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Graham Engineering Corp. v. Johnson

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2018

GRAHAM ENGINEERING CORP., Plaintiff
v.
DOUG JOHNSON, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM

          Christopher C. Conner, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Graham Engineering Corporation (“Graham Engineering”) commenced this action against defendant Doug Johnson (“Johnson”) as well as six related actions against defendants Eric Adair 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 Johnson'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 Johnson filed his answer on November 21 2017 (Doc 53) In response to fifteen separate allegations in the second amended complaint Johnson 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 (MD Pa 2000) (quoting N Penn Transfer Inc v. Victaulic Co. of Am., 859 F.Supp. 154, 158 (ED 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 FRD 345 348 (D Del 2015)

         III Discussion

         Graham Engineering contends that Johnson'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 Johnson 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)- 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 (M.D. 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 (E.D. Pa. 2002) (citing Garlanger v. Verbeke, 223 F.Supp.2d 596, 609 (D.N.J. 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. M.D. Pa. Mar. 1, 2018) (citing Kegerise v. Susquehanna Twp. Sch. Dist., 321 F.R.D. 121, 124 (M.D. Pa. 2016)); see also Do It Best Corp. v. Heinen Hardware LLC, No. 1:13-CV-69, 2013 WL 3421924, at *5-6 (N.D. 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 Charleston v. Salon Secrets Day Spa, Inc., No. 08-5889, 2009 WL 1795529, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 24, 2009); see also In re Cotter, No. 08-12504, 2011 WL 5900811, at *8 (Bankr. D.N.J. Oct. 24, 2011).

         Johnson responds to fifteen paragraphs of the second amended complaint with an assertion that a document speaks for itself followed by a general denial. None of Graham Engineering's allegations in the paragraphs at issue sub judice explicitly or implicitly refer to documents, rendering Johnson's responses ambiguous. (See Doc. 45 ¶¶ 168-70, 172-74, 176-82, 185-86). Thus, Johnson's responses unduly burden Graham Engineering with the task of speculating as to which specific document Johnson refers and what allegation he denies (See Doc 53 ¶¶ 168-70 172-174 176-82 185-86) Accordingly we will grant Graham Engineering's motion ...


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