule 8(b)-even when followed by a general denial See In re Richner No. 5-12-BK-2881 2018 WL 1165759 at *2-3 (Bankr MD Pa Mar 1 2018) (citing Kegerise v Susquehanna Twp Sch Dist 321 FRD 121124 (MD Pa 2016)); see also Do It Best Corp v Heinen Hardware LLC No. 1:13-CV-69 2013 WL 3421924 at *5-6 (ND Ind Jul 8 2013) Further the response that a document speaks for itself is generally deemed an admission that the contents of a document are what they are purported to be See ...

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